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Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Quest for the Perfect Americano

I needed a whole week to recuperate from the lingering jet lag. I couldn't sleep at night and I was groggy all day. I gulped sleeping pills at bedtime like popcorn at the movies but they didn't help much. Evidently, Desynchronosis (a wimpy nomenclature used by physicians) is more pronounced when traveling West to East. It is suggested that it may take the human body one day per each time zone to fully recover. I proved it.

Among the researched and proven remedies to expedite the restoration of the body's circadian rhythms are Melatonin, light therapy, fasting and Viagra. I just couldn't see myself lying back on a chaise longue, sipping a drug-infused beach drink in direct sunlight, while going hungry and boasting a fantastic …you know what. Instead I busied myself reinventing the perfect cup of coffee. I'd wake up full of zest at 2:00 AM with a buzz in my head or sleepwalk in the late afternoon like a zombie and trudge toward the kitchen where I'd lock myself. I must've concocted a few dozens cups of muddy crap before I finally made my Nobel Prize worthy consummate Caffè Americano.

I am a creature of habit. During my extensive traveling years in Europe I always ordered an espresso and nothing but. I had my first one in Venice in the year 2000 and since then I have all but abandoned Turkish coffee and other freakish manifestations of an otherwise godly beverage. For 12 years I lived with the conviction that I'm drinking the best cup of coffee in the world, a Lavazza Espresso, made with my own hands using a low-end machine. I was right of course. Nobody makes a better espresso than I do. But until then, I hadn't tried an Americano yet.



This past summer, however, and every time I am in the United States, a decent cup of espresso is simply unattainable. Dr. Frazier Crane might've known precisely which trendy Seattle café served the ultimate espresso but I'm a southern boy who's never been to Seattle. Even if I were to live in Point Barrow, Alaska for the rest of my life, I would always be a naturalized Cajun from the bayous of southwestern Louisiana. Speaking of which, Louisiana boasts the best damn American coffee in the continent. Community Coffee of New Orleans is second to none, and yes that includes Canada, so Canucks stop shaking your incredulous heads. You could only imagine my surprise when I found out in 2010 that Community Coffee is not sold nationwide in grocery stores. For the 8 years I lived in Lafayette, Louisiana (1978-1985) and drank Community Coffee every morning I had no idea that it was a regional brand. Fortunately, you can order it online anywhere in the world today and if you're into American coffee I strongly recommend it.

But wait! I totally went off-track and forgot to tell you about my first encounter with a Caffè Americano. It was almost as good as sex, perhaps better. You may learn about my epic driving adventure, crossing America coast to coast, in my next installment on this blog, assuming of course you don't kill yourself or go insane after reading this one.

I picked a McDonald whenever possible for my scheduled and emergency piss stops along the way. Although I never ate there, they offered free Wi-Fi and surprisingly excellent American coffee. But on my final day, driving in torrential rains through Pennsylvania, it eventually became unsafe to go on. Visibility was close to zero as I took an exit into the unknown and got off the highway. I drove into a little town with a main street, a few decrepit buildings and nothing else. There might've been a church there too since I thought I saw a spire behind the foggy glass of the general store/coffee house I was forced to use for shelter. The petite (short really), blue eyed, extremely sexy waitress came over to my table and asked me if I like a cup of coffee. She had a brilliant, beautiful smile. Her lips were... Oh forget it! I took my eyes briefly off of her face, regretting the wasted moment and pretended to read the laminated menu left on the table. Under coffee, the word Americano stuck out and in order not to lose another second not looking at my waitress' gorgeous face, I mumbled: An Americano please.
”Cream and sugar?”
“What? Honey!” I almost replied, before realizing that she was asking me a question.
“Yes please. A little bit of both.”
She was gone but I was content, knowing that she'll be back. I also got a chance to stare unnoticed at her ass. Oh my! I never imagined a small package packing so much punch. A spankee if I've ever seen one. You know, as in..., what in the hell am I talking about? I told you how torturous this jet lag has been, didn't I? I'm still suffering and under the influence.

She brought my coffee and went back behind the counter where I could see her. I think it was the slowest cup of coffee I ever drank in my life. And the best! I felt terrible when the meteorological conditions were safe enough to drive again. Dad, my travel companion, wanted to get back on the road and he literally had to pry me off of my seat. I can only relive the experience, I thought, if and when I make my own perfect Americano.
Which I finally did!

Ingredients and Glassware:

Cream or milk, and sugar as per your preference (optional)
The best beans or ground coffee you can get your hands on
Your favorite cookie
An espresso machine
A teaspoon
A porcelain creamer (to warm the cream or milk in the microwave)
A porcelain cruet (To bring the water to a boil in the microwave)
A fancy China cup (capacity 2 ½ cups of espresso) or your favorite one of comparable size.



Preparation:

  • Turn on the espresso machine ahead of time to warm the basket, the holder and the heating plate sufficiently. Make sure the China cup is warm enough before pouring the coffee into it. I found out that most home espresso machines lack the ability to produce very hot water so using a microwave becomes a necessity.
  • Warm the cream or milk (1 or 2 teaspoons) in the creamer (microwave for 10 seconds). Take out.
  • Boil exactly one full small espresso cup of water in the cruet (microwave for 1 minute)
  • Fill the single basket generously as if to make one strong cup of espresso but instead of stopping halfway as in a normal espresso, make it long (lungo) approximately 20 seconds. Pour directly in the warm fancy China cup. You begin this process when the time left on the microwave screen shows 25 seconds before you take the boiling water out. Perfect timing is everything.
  • Pour in the boiling water slowly over the edge of the fancy China cup that already contains the espresso (equal amounts espresso and boiled water). Make sure to pour the water as near to the edge as possible in order not to disturb the crema. Pour in the warm cream or milk the same way, then add sugar and stir gently.

This is exactly how to make the perfect cup of Americano. Any deviation from my instructions will produce a mucky coffee soup. No pain, no gain, and this is most certainly true in any beverage or food preparation. Trust me on this one and thank me later.

I woke up this morning and went through the ritual. She came out of the fog and asked me what I'd like to order. I didn't waste no time looking at no menu. As long as she's standing there in front of me and before she disappeared I looked straight into her blue eyes.
“A Caffè Americano please. Cream and sugar.”
“Would that be all?”
“Not really, but I'll decide on my next move when you come back.”
She walked away then, with a smile on her face and a sway of that exquisite little butt of hers.
Good morning everyone!

11 comments:

Ken said...

A great cup of coffe in the strangest of places but that is the fun in traveling. I can only imagine your Dad was not amused:-)

Isobel said...

That's quite a process Abufares. I'm not sure I could handle that first thing in the morning. Maybe one evening when I'm feeling adventurous! :) Does it have to be in a fancy cup because I really have only plain mugs? I mean do the little flowers add flavour? ;) Thanks for the "recipe" and all the amusing little side stories - so very Abufares! :)

Gabriela said...

I have to confess I'm not a coffee person at all. I don't understand that ritual of having to have a cup of coffee to take off every morning.
That being said, I can't understand either what's what people look for in a cup of coffee. I've heard a lot of "that place has great coffee", or "their coffee is not that good".
Sorry, to me coffee is just coffee. And I'm pretty well aware this may sound heretic to many people.
But besides that, I loved you accounto As Isobel said, so Abufares.

abufares said...

@Ken
Only the extraordinary sticks in the deep recesses of the memory. I remember that cup of coffee as If I drank it this morning. I remember that cute waitress as if she just smiled at me :-)
Dad would've not been in such a hurry to leave had he not been sitting with his back to the counter. He didn't know what he was missing ;-)

abufares said...

@Isobel
Evidently you commented before I edited this post and added: "or your favorite one [cup] of comparable size." In fact I hate the silly flowers on my cup, lol.
The important thing is for the cup to fit under the espresso machine head. I also prefer a thin cup as it tends to warm up faster than a thick mug, don't you agree? Besides, the size of the perfect Americano is too little to harbor it in one of them huge American coffee mugs.
You should've also observed that the process isn't actually complicated but needs synchronization between boiling the water and starting the espresso shot. If the water isn't hot enough the result is disappointing. The most important aspect is the method by which hot water is introduced into the cup and added to the espresso. Once you get that right, the other steps take secondary roles.
As for the flowers adding flavor to my coffee the answer is NO. But if you were to stir that cup of coffee with your little finger (assuming you can tolerate the temperature) then no cream or sugar for me.
It'll be too tasty and sweet as is :-P Just perfect!

abufares said...

@Gabriela
Oh I know about your indifference to coffee. I am like that with tea really although I come from a teetotaler family :-)
I think that coffee, besides its chemical effects on the body and mind is to be enjoyed for the rituals and ambiance involved. It's not any different from a cold beer or a clear glass of Scotch. The backdrop and the company, if any, are as important as the beans or malt. It's a celebration of life in the morning before doing anything else. It's a moment of solitude, tranquility and reflection for me. Now to tell you the truth, if that waitress served me a Nescafe I would've still believed that it was the best cup of coffee I ever had :-)

Isobel said...

I tend to like to keep my fingers out of scalding liquid, but thanks though. :) Apparently my idea of complicated differs from yours. Trying to synchronize anything at 6 am is nearly impossible for me. I'm not even sure my eyes are both open and synchronized. Lol!

Them big American mugs will have to do 'cause that's all I's got! I'll warm it first though on the top of my machine which has a build-in warmer. How's that?

abufares said...

@Isobel
I have a hunch you were in the Debate Club in high school or in college. If not, it's never too late. They sure can use your talent and tenacity.
Let me tackle your response point by point. I'm sure you'd like that.
1) I'm ready to drink my Americano lukewarm if you grace it with a finger stir (preferably the small finger since I don't want you to make a statement by letting you choose which finger to use).
2) A Caffè Americano is a poor 6 o'clock choice, I agree. If you only have one cup of coffee a day at 6am then an Americano is not for you. However, I've repeatedly read on your FB about your affection for coffee and I'm, literally, flabbergasted that you're not willing to put a little effort into the making of a delicacy. Oh ya, and I know for a fact, again from your FB and Blog, that you are a dexterous cake maker, who enjoys being creative in the kitchen. I'm sure there's a lot more that goes into the making of one of your beautiful cakes than my allegedly complicated process. All I asked for ultimately is to boil some water extraneously because I'm certain that your machine (wait let me get its brand name from one of your recent FB posts)... oh yes, Breville (from your Friday the 12th post and in response to one Omar S) is not capable of producing a hot Lungo espresso followed by another cup of boiling water from its nozzle. In fact your Breville, like all other fancier or trashier espresso machines is incapable of boiling water, PERIOD. An Americano needs boiling water and this is not a matter of opinion or choice. It's a fact of life.
3) If you only have them big American mugs and you insist on making a point that you are not going to trouble yourself in getting one smaller, more fitting cup for the occasion, that's fine with me. I've drank champagne from a battered tin cup (I was thirsty and in the middle of the desert). Go ahead use your Breville's heating plate on top or fill your ugly humongous American mug with water and stick it in the microwave with the cruet to get it really warm then throw away the water it contains. Whatever you decide to do, please give me the pleasure of informing me if and when, some day in the near or distant future, you finally decide to give my "process" a try.
PS A FB status update will suffice when you decide it's time to make a real Americano cause I don't think you will anytime soon to reply here. Oh you might reply alright and soon but with a counter argument highlighting why you can't find the time (like you need the whole day off) to try my "process".
:-P :-P :-P

Shannon said...

Coffee is one of my greatest pleasures, and I've neither had an americano or Community Coffee. I always am in search of the greatest cappuccino. For some reason, I always thought an americano would be watered down espresso, and what's the fun in that? BUT NOW you've inspired me.

abufares said...

@Shannon
Technically, an Americano is a watered down version of an espresso. In reality, however, it tastes totally different. I'd say a lungo is exactly that. An Americano, however, tastes more like a very good American cup of coffee. And, it's all in the mixing of the espresso and hot water cause if it's not done right you end up with coffee soup.
Give it a try first in one of Las Vegas coffee houses and see if you like it. I love it!!! and admittedly I'm a newbie to Americano.
As for Community Coffee it is certainly one of the best packaged commercial brands on the market. It is, I believe, in a class of its own.

Anonymous said...

Using a pre-ground coffee from a can? Hilarious!

Rocco