The first cup of coffee I really enjoyed was in Germany. I’m starting to realize as I write this blog that a lot of my firsts came when I lived in Europe. I was 19 and the world was opening up. It felt like anything was possible, including liking things that had previously offended my picky sense of taste. My roommate and friend, Elyse, was a coffee lover. She drank several cups of coffee in the morning to get going, but we had no coffee maker in our flat. Sometimes she suffered through instant coffee, while other times she breezed in and out of one of Florence’s many little establishments where you order an espresso, throw back its concentrated bitterness, and go on to conquer your day.
There were a lot of independent coffee shops that were excellent throughout Europe when I traveled, but what is funny is we frequented Starbucks whenever we could. I think it was the deep homesickness that had settled in my bones, but there was something really comforting about stepping foot into a Starbucks. On our reading week break, Elyse and I traveled to Berlin and Munich with our friend Chris. We arrived in Berlin late at night with no concept of where our hotel was or how to get there, and none of us spoke German. Our days were filled with a sort of combination of feeling our way in the dark and what felt like this amazing ability to accomplish anything. Because if you can figure out how to get from point a to point b in a city where you don’t speak the language, without a cell phone, you can pretty much figure anything out. But when we saw a Starbucks, there was something that drew us in, because somehow we knew what to expect there. We could take a break from all of the newness and slip into something older. I don’t even remember what I had to drink at that Starbucks in Berlin, and my guess is that my first coffee beverage barely resembled real coffee, but I was converted.
Even stranger, I had barely spent time in a Starbucks in the states. So when I returned home from Europe, Starbucks reminded me of Berlin and Vienna. It reminded me of taking a break from seeing everything new in each city to just be with each other. It reminded me of good conversation and laughs in the upper-level of a Starbucks in Vienna with my friends Joe, Joey, and Elyse.
Now it has been ten years since that first cup of coffee. I still love Starbucks; I’m not ashamed to admit it. But I also love a good cup of black coffee (which I don’t really go to Starbucks for). We have a basic GE coffee maker we got for a wedding present, but even with great quality coffee, it leaves something to be desired. When I was visiting my parents in September, I told my Mom while we were on a walk that I’d like to get a Chemex. I was explaining the idea of pour-over coffee to her and she asked if I’d ever used a dripolator.
I thought she meant percolator. Yes, I have one of those, that I’ve used both on the stove top or over the campfire. I’ve made percolator coffee (even the kind with an egg mixed into the grounds) before and enjoyed it, but it wasn’t exactly what I was looking for. Percolators tend to over-process the coffee, leaving it extra bitter.
When we got back from our walk she disappeared to the basement and came upstairs bearing an aluminum coffee pot with a built in coffee filter and water basin. You measure your coffee according to the number of cups you want (measurements are right on the filter) and then put boiling water into the basin on top to match the amount. A word of warning: the dripolator really intensifies the flavor of coffee, and it makes really strong coffee. We like it that way, but you might want to dial back the amount of coffee to water if you can’t handle strong coffee. We’ve also found that the dripolator doesn’t make certain kinds of coffee well – like coffee with chicory. And if you put sub-par coffee grounds in it, it just comes out more intensely sub-par.
The concept of the dripolator is that the boiling water drips very slowly through teeny-tiny holes (see above) and into the grounds below, where it slowly passes through and brews your coffee. It’s not all that different from a traditional coffee maker or even a pour-over coffee, except that the metal filter allows more of the oils and some sediment into the coffee, therefore brewing a more intensely flavored cup.
If you’re interested in dripolators, you can probably find one on Ebay. After I got one from my parents, I spotted another in a second-hand store for $7. I’ve seen them all over one of my local antique malls in Kansas City. I’m not sure if they even manufacture dripolators anymore.
One thing I am sure about: I’m a convert. I haven’t used my coffee machine once in the past five months. There is something meditative about pouring in the boiling water and hearing and smelling the coffee as it slowly brews. Plus the coffee just tastes awesome.
The one thing I do sometimes miss is the way that the coffee maker would keep my coffee warm. I have put the dripolator on the stove on low a few times, but it always ends up tasting like it is getting cooked further (which even happens with coffeemakers at times). My Dad solved this problem for me by finding me a big thermos. This is a great old thermos! You don’t have to get an old one; any thermos will do! But this keeps your coffee hot for several hours.
Happy Wednesday, brave friends! 🙂