Caffeinated Grace: How This Catholic Family Brews its Daily Coffee

Maybe you think that reading about how one family happens to brew its coffee is beneath you.

If so, stop reading.

Because I'm about to tell you how the Hansons brew their morning coffee.

Prolegomena: Coffee Works — It Gives You Energy

Scott Adams, the creator of Dilbert, wrote a very funnny, sort-of-autobiographical, sort-of-self-helpy book called How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life.

In the book, Adams devotes ample page space to food, exercise, health, and energy. Adams has a pragamtic view: if it gives you energy, then eat or drink it. If it leaves you sluggish, then don't drink or eat it (unless you're a slug).

And Adams points out something I've found to be quite true: coffee can give you energy when you're feeling low. He recommends coffee in the morning with a banana (to offset acidity) and before exercise, if you're feeling pooped.

It works for me.

5:00 AM wake-up time? No problem. The coffee gets me going.

5:00 PM, work's done, and I'm not feeling like going for a run? Not to worry. A little coffee and I'm ready to go.

Coffee is that special something that my weak and lapsed humanity often needs to keep from collapsing completely. 

A cup of coffee is a caffeinated grace.

The Beans — Trader Joe's Bay Blend

Let me warn the reader up front: I know nothing about the technicalities of coffee. Don't expect much from me in the way of distinguishing blends or disquisitioning on roasts.

All I know is what I like and I've tried: Trader Joe's Bay Blend.

The TJ's Bay Blend is dark and tasty. If you want to make a "normal" cup, the Bay Blend does very well. If you want to double down and aim for a Turkish-coffee thickness, it can also handle that job quite nicely.

The Grinder — The KRUPS F203 Electric Spice and Coffee Grinder

Do you buy your coffee pre-ground? Why? What's wrong with you? Stop.

Get a grinder. (Note: If you have any doubt about this, I offer you the authority of Cheryl Mendelson: "If you have no grinder and you like coffee, put this inexpensive, long-lasting little machine at the top of your wish list." That's from the book Home Comforts — a thoughtful and delightful book about keeping house.)

And get yourself a Krups F203. My wife and I received our Krups as a wedding present more than 12 years ago (coffee has helped keep our marriage going strong), and the thing is still grinding just as well now as it was back then. German engineering!

The Heater — Hamilton Beach 40870 Stainless Steel 10-Cup Electric Kettle

My water heater — a Hamilton Beach model — is nothing very special. I've seen models that can heat more water more quickly. But the HB does the job just fine.

The Water — City of Phoenix Tap

Were I more of a coffee snob, I would likely use bottled or distilled water, or water from an artesian well somewhere in Europe. Being a relatively unrefined lump of taste buds when it comes to coffee, I use water from my tap.

Thank you, City of Phoenix.

The Press — The Bodum Columbia Thermal 51-Ounce Stainless-Steel Coffee Press

I've been using a french press to make coffee for a long while now. At this stage, I use a mammoth Bodum stainless-steel coffee press.

The thing is large enough to meet the daily coffee needs of me and my wife, with a little left over for the evening. (Note: Coffee in a french press can be reheated in a microwave tolerably well. Is it just as delicious as when it's first freshly pressed? No, of course not. But neither is it swill. It'll do in a pinch.)

Maybe you're asking: do you need a press as large as the 51-ounce Bodum? No.

My wife and I are fairly tall people (me: 6'00''— her: 6'2''), and we need that volume in order to create enough liquid to flood our full lengths.

If you're a smaller family, or living by yourself, you could get by with the 34-ouncer or even the relatively tiny 12-ounce model without a hitch.

The Recipe & Method

When I french press, I keep things simple:

The Fill

It's morning. I shuffle into the kitchen. I fill the Hamilton Beach water heater with water from the tap. I await the heating of the water. While I wait, I scoop and grind the beans.

The Scoop

I use the lid of my Krups to scoop out my Bay Blend beans. Is it heaping? Kind of. It's definitely above the edge of the Krups's lid. I grind those, then dump the coffee into the Bodum.

(Note: If you're worried about what coffee–water ratio to use, stop worrying and start experimenting. See what works for you. And remember that you can always add more water later in order to dilute an overly-strong brew. So if you're in doubt about the amount of grounds to use in relation to the water you're going to pour, err on the side of less water up front. Add more water later, if you need to.)

The Pour

Once the water has boiled and I hear that heater click, I slowly pour it over the grounds at the bottom of the press. Nothing too fancy — no strange maneuvers or patterns or anything weird like that. 

But I do move the stream of hot water around a little to cover the entire surface area of the coffee grounds. I think that this helps get any air out of the grounds and makes for a thicker, more-solid "cake" later. (This may simply be a plausible lie that I've told myself often enough so as to have become convinced of it. I acknowledge that possibility. I don't have any science to back up my theory.)

The 5-Minute Wait

Once the water's poured to the top of the press, I place the press's lid on top, but I don't push down yet. (You gotta let that stuff brew.)

I then set the timer on my microwave or iPhone for 5 minutes. Then I distract myself while I wait. (The Anki app is my noblest means of self-distraction.)

Understand: you want to give it at least 5 minutes to steep, to get that coffee good and strong.

If you let it sit for longer than 5 minutes, you're not going to hurt it. If you let it sit for less, you may as well drink hot water tinctured with brown food coloring. Live strong; drink stronger coffee.

The Press

The actual pressing down of the french press can be a tricky business and some hard going.

If you end up getting a french press and find the pressing part of the process to be difficult, don't become dismayed. Persevere. The french press is supposed to be that hard to press.

When you press, you need to press gently but steadily. If it takes longer than you expected, tell yourself comforting words ("This long, slow press makes the coffee taste better.") and press on. Press on!

The Danger

You need to be careful when you're pressing. If you press too hard, bad things can happen.

I once pressed too hard, and a fine, thin circle of scalding coffee went radiating out from the junction of the lid and the press. Ouch.

I have a vivid memory of the incident. I was hurrying the press recklessly so that I could hustle off to continue reading the Loeb edition of Lucretius. Hot, fiery coffee atoms.

Comment on Your Own Coffee Practice

If you made it all the way to the end of a guy's blog post about how he makes his coffee, you may as well leave a comment about your own coffee-making practices.

I'd like to hear them.