Thursday, February 11, 2010

that's good economics!

A recent Consumer Reports tasting found that coffee blends have been taking a flavor hit as roasters try more economical beans in their blend:
"NEW YORK (Reuters) – After tasting 37 different blended coffees, Consumer Reports couldn't find one that measured up to its "excellent" of "very good" ratings, the publication said Tuesday.The less-than-glowing report follows a year that saw tight supplies of high-quality arabica coffee beans in Colombia, followed by steep premiums that caused some roasters to look for cheaper and more available options for their blends."      view the complete consumer report...
It has become de rigeur to post blog updates filled with tips for belt-tightening in today's economy. I often give conventional wisdom a wink and keep moving, but I have been thinking about how and why the french press continues to be much-loved and much-used despite new fad brewing methods and even as incredible espresso machines make the quest for the perfect shot less about a holy grail and more about your local cafe. Why do many espresso aficionados use a french press at home?

The acknowledged truth among connoisseurs is that it's hard to beat the french press in terms of flavor-for-bucks. If watered and dosed properly, the french press produces a consistent cup that reflects the full flavor profile of any good coffee. The press is at its best with full-bodied coffee with plenty of dark notes and undertones. Though connoisseurs will admit that the press (at least without a Coffee Catcher!) tends to muffle the lighter, brighter notes of some coffees behind muddy undertones, the press's simple brewing process delivers an intimate, full-flavored mouth feel that can't be had any other way.

When enjoyed socially, the press is participative theater and ritual, too. By contrast, an espresso is a spectacle to be observed and inevitably evokes the expert-novice coffee relationships of the cafe. Even when brewed at home, the presence of the shining espresso machine with its (hopefully) expert operator reminds us that the beverage we are about to enjoy is a one-way experience, pulled with pride by a barista for an individual consumer. The french press, on the other hand, is participative theater. It's placed on the table between friends, any of whom has the expertise to press and pour. When drinking from a french press, everyone receives their drink from a common carafe. Brewing or emptied, the press presides over the middle of the table, reminding everyone of a shared drink and (implicitly) a shared moment.

When we drink alone, the french press impresses for its simplicity. Add grounds, add water, press and pour. We can do that with a headache or with a couple hours of sleep. The one major drawback of the personal press experience, of course, used to be the cleanup process. For too many of us, the otherwise elegant morning routine has started with shoveling and scraping the leftovers from yesterday's "elegant routine." Sitting and savoring a cup is priceless, but the hassle of starting the day amongst the grounds got to your bloggers after awhile. The Coffee Catcher completes the circle of the french press ritual, and conserves that sense of calm and elegance we experience through brewing, pressing and pouring.

The solid following for the french press amongst coffee connoisseurs is grounded in the wonderful value the press offers. For a couple of twenties, even an impoverished coffee lover can enjoy a beautiful coffee maker that delivers world-class flavor, that is a conversation piece and community builder, and that is elegantly simple to use. A cup from a Chemex or a vaccum pot is a novelty, and drinking espresso is sophistication itself, but none of these lovely ways to enjoy coffee encompasses
simplicity, ritual and flavor the way the french press does.

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