CI‘s brain stirs in a circular, european motion

January 20, 2010 – 4:50 am


traveling to france seems to be the only trip this blog can’t contort into a coffee trip of some type.

but, ah, we will now strenuously avoid our annual tome on the deplorable state of coffee in france, just as this blog has tried to avoid the coffee itself this trip. abetting this effort: a stash of counter culture single-origin selections and one heavily distracted airprort TSA agent, who quite clearly targeted our airplane carry-on for scrutiny because of the nefarious-looking device within it. the fellow, however, was called away, and so we whisked the bag from under him and now drink fine siphon brews in a small franco-german village near strasbourg.

mouths have dropped, of course. eyes have widened at a brewing method so novel to most home brewers, yet already so ubiquitous in snobby circles stateside. weeks into this visit, the thing is still a spectacle. but instead of getting wound up in the mechanics of the thing, like stirring methods and coffee-to-water ratios, the recipients (mostly africa and europe-dwelling family members) tend to wade into a gradual exploration of what flavors this device has to offer. when it comes to new and wonderful coffee, in other words, they tend to take a long, warm bath in Taste instead of fiddling with the faucet and body washing aids.

failed metaphor alert! and yet, it seems kind of funny from this side of the pond how “scientific” the american approach can be. how ruthlessly mechanical, how very cause-and-effect this blog’s brewing debates and saturday experiments tend to become. south carolina drinkers always want to know how the danged thing works. they then tend to offer an instant opinion on how you might make it better. there is, of course, much to be gained from a methodical, scientific examination of coffee extraction. there is also much to be lampooned in the pontifications of a coffee drinker who wants to wax profound on every cup instead of just serving something excellent and getting out of the way.

but then, we’re in gothic cathedral territory. the stones for the local marvel were carved from the rocky hill beside our village. scientific prowess was required. but the point wasn’t to prove those methods, but to get to something else that transports you. the means was never the thing. this requires a sort of investigative vulnerability; it precludes a swaggering hubris.

so let’s apply this broadly, using absurd generalities, shall we? let’s! there seem to be numerous european coffee personalities who embody investigative vulnerability. they seem to be much respected for it. a significant slice of the americans, meanwhile, seem to carve entire identities out of something transient — a brewing method, a passing innovation, a staunch position in an argument. they are then loved or loathed, and sometimes both. exceptions are of course on both sides. but who’s counting? CI always categorizes simplistically!

alas, a caveat: it could be that an overly large sense of introspection and contentment is why french espresso continues to be so horrific. cultural navel gazing = deification of the mediocre and all that.

to compensate, this blog will now go measure its siphon burner flame height and correlate it with drop times in dry, northern french climates.


P.S. this blog, of course, normally uses the butane burner for its siphon heat source. getting that thing on board an international aircraft, however, was clearly a nonstarter. thus, the alcohol burner seen here, which required a sort of, ah, vulnerable investigation into the bowels of the fench supermarche’, in search of what they call “alcool a bruler.” #success.