In the 70’s–80’s, I was a regular listener of a local San Francisco radio station with Harvey Steiman and Narsai David on KCBS. Although I took away many tips to make me a better cook, and have broken the binding of my copy of Harvey Steiman’s California Kitchen cookbook (right where you find the best foolproof basic mayonnaise recipe ever), what they explained about making coffee may be the best example of a light-bulb going off in commute traffic. Sitting somewhere in Marin County on 101, what they said about blooming your coffee stuck with me. And 30+ years on, it makes even more sense.
I was a latecomer to even drinking coffee, and it took commuting back and forth to SFSU from Sonoma County to make it a habit. I had a #4 Melitta setup, small carafe, clear filter holder and a hand-grinder. It looked nice, dropped the grounds into a drawer, and frankly I probably had no clue about what grind setting to use at that point. But my coffee making did improve after Narsai and Harvey discussed slowly making your initial pour of hot water (just off the boil but probably no more precise than that), slowly drizzling it to wet the freshly ground coffee so it bloomed, expanded, even glistened and foamed a little. Then you slowly and evenly poured the remaining water and waited patiently. eventually a crust formed, caved and the coffee filtered through.
When I visited friends who had mastered Chemex brewing I saw a even more refined hand at work, and have always been a little in awe of those with a Chemex since it looked fragile to my clumsy hands. In the years since college, I have replaced my Melitta filter holders several times, and keep a small #2 as well as a #6 on hand, and the cone filter style is all I have ever had in drip machinery. I look on quite helplessly at filter baskets and Mr. Coffee’s and couldn’t begin to make a pot. Nor can I bother to learn. The filters have more recently been sent to the back of the cupboard as we used an AeroPress for 2 years before finally choosing an espresso machine, and lately, they probably do more time filtering vodka or gin infusions than coffee. Until this past couple of weeks. Now the drip and french presses are alternating workdays, like a job-share. And I weigh everything now (a real lesson learned whilst honing my home barista skills). My trusty old-school equipment – more like faithful friends getting us through the days until the lovely Italian [machine] returns.
A belated thank you is probably due to Narsai & Harvey, for a lifetime ritual.
p.s. thankfully the espresso machine was repaired and back soon enough!!