My earlier years as a butler, making coffee was a long, drawn-out process. At some point during the evening I would place some ground coffee into an aluminium saucepan, add water and slowly bring it to the boil. The coffee would then be left to stand, then strained through a thick felt bag during the night. The following morning it would be reheated ready for breakfast.
Nowadays I find that most British guests prefer a milder coffee to our Continental cousins, who love the rich, syrupy espresso. It is made by forcing hot water through finely ground coffee, which takes 25 to 30 seconds. When buying the coffee beans for espresso, select an Arabica bean for its pronounced aroma and well-rounded flavour: look out for Italian-produced Illy coffee. The accomplished Italian barista will tell you that the grain used for espresso should be salt-sized. If the grains are too fine or the water too hot, the resulting coffee will be over-extracted, creating a bittertasting brew. Similarly, if the ground coffee is too coarse or the water too cold, the coffee will be under-extracted, tasting flat and slightly acidic. The optimum water temperature is 88°C to 94°C.
Unless you feel confident using your own grinder, it is advisable to buy ready-ground coffee as it is less time consuming and more likely to be correctly extracted. However, some people believe that ready-ground varieties have less flavour. To minimise the effect of losing flavour, coffee should always be stored sealed in a cool, dark and dry place. If you are using a drip coffee machine, it will only allow the coffee to start brewing once the water has reached a certain temperature. Whether to use a paper, metal or plastic filter is entirely down to personal preference.
I am a great fan of the cafetiere. The container should be preheated before the brewing process begins, then spoon one generous pudding spoon of ground coffee per cup before pouring the water over it and stirring well. Do not plunge the coffee immediately: it should be left to brew for two to three minutes. To minimise the amount of sediment in the mug, let the coffee settle for a few minutes once plunged. Under no circumstances should espresso coffee be used in a cafetiere, as the coffee grains will go straight through the wire sieve filter. Once ready, the coffee may be poured into an elegant china or silver coffee-pot.
Always serve coffee with a selection of sugars and sweeteners. At breakfast, jugs of hot and cold milk should accompany the pot. After lunch and dinner, serve cream. In the evening, be sure to serve some chocolate truffles and mints.
Last Updated: March 9, 2013