I’ve been making coffee in a Moka Pot from sometime in the 1970’s – maybe for 40 years. It is probably one of the easiest ways to make coffee and the other week I discovered I’d been doing it wrong- or at least not as well as I could be. I hadn’t used one for years because I’d either used a French press or a home expresso machine but in lock down when both broke I dug out an old moka pot and started using it. And I made it as I always remembered and it had that familiar massively strong burnt taste. I tried to adjust by reducing the amount of coffee and then with time on my hands, I actually sought advice, googled it and the difference was a revelation. For coffee fans (and this blog isn’t just about making coffee) – grind your coffee as fine as table salt, fill to the top of the filter, preheat the water, fill to just below the valve. Put on heat. Remove before the top pot is nearly full and wrap the bottom in a cold towel or place in cold water to stop extraction and the coffee burning (that’s the clever bit). Don’t be afraid to dilute with hot water to adjust the strength. Perfect.
The whole experience made me think about all the other things we do with just enough knowledge to get by but without enough time and care to do well. Most evidently this happens with computers and software. I’ve been using computers since around 1984 when I got my first Amstrad but the only one-to-one tuition I’ve had was when a friend spent 30 minutes showing me the extraordinary potential of a spreadsheet programme supercalc. Until lockdown, when another friend tried to show me how procreate digital painting works, my entire experience of using a computer has been self-taught. I’m sure this is a common experience and I’m equally certain that I totally underuse the potential of the hardware and software that dominates my life. I know that there are short cuts and techniques that might make the experience of using these machines more elegant and rapid but I’m happy to learn just enough to get them working. Not much different than my son Jack who picks up an ipad, navigates his ways around the programmes and when he finds one that works for him will settle down for hours of enjoyment. Jack is 4 years old.
So I turn to bread making. During lockdown I dug out a bread machine that had been abandoned for 15 years. Since April I’ve been making bread every 2 days and getting a ridiculous amount of pleasure and sense of achievement as I experimented with different flours and seeds to the general delight and appreciation of my family. Those in the know will realise that the achievement was not so difficult- the machines are pretty bullet proof. I cant claim to be a baker – that will have to wait until I give up the bread machine for the oven, but I feel Im nearly there as I smell the bread as its baked and spread the still warm first crust with melting butter.
I’m torn between doing lots and doing well. One consequence of my Moka Pot experience is that I felt more connected to the process. Moka pots are so simple that I think I can reasonably expect to claim to be an expert in no time despite decades of Moka abuse. I not only can do it well I’m pretty close to doing it to its best. And that provoked a challenge to research (because I had time) expresso machines and coffee grinders. Inevitably I bought the combination of my dreams (a Gaggia Classic and Sage Dose Control Pro if you’re interested). And the 5 minute coffee making has transformed to an endless, eagerly awaited chemistry experiment of doses and yelds with an infinite variety of beans to sample and grind to ridiculously precise measurements. And it makes a mess and it takes patience but the coffee is sublime and every cup seems to have character and presence.
So I’m drawn to a simple and obvious conclusion. There have been so many negatives from lockdown but a common positive is finding time and with the time – making good.