Among the many things that happens when you leave the country for an extended period of time, as I did recently, is that you become nationalistic in ways you would never have guessed you had in you. I was in Italy, so I didn’t spend a lot of time dreaming about American food (although I have eaten cilantro nearly all of the seven days I’ve been back). I found myself swelling with pride at the sound of Barack Obama’s clear, debate-team diction, and his all-American athletic goodness; and also as Hillary Clinton introduced the role that America would not be playing in the war that was not being waged in Libya. But among the more surprising attachments of a girl in Italy, was to coffee. Good ol’ American-style drip coffee.
I love American coffee—not to be confused with caffe Americano, which is watered down espresso and no wonder they think our coffee sucks!—and without it, I find myself wandering the streets of wherever I am, in a perpetual state of under-caffeination. But, because of a handy two-dollar gadget known as the single cup coffee filter holder if there is hot water and coffee grounds to be had, there is American coffee to be made.
Here’s how it works. First, boil water. While the water is coming to a boil, take a #1 paper coffee filter (a #2 will work, too), which for reasons I could never figure out they actually sell at the local Coop near the town where I stay in Umbria. Stick the filter in the single cup coffee filter holder cone. Spoon some good coffee grounds into the filter, place it over a thin-lipped, smallish-mouthed coffee cup, and begin to add the boiling water. (I believe true aficionados would tell you the water has to be a very specific temperature, but I am not there yet, and I hope, for the sake of my sanity and future traveling companions, never to get there.) How you add water is key. You can’t just dump it in. With the first splash, the grounds should just get wet. Then you can add a bit more water, but don’t fill the filter with water, or the coffee will get (surprise!) watered down. Add enough water so it’s just about an inch higher than the grounds, and if you’re really into it, stir the water with the grounds as it drips down into your cup. Continue adding water until you have a full cup of fresh, strong, aromatic brew that in today’s coffee-obsessed vernacular is known as “hand-brewed” coffee. Click here for a nice line drawing of the process, brought to you by the hand-brewed pioneers, Blue Bottle Coffee, in San Francisco.
Meanwhile, back in Italy… when I took Rufus for a walk around the walled town in the mornings, I was often carrying a cup of my gloriously brewed coffee in one hand, leash in the other, and the villagers were invariably puzzled. “It’s American coffee.” I said to them as they gestured, perplexed, at the tall mug, with a funny cartoon of a little sheep, in my hand. They usually peered inside the tall cup, as if they might find an exotic insect inside, and then asked me why I was carrying it, you know, outside the house. This was the very reaction they had when they caught me carrying a water bottle, to which I gave the same response, proudly: “It’s an American thing.