Grandpa Webb's blog

Thursday, 14 February 2013

Coffee from the building site takes longer, but tastes better

Who is this Grandpa Webb?Oops! Careful the lid doesn't fall into the reservoir.Until recently, I was an instant coffee man. Spoonful of granules in the cup, add hot water, dash of milk - job done.

Then, for Christmas, our son gave us a coffee machine. This makes a noise like a road drill as it forces hot water through a little aluminium capsule full of coffee. He also gave us a jug with an electric motor in the lid that makes a noise like a concrete mixer as it heats and froths milk. Their combined output sounds a bit like a building site, but delivers a cup of coffee that smells and tastes delicious.

The arrival of the two new machines has meant a slightly different routine in the Webb household for the first cup of coffee of the day.

The routine goes like this:

At the same time, put some milk in the powered jug, (ours has levels marked so you don’t over-fill it), switch it on, and let it get mixing. 

I have no problem with the new coffee ritual. In fact there is something satisfying about taking a bit of time and trouble to make really good coffee. And it’s easy when you are wide awake, but if you are not fully conscious, or having a senior moment, there can be a few pitfalls. I have experienced most of them as follows:

Don't forget the capsule (the coffee will taste a bit weak without it).Fill water reservoir. The lid can fall into the reservoir as you jiggle it into place at the back of the machine. If this happens, empty reservoir, remove lid, and start again.

Switch machine on. No problem, but you must remember it won’t work until it has warmed up.

Find coffee capsule. There are 16 different flavours (grands crus, the makers call them), all colour coded. Finding the right one can be difficult for the colour-blind. We have now standardised on two flavours - Vivalto Lungo (blue), what we call regular, and Decaffeinato (brown) for those who like to sleep at night.

Flip up lid, insert capsule. Just remember to do it. Coffee is strangely weak if the water doesn’t pass through a capsule first, or if it’s making a second passage through a used capsule.

Place cup under spout.  If the concrete mixer is grinding away, it’s easy to be distracted and forget the most important part - the cup. Luckily on my machine, pressing a button stops the flow.

If you want white coffee, when the concrete mixer has finished heating and stirring, unscrew the lid, and add the frothy milk to the cup. The instructions say the jug and cap should be cleaned immediately after use. You can’t  put them in the dishwasher - the jug is like a miniature electric kettle and the lid has that electric motor in it - so they must be cleaned in such a way that the electrical connections don’t get wet.

I like learning new skills, I tell myself, and once you have mastered making the coffee, there’s only one more thing to learn: how to get replacement capsules.

My local John Lewis stocks the machines, and has a very big display of all 16 grands crus in a glass cabinet. Alas, these capsules are not for sale. You can look at them, but you cannot buy one. “They sell them in Selfridges,” an embarrassed assistant tells me. “And I think there are one or two other shops, but we sell only the machines.” She tries to steer me to a different sort of coffee machine, but as I am already signed-up to coffee in capsules, I decline.

Clean the milk jug immediately after use, the instructions say - but don't use the dishwasher.To get the capsules, you need to join an online club. On your computer, put in your email address, select a password, give your credit card number and order coffee capsules in lots of 50 (the total number of capsules selected must be in multiples of 50 for packaging purposes, says the website). They are delivered in 2-3 days.  Although you have to buy them in bulk, the cost works out at around 30p a cup, which is a whole lot cheaper than Starbucks and the other professionals.

In fact the excellence of our coffee machine is already having a minor economic effect on the local pubs and restaurants, where the coffee often isn’t that special. “Coffee?” they say. “No thanks,” we say. (We can get a better cup at home).

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