September 9, 2012

Cruising with coffee

WHAT WOULD a summer cruise be without coffee?  There is no ambrosia, no manna from heaven, that compares with a steaming cup of coffee sipped first thing in the morning in the cockpit of a yacht in a pretty anchorage.  New life begins each day with the rousing aroma of coffee.

It was John G. Hanna, yacht designer and author, who maintained that you can make good coffee on even the simplest of yachts. “I cheerfully endorse the statement that perfect coffee can be made in a tea kettle, when you let it boil the right way,” he said. “The moment it reaches a full boil, snatch it off the hot spot and let it simmer a moment before you add the cold water.  Reason: continued boiling would carry away in the steam the very volatile oil on which the pleasant aroma of coffee depends; yet the solution must come up to full boiling temperature, at least briefly, to extract the full flavor of the bean.”

When he talks about a tea kettle, Hanna means the old-fashioned standard coffee pot — “a pot, equivalent to a kettle, completely free of all percolators, drippers, or other fancy gadgets. The same thing that is official equipment in many millions of American homes, regardless of the increase in the plethora of complicated coffee concoctors, a shape evolved by experience of generations — a truncated cone, broad on the base, it does not upset easily, takes up the minimum of space and is easier to handle and pour from than a kettle.”

Hanna’s method of coffee-making, presumably, was to add some ground coffee to water in a pot, bring it to the boil, and add a dash of cold water to the top to settle the grounds.  Ever since coffee drinking began, there has been this question of how to separate the grounds from the liquid coffee.  I’ve never tried the cold water trick, but I imagine you’ve got to be careful about how much cold water you use, otherwise you end up with cold coffee also.

I have read that if you simply leave the pot alone, the grounds will settle to the bottom after about five minutes. Another piece of advice I’ve seen is this: “ Just before you are ready to drink, crack a couple of raw eggs and drop them in the pot. Stir it around and pour the coffee into your cup. The egg congeals and collects the coffee grounds! Feed the egg and grounds to your burro so he has the energy to plow your fields!”

I guess you could use a fine-mesh tea-leaf strainer to separate out the grounds, and I know people have tried discarded nylon stocking for the same purpose, but with what success, I don’t know.  Anyway, the point is that the preferred beverage is distilled from freshly ground beans and water that is not allowed to boil for more than an instant.  This ought not to be beyond the capability of sailors with enough gumption to handle a sailboat and navigate it to a safe anchorage, although I do know one who, disdaining what he calls the esoteric mumbo-jumbo of coffee concoction, drinks coffee made from those soluble coffee crystals prepared by Folgers and Nescafe. One small spoon of dried coffee crystals dissolves in seconds in hot water, and you’re done.  Tellingly, though, deep here in Starbucks country, he doesn’t go around boasting about it.  

 Today’s Thought
When we decode a cookbook, every one of us is a practicing chemist. Cooking is the oldest, most basic application of physical and chemical forces to natural materials.
— Arthur E. Grosser, Professor of Chemistry, McGill University.

“What’s the matter with your leg?"
"I went to a seafood buffet last night and pulled a mussel."

(Drop by every Monday, Wednesday, Friday for a new Mainly about Boats column.)


David said...

We use a French Press. We found a stainless one, that has vacuum walls, which is great on a boat -- but the glass ones work just fine.

You put the coffee into the press, add boiling water, wait a few minutes, and then press the handle down. This moves a mesh screen to the bottom of the press, trapping the grounds.

Delicious and easy.

bob said...

We PNW'ers surely do love our coffee. And tho I may be the first to suggest it, others will have thought it while reading your piece: the French Press. Coffee made in a French press is the best I have ever tasted.

And how better to filter out the grounds than by using the grounds themselves? The relatively coarse screen captures some grounds, and they capture more, etc. until the filtration is being done in depth in a bed of coffee grounds, eventually to be held separate from the elixir in the bottom of the press.

If you haven't tried a French Press, you really do owe it to yourself...

s/v Eolian

Anonymous said...

I'll third the suggestion of a french press. Ours has a plastic carafe. I like the idea of a stainless one though. Only drawback is it doesn't make enough coffee for more than two generous servings in one go.

Rick Dettinger said...

We use the Toddy coffee method. This involves soaking course ground coffee in cold water for a day and filtering the liquid extract off the grounds. We do this at home, and can make enough for about ten days. To use on the boat, just add boiling water to the extract and drink. It is a bit milder than hot brewed coffee, with less acid. Better for sensitive stomachs! We use about 1 part extract to 3 parts hot water.


Aaron Headly said...

Plastic or stainless press-pots both work fine, and, yes, a glass one will do in a pinch (but, if shattered, will cause both heartbreak and, possibly, the sudden need of a suture or two).

I you choose to rinse the pot over the side, try to remember to rig a lanyard or a float. Even the plastic pots will sink. Trust me on that one.

My addition to the discussion is the observation that fresh ground beans are better than pre-ground. A lot better.

I have a Zassenhaus portable Turkish-style manual grinder (google it), but one of the hand-cranked ones from an antique store would serve. If some sort of disaster struck, whacking the beans with a belaying pin would probably leave you with brewable bean fragments.

And, yes, any vessel that you can boil water in can be used to make decent coffee. Hanna's advice is excellent there.

Stuart said...

REI sells a nifty, compact ceramic hand grander for backpackers that works twice: It grinds the beans for the best-tasting coffee, and provides a short upper-body workout in prep for the one waiting by the anchor locker. We use that in combination with the vacuum walled stainless steel French press. Of course, one needn't stoop to Nescafe for instant, if one lives in Seattle. Starbucks will sell you its own version in many flavors and styles.

Stuart said...

To get the best results on the French press, grind coarsely (nb: not "in a coarse manner", we're making coffee here) and STIR after one has poured the water and the grounds have risen to the top (this is called the "bloom", in case nautical nomenclature is not enough). The French press method seemed so simple at the beginning, didn't it?

Anonymous said...

AeroPress and freshly (burr) ground beans (I use the Hario) makes the best coffee I've ever had.


Anonymous said...

As long as its not Ricoffy... By the way, deep in Starbucks country one can buy the instant Starbucks coffee as well!

s/v Nausicaa

John Vigor said...

Goeie hemel, Fred, ek het vergeet hoe lekker is Ricoffy. Of nie. Dankie vir die herinnering.

John V.

s/v Windward said...

I am late to the party, but as with others, the stainless steel, insulated French press is the tool of choice on Windward. I preheat it with near-boiling water in the cold months. The lanyard suggestion is a good one, by the way: the carafe and plunger assembly have each been the focus of MOB drills several times. They do float long enough to give me a sporting chance. I also keep a stainless steel stove-top espresso / cappuccino maker on board. A bit of a luxury item there, and maybe not used a enough to justify itself, but at anchor on a damp, cold evening, it is heavenly!