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One new domestic skill I’ve contributed to our LIB lifestyle is providing the necessary morning beverage. Carmen claims I make the best coffee she’s ever had. I’d blush if it weren’t true. In the last fifteen months, I’ve reached java enlightenment and the effects have facilitated better health habits.
As the early riser, I was elected barista.
Before Living in Beauty, I retired to bed between 9-10 PM and woke at 6 AM to start my day. And, before Living in Beauty, Carmen retired around 3 AM and woke at about 10 AM to start her day. Even on weekends, I’d leash Pico de Gallo, and we’d quietly slip out the door and walk to Starbucks for my cup of medium-strength black coffee. Hours later, Carmen would rise and brew her own full pot of strong coffee and whiten it with copious amounts of whole cream. Once we started living on the road, our different circadian rhythms and polar-opposite coffee preferences pretty much remained static (confirming my philosophy that wherever you go, there you are – place doesn’t change people as much as people change places). But when I began mastering my brewing technique, Carmen started waking up earlier and earlier to the intoxicating aromas of coffee-wizardry.
Here were my challenges. Due to limited space, I needed
- One way to brew coffee,
- One coffee we both liked,
- A way to keep the brew fresh and hot for hours,
- It had to be compact and not dominate our counter space,
- And low-tech is a “must” since our power is often limited.
On non-travel days – due to our heart conditions – we have to settle for decaf. But, on moving days, which begin early (for Carmen, at least) a nice carafe of screaming caffeinated makes for a safer and more pleasant travel with Little Miss Sunshine.
Good brewed coffee is hard to find when you’re living on the road and coffee-shops are usually 10 to 20 miles away and even farther when we dry camp or boondock off-grid in secluded and isolated places. When we were on BLM land a few weeks ago, the nearest place was about five miles away and today at Gros Ventre campground (pronounced GROW VAUNT), we’re 11 miles from the nearest commercial area in Moose, Wyoming, population 18.
There are many ‘secrets’ to brewing a great cup of coffee, but I’ve found it’s the orchestration of best practices that makes a java masterpiece, time after time.
Here’s a list of the items we use: good whole bean coffee, coffee grinder, tea pot, french press, thermometer, timer, spoon, and carafe.
At the very core of my process is good coffee – high quality, fresh whole beans that I’ve properly stored and never in the refrigerator. The beans are best kept in an airtight container in a cool, dark place. And (should go without saying) no pre-grinding at the store because the rich flavor and aroma begin to dissipate within minutes.
The brand we like is Ruta Maya Organic Decaffeinated Dark Roast Coffee, which also comes in regular, not decaffeinated. (we’re Costco members and both of these are available for a good price at Costco.com)
Ruta Maya coffee comes in a special bag that is not only airtight, but it uses a one-way valve that slowly lets carbon dioxide gas out of the bag while preventing oxygen getting in – and, there is no degradation of the freshness of our beans over the weeks it takes to go through a 2 lb. bag.
We like this decaf roast because the taste is incredible and it uses the Swiss water method – not chemicals – to decaffeinate.
The beans-to-water ratio is a very personal matter based on how strong one likes his or her coffee. Once, we were opposite in our tastes for strength, but we’ve slowly reached a compromise. We experimented a lot and agreed on a dark rich coffee which, at first, I would add a splash of hot water to adjust to my taste. But, over time (maybe due to the low acidity of this process) I’m enjoying it full strength and Carmen now takes hers black without heavy cream. I use 6 tablespoons of beans to 34 ounces of fresh filtered water … a ratio of 1 tablespoon of beans for every 6.25 ounces of water. Some use more, some use less.
After finding the right coffee, my next decision was the grinder. Of the two major categories of coffee grinders, blade or burr, I decided on a ceramic conical burr grinder. I wanted to use the french press brewing method which requires an even grind size – and pretty much everyone agrees that a blade grinder’s heat destroys flavor.
There are hundreds of choices for a burr grinder from small to large and electric to hand ground. Since we never know where we’ll be or if we’ll have access to electricity, I decided on a hand grinder made in Japan called the Porlex JP-30 Stainless Steel Coffee Grinder.
It has the perfect size capacity for our french press, comes apart quickly, cleans easily, and is stainless steel. It takes under two minutes to grind my beans and I find it to be a pleasant part of my morning. As I grind, releasing the umami-esque aromatics on their path to Carmen’s olfactory sensory neurons … I listen for her to stir.
For a french press, the coffee grounds must be very coarse – about like coarse bread crumbs or coarse sea salt.
Ground too fine, it’s a gooey mess of coffee because the grounds will seep through the strainer.
Because road travel is our lifestyle (potholes, speed bumps and braking for moose) glassware is not advised. So instead of the traditional glass french press, I use a Secura French Press Stainless Steel 34 oz. Coffee Maker.
Here’s my process: First I make sure the french press is totally clean. Very important. I measure the beans, but before grinding, I put the kettle on and wait for it to boil (whistle). Once it’s boiling, I turn off the heat and fill the french press about half full to ‘pre-heat’ it. Then toss a thermometer into the tea pot spout and start grinding.
Once the beans are ground, I pour the ‘pre-heat’ water out of the french press and toss in the ground beans. Then, I check the temperature of the water and make sure it’s 197 degrees. If not, I wait for it to cool or put it back on the stove.
When the water is 197 degrees, I start the timer (using the clock app on my iPhone) and pour the hot water on the grounds, filling it ¼ of the way. Then, I wait for 30 seconds for what is called the ‘bloom’ to happen.
The ‘bloom’ is when the carbon dioxide gas trapped in the beans is released, producing a better tasting coffee. After 30 seconds, using a spoon, I break the ‘bloom’ crust by gently stirring the water and grounds, and then I fill with the remaining hot water and cover.
At 4 ½ minutes, I slowly press down the strainer to almost the bottom, but not all the way. This stops the strainer from disturbing the grounds that have settled on the bottom.
I immediately pour the brew into a thermos carafe to preserve the flavor and temperature. We love our Zojirushi 1.5 liter Stainless Steel Vacuum Carafe, but there are hundreds to chose from. No overstatement, the brew stays fresh and hot in the carafe for hours.
If it’s a travel day, we make a place in the truck for a full, fresh carafe.
Nowadays, we don’t even entertain the notion of asking our Garmin where the coffee shops are … because it just doesn’t get better than this!