MEATWATCH: Coffee

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Look, we know what you’re thinking: This is by far one of our worst pun-based ideas. But Greg gets real pissy if we don’t let him just go to town roasting something, both literally and figuratively, every thirty days or so. And so we present: that boiled bean we all love, the famous hot beverage, that’s right, it’s coffee.

I went camping last month, and here is my manifesto that I wrote during my extended two day trek to the wilderness of a maintained camp site with paved roads: It’s time to admit that going caveman style is way cooler than cooking inside a building like some kind of asshole, and technology actually sucks.

I brought the bare minimum that I needed, plus also a bunch of things my wife requested that I complained about packing and belatedly realized were absolutely necessary and she was completely correct to insist on (soap? chairs? I guess). It was a pain having to start the morning coffee by making a fire to boil water over, and having to open and close the cooler as quickly as possible to keep the ice from melting, but it worked. I fed us, even though the only blade I had was on a swiss army knife and I skipped forks for spoons, because you can eat eggs with a spoon but you can’t eat soup with a fork. I cooked bacon in a dry cast iron skillet, then sopped up some of the fat by toasting clumsily-sliced bread, and fried eggs in whatever was left. One pan, minimal prep, and cleanup was wiping the pan out and kicking over the fire. This is why I can’t get behind Molecular Gastronomy as a movement. Not because it’s fancy or over the top – I can actually respect pushing the boundaries of what cooking can be. I hate it because it convinces people that they need specialized ingredients and equipment, and most of the time you just don’t.

It applies to a bunch of things, but the one I deal with most is probably my car, which is a base-model Toyota Yaris from a decade ago. It sucks. It won’t go fast, or stop fast, or change direction particularly gracefully. It looks like an underinflated balloon or a particularly sad Kirby. The doors and windows are hand-operated, no power, and if you want to unlock the trunk/hatch you have to turn the car off, walk around to the back with the key, and manually turn the lock. There are no rear doors, and the windows back there don’t move. There isn’t a tachometer, or even an armrest. Objectively, it’s one of the worst cars you can buy. But all that room you save by not taking up space with things like “features” makes it small enough to parallel park, and the car can still contain some shockingly large objects. By folding down some or all of the seats, I have, at separate times, jammed the following into it.

  • An 8 foot stepladder
  • A full size fucking door
  • Like 12 banker boxes full of stuff, and I easily could have done a second layer
  • Four whole-ass adult humans

All this, in a car that was so cheap I don’t even lock it, because I don’t care if it gets stolen. It’s the ultimate in vehicle as appliance: reliable, if slow and unstylish, transportation for you and a modicum of your possessions. Ten years on, it’s only given me guff once, when I let the battery die. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, and if it’s not there in the first place, it can never break. Which is why I look at the Juicero, or whatever the fuck this thing is, and shake my head about industrial society and its future. Showing posts correctly (chronological) or boarding planes in order (from the rear forward) isn’t even allowed anymore, though it’s objectively the right way to do it, because they can’t monetize that and charge for re-sorting yourself. 

This isn’t to say that there’s some kind of nobility in suffering, that we should do things the old way just because that’s the way we’ve always done them. I’m not saying to reject modernity and embrace tradition, especially not as an excuse to marginalize populations of people who dont look like you, but I am saying fuck late capitalism for selling you things that no one on earth has ever needed, just because it automates a tiny but perhaps fulfilling task via electronics and expensive consumables. That said, I still own a printer and an air conditioner, so there’s exceptions to every rule. Note also that there is generally no ethical consumption under capitalism.

But let’s go back to the part about starting a fire to make Hot Beverages. In the end there are two kinds of coffee: grind fresh beans, or go to hell. For myself, I use a hand-cranked grinder usually intended for campers or lunatics, but anything with a blade is worthless and anything with ceramic cones is, broadly, fine. The brewing machine matters too, just maybe in not the ways you’d expect:

Keurig

Any kind of pod-based machine should be loaded into a pipe that empties into whatever lake we decide it’s ok to pollute. There’s plenty of lakes, give most of them a break and pick one sacrificial body of water to dump all this trash into. The pods aren’t even recyclable, and the coffee is trash. Mud water that tastes of nothing and isn’t even hot. Fuck you.

Jura S9 superautomatic

Before you raise the guillotine on this one, I didn’t pay retail for it. I bought the thing refurbished for well under half price, and then sold it again for about half of what I paid. It has an on-board grinder and bean/water holders, with a pipe for milk, so you can load this bad boy up and fit so many cappuccinos inside it. In the end, it cost me about $600 for five years or so of push-button lattes and americanos, but the maintenance is what killed it for me. The built-in grinder needed cleaning, the water tank had a replaceable filter, and the entire machine would need custom cleaning tablets fed through it every few months. It also occupied four square feet of my sparse countertops and was loud as hell, so it had to go. It’s good, but not that good – the results were more consistent, and less work, than pulling shots of pump-driven espresso, but never quite hit the same peaks.

I don’t know why I’m saying this, either you’re never going to buy one because of the eye-popping price tag, or you don’t give a shit about money and you already did. I doubt the quality of the brew was ever a concern.

French Press

Instagram’s idea of fancy, the shorthand used in TV set dressing to signal someone’s membership in the bougie brunch set, and as it turns out, a fine little coffee pot. Things would get a little muddy if I didn’t use a coarse enough grind, but I actually enjoyed the little ritual of using it. I ended up tossing it because the Chemex does the same thing and is much easier to clean, but the French Press still has shooters out here.

Mocha pot

From the french press to the italian…pump? I like that this little thing can just sit on your stovetop, or really any source of fire, and I kind of wish I’d still had it when I went to the woods. The coffee is actually insanely delicious, and I respect that it uses science instead of electricity, and does something cool with it, without a bunch of dumbass moving parts.

It makes small amounts of strong coffee, and compared to the french press has a different quality but about the same quantity of old world charm. If they made a larger one, like a half-liter size, I might give it another look. Pain in the ass to use, because you have to grind the beans down to a fine dust, but fortunately even when you let it gather cobwebs on your rear burner, the Bialetti fulfills its primary purpose, which is simply to look rad as hell.

Chemex

I love this thing. Easy to use, surprisingly hard to destroy, and no-brainer cleanup with a reusable metal filter. The model we have makes just about the perfect amount of coffee for a typical morning, and it’s strong but not overly acidic. Pour-over has become its own little Ritual in the mornings, crushing up some beans while the water boils, and then lazily soaking the grinds and watching the coffee drip down. It would be downright relaxing, if I could ever do this without at least one of my cats screaming at me for attention the entire time. This is now the only coffee machine I own.

Regular Drip Machine

If you truly do not care and just need The Hot Juice to get out of bed in the morning, this is your weapon of choice. No, it’s not great, but it gets the job done and is cheaper than going out all the time. I genuinely can’t fault this one. There’s a place in this world for choosing not to give a shit about certain things, and if that’s where your head’s at, go nuts. I have plenty of stuff I don’t care about, and I’m not about to give anyone a hard time for picking their own hills to die on.

Aeropress

I thought I was done here, but in a last-minute twist, a couple of friends gave me a dang Aeropress last weekend, so I guess I have one of those now. It owns? Operation is as simple as putting coffee and water in, then balancing the stack on top of a mug and ramming the handle down hard as hell. It’s faster to brew and even easier to clean than the Chemex, but only makes a few shots of near-espresso at a time, that can be stretched out into Americanos or you can add milk like a coward. I say “near” because you still get a bit of crema, but it’s not quite the full-power espresso that a 15-bar pump machine will give you, depending on the user – the aeropress is basically a hand-operated espresso pump, so the pressure is only limited by your muscle mass and how angry you are at the time.

There are other types of machines, but I haven’t personally used them, so much like competitive 40k, card games, video games, AoS, Necromunda, or virtually the entire remit of other content on this website, I don’t feel qualified to comment. Obviously the corollary there is that I do own or have owned all of the machines listed here, which I try not to think about too much. I’ve spent like two grand on coffee machines in my life – the majority of it wrapped up in that goddamned Jura – and in the end my favorite one is either a $30 glass cone with some paper jammed in the top, or a caulking gun that fires espresso. Cool.

Thanks for sticking around, and making this column what it is: a little-read corner of this website that exists solely for me to waste your time and get yelled at. If you have questions or comments, let us know at contact@goonhammer.com, or right here in the comments. Meatwatch is here to help.

 

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