About Me

"Use every man after his desert, and who should 'scape whipping?"

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Me and the Bialetti family: the love just keeps growing

Summary for the impatient: You want a nice cup of Italian-style coffee and you don wanna spend £2+ at some high street costa-bucks? Simple answer: buy a pack of Lavazza Espresso ground coffee (£2.50 or so at Tesco etc) and a Bialetti (or rip-off) 2 or 6-cup Moka Express machine for between £15 and £25 at John Lewis or Italian delicatessens all over town. Or even cheaper at TK MAxx sometimes.

You will get the strongest home -brew coffee, a perfect espresso in 5 minutes. If you need frothed milk spend another £10 or so on the cappuccino maker. Or just whisk boiling milk.

What you must not do is buy any of those mini-Gaggia style electric coffee bar machines for £200+, they might be good if you have friends round every day for coffee and you need to impress but they are hard work and need to be kept very clean. They are simply not worth the investment unless, as I say, you make more than 8 cups a day, every day.

NB - if cost  or flavour is a factor steer well clear of Nespresso and similar capsule-based espresso machines. These are basically money-making scams like razor-blades and printer inks. Yopu pay through the nose for these little capsules and you don't get the pleasure of choosing either the blend or the roast or the grind of your coffee, nor how much you pack in. It's nothing to do with the real thing. If you are tempted then just stick with Costa, at least it gets you out of the house. And  if you think a cafetiere will make you decent coffee, then pass on by, you are reading the wrong blog.
Now, to the autobiographical, totally unnecessary, bit.

Let me tell you about a thirty-five year love affair between a lanky lonely English man and a silvery, shiny, steaming hot Italian legend.

I first met members of the Bialetti family in (what seemed to us) the rather grand and stylish home of our English teacher. It was the long, glorious summer after our  O-levels and this elderly teacher had offered my friend and myself money to re-decorate his "book room".

Fine-ground dark roast Arabica coffee packed into this little Moka-express machine , resulting in a  full-on caffeine hit for the housebound coffee addict. Works out at about 21p per small cup.As well as a reasonable daily rate (I can't remember what) he also gave us lunch - a lunch that gave us a new blueprint for meals for the rest of our lives.

The table was laid, and first came a starter - often some type of paté - and then a main course, the most memorable of which was a beautiful beef stew made with red wine.

To drink we had as much cider as we liked (wine was strictly for the evening).

Then came the fruit and  cheese courses. Our first encounters with Camembert, Brie, Emmenthal, and a smoked Bavarian cheese with little bits of ham in it.

And then, the best bit of all - making the coffee.  He opened a jar of dark roast beans, poured them into the grinder, screwed on the clear brown plastic lid, then held the device at arm's length, and switched it on, off, on, off, on off.

The sound changed from the initial clattering racket to a crunching, swooshing sound and finally to a smooth, higher-pitched buzz. This meant the coffee was properly ground.

All the time the coffee aromas were increasing. He then upended the grinder, slapped the base to empty the ground  coffee into the lid, unscrewed it, and then, with a teaspoon, began to fill the small shiny perforated bowl of the Bialetti.

His "Moka Express" had seen better days, it must be said. The cast aluminium body was by now a dullish grey rather than the shiny silver of a brand new model. But, as he tamped the last spoonful of aromatic grounds into the bowl, our mouths were already watering, our olfactory nodes preparing themselves for an overpowering and deliciously exotic, unfamiliar blast of … coffee, Italian style, a thousand miles removed from this semi-detached bubble on the outskirts of drear south London.

The love affair began there and has never wavered since. Only hardened, intensified. Anyone who thinks they can make drinkable coffee with some fiddly plunger thing - cafetiere or whatever - just, please, just try the polygonal Italian alternative.

And if you are worried about grinding your own coffee, get one of those little German electric grinders (£20 or less), or if like me you are a manual fetishist go straight for the Japanese option, the Hario Slim. This lovely clear acrylic hand-grinder with ceramic burrs is beginning to seem like a new member of the Bialetti affair. A love-triangle - and so we become a threesome.


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