Thursday, January 23, 2014


Coffee this morning is kind of lousy. The dirty secret of the Chemex is that it's all on you.  All the power is yours. You have command of all the variables. There's nothing for the machine to screw up--if your coffee sucks, the only person you can blame is you. Mr. Coffee has washed his hands of your ineptness. Bunn won't meet your eyes at the bus station. Hamilton Beach is not where you live anymore. Your new god, Mein Fuhrer Chemex, is a harsh god sometimes and takes no prisoners.

In this case, I accidentally ground my coffee too fine. My brain drifted back to the drip coffee days and instead of the course sand my Chemex requires, I gave it a powder. End result: the water took its sweet time percolating, the extraction rate drifted up into geological time frames, and I wound up with a slightly acidic brew.

I might have to invest in a burr grinder eventually, one of those dealies which gives you the option of setting a precise grind rate, metered out by serious women and men in lab coats who calibrate it against an international standard of grindiness. Perhaps there's a French term for it. Somewhere in Switzerland, in an earthquake-proof vault, they have a vial of platinum sand which preserves the International Grind Standard for posterity. There's probably a faction of Germans who plot to replace it with a more universal standard, which measures fineness of coffee grind versus the decay of radioactive polonium atoms in a hard vacuum. They have fierce battles against each other in scientific journals--lives and careers are occasionally ruined. They probably don't make eye contact in cafeterias during awkward moments in line.

But then again, the way my brain works, I'll probably replace my cheap coffee grinder with a hand grinder invented in the 19th century which requires three donkeys and a monkey wrench to operate. The thrust of my life seems to be towards simplicity these days. I fully expect to be Amish before I'm fifty. It's not that I'm a technophobe, it's just that I dislike impermanence and frailty in my non-computer gadgets.

I don't really have this problem with the dark roasts--my current bag of beans are the light variety. It's the kind of bean that coffee merchants have a need to put in pale yellow bags, to show how blonde it is. The implication being that during the roasting process, while the dark roasts get burnt into a cloud of volcanic ash, this particular bag got the health spa treatment. Some dude waved a blow torch in its general direction from several rooms over and called it good.

Whatever. It seems rather finicky--dark roasts are the big happy dogs of the coffee world. No matter how much you suck as a coffee maker, how distracted you are or hamfisted with your equipment, the dark roasts tend to come out fine, if you like that sort of thing. Not so with the pales. Of the three pots I've made so far with this batch, one was great, another was okay and this one was less than okay. Of course, by drip coffee standards, my coffee this morning wasn't so bad. It's just that my frame of reference is all jacked up because I've somehow turned into a coffee snob.

I can't believe I just made this entire post about coffee.

In other news, this is a short story week. I'm going to spend this weekend digging myself out of the hole I'm stalled in with the novel, then write something different, which may or may not wind up on the blog. Or bitch about coffee some more, perhaps.

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