A strong cup of coffee

‘Oh, give me a cup of that marvellous stuff’, goes the song. Without it nothing – not even this story – would get written on time …

A cup of coffee is a great way to start the day.
Photo: Sarah Massey

To make coffee with dense colour, powerful flavour and magnificent aroma, you need:

  • Ethiopian coffee beans (Limu or Yirgacheffe), freshly roasted and ground
  • A two-stage mocha pot

My personal journey with coffee began so long ago that mighty pterodactyls darkened the noonday sky. I was a student and so too was my good friend Paul, who was an artist and therefore poor. He lived in one room at the back of my neighbour’s house. On his cement floor he had a two-plate electric hob and on this, permanently bubbling away, its contents like magma, was an aluminium percolator.

It had a little glass bobble on top, through which you could see the black fluid bubbling inside. By the end of the day, this would have the viscosity, colour and flavour of gearbox oil. Nevertheless, it gave intellectual heat and emotional vigour to all who drank it.  It took a large slice of time before real coffee entered my life. This currently takes the form of freshly roasted and ground, single- source Ethiopian coffee brewed over a gas flame in a mocha pot. I drink it black and unsweetened because I am a real man. More accurately, a real man on a permanent diet.

There were a couple of stopovers on this journey to coffee perfection. It began with an expensive domestic, electric espresso-maker that over time produced increasingly bitter and acrid drinks. Cleaning it was the answer, but to dismantle the beast required a master’s degree in electrical engineering. Following the home truth that life demands simplification brought me to the two-stage mocha pot.

This masterpiece of industrial design comes in costly Italian models and ‘el cheapo’, but highly functional, Chinese derivatives. The only part needing regular replacement is a rubber gasket. The coffee it produces gives dense colour, powerful flavour and magnificent aroma.

Making coffee properly is a ritual. It begins with Ethiopian raw green beans, usually Limu or, less frequently, Yirgacheffe. These I roast using a heat gun and a casserole dish. I judge the degree of roast by eye (usually five minutes 30 seconds), let it cool under a fan, grind it in an electric mill with ceramic plates, and brew it in the mocha pot.

The smell of coffee wakes up the rest of my sleeping family, who join me in the kitchen. It’s a great way to start the day, with good company and that thrilling electric jolt to the nervous system. You don’t have to drink it black. A teaspoon of milk or cream gives the coffee a touch of colour and softens the taste. Brown sugar, or sometimes a small block of palm sugar (jaggery), adds notes and accents to the flavour. But for an additive quite unlike any other, try a sprinkle of freshly ground cardamom (elaichi).