• Ruminations From My Veranda #44: Spring has sprung

      0 Not allowed! Not allowed!
      Spring Has Sprung - of boids, grass and coffee!

      The spring is sprung, the grass is riz.
      I wonder where the boidie is.
      They say the boidie’s on the wing.
      But that’s absoid. The wing is on the bird.

      And so Ogden Nash introduced us to not just Spring, but an unforgettable piece of nonsense poetry! Here we are, it's Spring and in Melbourne we are celebrating the second consecutive fine day!

      Hey, for Melbourne not to have all 4 seasons in a day is amazing, but to get to warm sunny days in a row in early September is not just amazing it's delightful.

      Oh yes, that grass has certainly grown and I have had the old brush-cutter out for the past two days, and that was just to cut the front of the property. Not one to stand on my laurels, I have also torn down the old front gate and replaced it with a brand new (nicely painted Brunswick Green) timber gate also today- and it looks damn fine.

      So I figured with the sun out it was time to renew my friendship with the "verandah" after a long cold, somewhat miserable, winter absence.

      So with a Corona in hand, no glass of wine as I just discovered the half slab of corona I still have is at the time of its "best by" date - oh what a punishment that I have to drink it!

      According to the weather bureau this burst of warm spring is only going to last until this evening before we return to deluge type rain and cold!!! The thermometer on the verandah says its a balmy 21degrees and yet by next Tuesday, in a gradual decay in the temperature every day between, we will sink back to 12 degrees.

      OK, that's pretty damn cruel and you could forgive me for sinking into a black funk and letting loose about the results of the recent Federal Election (which I believe I pretty well and pretty accurately predicted in my last Rumination back in May, I think it was May.

      There is a saying - lies, damn lies and statistics! Personally I think its "lies, damn lies and conservative politics"!

      Or, I could go on about the spiraling decline and plunge into possible chaos of my beloved Richmond Tigers - I think that alone would fill a rumination. But no!

      That sun is beating down, cockatoos are filling the air with a song that would never win the Eurosong contest, then again nothing with class ever will, so what's the issue with the song of the cockatoos? Bodi (my male German Shorthaired Pointer [GSP]) is asleep on a mat in the sun and Lenni, my female GSP, is gnawing at a bone that must be a week old but with such enthusiasm, all thing considered I find I must reject any negativity this afternoon.

      Even with the depths of Winter and all that brings, with my faithful old Subaru WRX falling apart and the bottle of Corona just emptying, there is much to be grateful for.

      The first is that I had a bottle of "Wet Feet" (South Australia) Cab/Merlot/Shiraz blend on standby, and if was any fruitier I'd be pouring fresh cream over it - so the transition from Corona to red wine has gone seamless and I have a decent drink in my hand once again.

      Yet for all my love of the grape in its liquid form, there is one other drink that I am incredibly passionate about and incredibly snobbish over. It is a drink that also brings me great joy.


      OK, let's set some parameters here! In my world "instant coffee" is not coffee except by the label. It's about as satisfying as "instant sex" and about as tasty as instant potato - I still remember the taste of Deb instant mashed potato even though it must be over 50 years ago that I was forced to eat it.

      Drip coffee is OK, percolated and brewed coffee can be OK - but OK is not enough. For me it is the finely mad cafe latte that sits at the top of the chain!

      But what makes a good cafe latte?

      I mean to say, just how hard can it be for christ's sake! Well I have a very good single group espresso machine - a Grimac (I bought it when I owned a shop with my wife and negotiated when we bought a larger one for the shop!). A single group means it has just one outlet where the "group" handle goes.

      Now I have been making my own latte and all possible variations for friends, for over 13 years now. However, I am simply fed up to death with paying out good money for crap coffee when I go out. Yes, yes, I know that whether its a good coffee or not can be in the eye (or mouth) of the beholder! But most latte's I buy are crap unless I go to a proper coffee shop in the city, or the inner city (sure I bet you know a good place elsewhere, and I hope you do!

      Most coffee made is an affront to good taste, and, good practice. In fact get the making right and you will probably get a good coffee.

      Before revealing what I think makes a an excellent coffee, I must also voice my utter disgust at a rapidly growing very bad habit (if not one that breaches Safe Food Handling laws) that I see happening more and more often.

      I am revolted at how often I watch Barista's, ok maybe not many that have this disgusting habit are real Barista's, but they are people pretending that they know how to make a good cup of coffee (let's forget making a great cup of coffee). What appalls me is to watch them clean up the bench around them with a cloth of some sort, sometimes putting it into a container of murky liquid, and then, and then.... wiping the steaming nozzle with the same cloth! Oh p-l-e-a-s-e!! I can't believe it.

      I mean 10/10 for thinking of wiping the old frothed milk from the steamer - but minus several million for cleanliness and coffee making knowledge!

      So, what constitutes making a great cup of coffee? Here are 9 steps:

      1. You have got to have a decent coffee machine

      2. You need a decent coffee bean. It's not necessarily that you have to buy the most expensive beans, but buy cheap beans ab[nd get a cheap tasting coffe - simple!

      3. Make sure your grind is properly adjusted. Too coarse and the coffee is weak, and you miss out on the flavour, and you cannot possibly get a decent crema - which is that wonderful thick brown liquid that floats above the coffee. Too fine and it will take for ever to flow into the cup. Just right and it flows freely, and is rich and thick!- Mmmmmm!

      4. Use fresh milk and please, don't tell me you can make a great coffee using soya milk! That's another affront to good coffee making.

      5. Your machine needs to be kept clean. Do not allow old frothed milk to build up on the steaming nozzle, it will go sour and affect the milk next time you froth.

      6. Make certain your cups/glasses are not just clean, but warm. There is nothing worse than making a decent cup of coffee and making it in a cold cup or glass (unless it's going to be an iced coffee, of course).

      7. Keep the milk in the fridge as much as possible, the colder the milk when you start the better the end result.

      8. Do not over-steam the milk - it burns, yes it does! Brnt milk will really ruin the coffee.

      9. To get a good froth head, just gently swirl the milk jug, this will be sufficient to create a decent head.

      Back to the cows milk and why all other forms are just not up to it.
      Several components of milk play an important role in creating stable foams. These same ingredients facilitate the creation of other popular dairy products, such as cheese, yogurt, ice cream and dairy drinks. For creating stable milk foams of desirable texture and stability, milk fat and milk proteins are of crucial importance. Milk proteins stabilise the air bubbles in milk foams. To complicate matters, milk fat destabilises foams, but is desired for flavour. Creating stable milk foams is thus an intricate interplay between balancing the desirable foaming properties of milk proteins with the destabilisating milk fat.

      Now the lower the fat content the better the foaming head, so technically skim milk would be the best, BUT skim milk foams lack flavour and mouth feel and so we go with full cream milk with low fat content. Avoid contamination of your milk because, well the chemistry of milk and coffee is indeed complex, but suffice to say it has to do with "lipolysis" and you can follow this up if you wish.

      So just be aware the in winter the fat content of milk is generally at its highest.

      Finally, when you make a latte as opposed to a cappuccino, don't make a thick head, a small head is sufficient and in fact if you've got your grind right, the crema is just about going to be enough with just a very small amount of milk foam.

      So, what coffee beans should you use? That really is personal taste. These days there are a number of good brands offering a variety of bean mix. Personally, I really enjoy Grinders Brazil, but shop around and taste and try.

      Finally, if I buy a coffee from you and it's crap, I guarantee I will hand it back. Am I coffee snob? Well. if really appreciating coffee, and a well made latte (or whatever) is the definition of a coffee snob - then Yes!

      OK, one bottle of Corona and two glasses of red, I think I'm about ready for a latte, and, I turned on the machine half an hour ago, so it's ready and I'm off to make one - after all, a latte on the verandah, in the sun is indeed a fine way to enjoy a spring afternoon.
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