"Espresso! My Espresso!"
An Ongoing Internet Novelette
by Randy Glass - Copyright 2002 - All rights reserved
E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org
311/09/01 - Up to this point, the only viable way I had to make coffee was with Silvia. I do have an economy model Braun drip coffee maker but the coffee from that never really did anything for me, and so it only gets used when company comes over. I also have two old aluminum percolators but as there is no worse way of making coffee they just sit up on a shelf for display purposes.
I Score(y) a Cory
A few times I had attempted to purchase a glass vacuum coffee maker on E-Bay but they seem to sell there for such high prices that I never had a successful bid. Some of them were going for $45 to $65 and that just seemed to high considering that if the rubber gasket is dry or hard, they become a display piece as the gaskets are no longer made. Add to the fact that on E-Bay a lot of trust is involved and what a 'soft' gasket is to one person may be hard and brittle to the next.
So this afternoon I was down in town to shoot our local junior high school basketball game for the paper and I figured that as long as we were going in early, why not take a look around at all the antique stores downtown? I had coffee maker on my mind... Sounds like a Country Western tune....
I got it home and gave it good going over (the Cory, not my Karma). I am sure that it was never used. The original paper/foil sticker is still on the side of the bottom pot and after a washing up in a weak solution of espresso-maker cleaner it shines like it was its first day on the shelves in the store. A good examination shows the signs that it was hand made. The pouring lip of the bottom bowl is unevenly formed and there are some pinch marks around the lip.
I gave it a test run with just water this evening to be sure that the gasket would hold and that all was generally well. I put an aluminum pie plate on the electric burner just to improve heat distribution (which I think was unnecessary). When the water started a light boil I put the top section on and happily as can be, in a few seconds nearly all the water rushed up to the top chamber where it stayed until I removed the assembled unit from the heat. The water hurriedly rushed back to the bottom and the sucking sound of vacuum could be heard.
Wifee asked, "So? Are you going to make me a pot of coffee tomorrow morning?" You bet I am! Life is good...
1/10/01 - Did a little research late night on the Internet ad found out that we have a model "DL." These pots are morked, such as, DLU, for model "DL" Upper pot, and DLL, for model "DL" Lower pot.
Let me take a minute to talk about how these pots work. Water is placed in the lower chamber. Place this pot on the heat source and wait for the water to come to a low boil. While that is going on, take the upper chamber and after wetting in water, insert the glass filter rod. The portion of the rod that seats in the upper bowl is textured with precisely made little bumps. The space between the filter rod and the upper bowl is the filter to keep the grounds in the upper chamber. Some rods stay in place by gravity (the Cory rod works this way). Many folks bought the Silex rod which has a spring and chain attached. Insert the rod and the chain hangs down through the tube on the upper pot. Pull on the chain to stretch the spring which has a little hook on the end. This is hooked on the bottom of the neck and this holds the filter rod in place. Many folks like this as it tends to better eliminate grounds in the lower pot. Cory didn't use this arrangement because they advertised that "No metal touches the coffee."
Once the rod is in place, add the proper amount of ground coffee- one tablespoon per cup. Cory recommends using "fine" ground coffee. I used a setting of "20" on Rocky which I usually set to 7 for espresso.
When the water reaches the boiling point the upper bowl is inserted into the lower bowl and pressed and twisted until the rubber gasket seats. Some (presumably later) models were made with a glass-to-glass seal making the rubber gasket unnecessary. Once in place the pressure developing in the lower chamber forces the heated water into the upper bowl. Steam pressure from the remaining water in the lower chamber (not all of the water goes up through the tube) agitates the brew in the upper portion. Stir this a bit to be sure that all the grounds are well mixed, and allow to steep like this for about two or three minutes.
When the rew time has elapsed, take the entire assembly off the stove. The lower chamber immediately begins to cool causing the air in it to contract forming a partial vacuum. This begins to pull the water back down. The water is pulled through the grounds under a negative pressure emulating a sort of espresso brew system (with much less pressure differential, obviously). This extracts much more of the coffee essence than percolation that merely drips water through ground coffee. The filter rod keeps the ground coffee in the upper chamber while the vacuum pulls nearly 100% of the water back down into the lower pot. When this has finished (it only takes ten to fifteen seconds once the pot is removed from the heat source), the pots are separated. The lower pot now holds the coffee, ready to drink. The upper pot is placed into the receptacle in the lid to hold it upright until it can be cleaned.
We had our first pot of vacuum brew this morning from our Cory pot made from a 66% Monkey/33% Donkey blend. Remember that wifee is not much of a coffee drinker, but she finished a full cup of vac brew (although she did use a little flavored syrup in hers. She actually re-warmed the bottom of her cup so she could finish it all.
The coffee was very nice. No bitterness or sourness that often accompanies coffee from a percolator. I can't wait to brew up a pot of Mandheling! Have to order some soon!
I suppose the only question that would come to the mind after consuming a cup of vac brew would be, "Why did people stop drinking this coffee?" I'm no historian so don't claim to know all the reasons, but will try. The answer is complicated and has many facets. First, coffee in the U.S. became really popular after W.W.II when the soldiers came home. The soldiers had consumed large amounts of coffee when overseas and had acquired a taste for it. The only problem is that the coffee they were consuming was freeze-dried and that's the taste they desired. The rich, deep taste of vac coffee was not to their liking.
Vac pots are not as easy to clean as other types of brewing equipment. The thick, pasty grounds left in the upper chamber have to be wiped and washed completely, and of course this is not a factor with instant, and percolators are a bit easier to clean as well.
With the post-war economy there was lots of manufacturing going on once the economy picked up, and in general, the speed of life increased. Instant coffee is, well, instant- real fast. Hot water, a couple of spoonfuls, and it's off to work. Vac pots take some time compared to that- measure, wait for the water to boil, three more minutes of brewing, and then the clean-up. As the space program developed and life became modernized in the twenty years of the post-war era (fins on cars, washing machines, electric toasters, satellites in space, and more) folks wanted to be modern. There was no place for a coffee maker that was the same as the one that grandma used. It was a matter of being different to be modern, not to be better, Even though the percolators made an inferior product, they looked sleek and modern, and that's what mattered when serving coffee to guests.
After tasting some vac brewed coffee for the first time, all I can think of is what a shame that this method of coffee making was abandoned, and how wonderful that we are "re-discovering" it.
Fortunately, vacuum brewing was not entirely abandoned. There are still a few manufacturers making vacuum pots. Among them are Cona, Bodum, Santos, and Hario. The Cona is the only one that I know of that still uses the glass rod filter system, and it is also the most expensive of the basic types. All the others use a cloth filter. See Sweet Maria's page of vac brewing equipment for more details on these brands. There is also a company in Europe making some very spectacular vacuum brewers. For a phenomenal vacuum coffee maker, take a look at the Royal Coffee Maker which is not only a work of art but also a study in the successful blending of design and function. They are works of art. Don't be shocked by the price, though, These machines start at $250, but their nicer machines staet at $370 as of this writing.