By AMBROSE CLANCY //
I have become what I feared I would become.
A coffee snob. Not that person at Starbucks ordering a grande macchiato pumpkin spice with dark chocolate shavings – please – but the one who can’t drink bad coffee.
My friend, bon vivant Jim Murray of Dublin and Brussels, lives by the code of refusing things on the basis of LITS (Life Is Too Short). For him, it applies mostly to mediocre wine. My LITS is topped by stuff that’s dark and hot going under the alias of “coffee.”
People of a certain age will remember an America when almost all coffee was abysmal. I mean really bad, scorched, days-old, twice-used-grounds abysmal.
And weak? I knew immediately what Tom Waits was singing about when I first heard his tale of dubious diner food: “My veal cutlet … tried to beat the [expletive] out of my cup of coffee/Coffee just wasn’t strong enough to defend itself.”
The Starbucks model is beautiful in its simplicity – strong, rich coffee and a pleasant place to sit and sip it, meet friends, work or hang out on the Internet. That idea brought a longstanding and essential part of the civilization of the species to what seems like every street corner of the Island.
When our morning drug of choice – long a staple in the Arab world – came to London in the 17th century, some say it helped open the door on the Age of Enlightenment. Many people began congregating in coffee houses rather than pubs, where the discourse could get rowdy at best and at worst end in blood and teeth on the floor.
But over the delicious, mild stimulant of coffee, in a pleasant setting, people could meet, read and listen to one another – ideas could be debated without bombast and brawling, and democracy could grow.
Healthy for the mind, yes, but is coffee good for the body? Not if you’re pounding it day and night. But taken in moderation, recent studies “found no connection between coffee and an increased risk of heart disease or cancer,” Donald Hensrud wrote on the Mayo Clinic website.
Further studies have shown “an association between coffee consumption and decreased overall mortality and possibly cardiovascular mortality … and appears to improve cognitive function and decrease the risk of depression,” according to the doctor.
Now that you’re feeling safe, how do you make a great pot of coffee? First, you have to take your time, and if your morning ritual doesn’t allow that, stop reading or change your ways. If you want to continue to gulp pod coffee or grab something on the run, feel free, but remember: LITS.
It begins with beans. You should grind your own. Good grinders are inexpensive, in the $20 to $30 range. More on that later.
But first, in order to find out what to put in that grinder, we went to a renowned source: Meet Richard Comuniello, a retired NYPD officer and now owner of Island Park’s East Coast Roast.
When Innovate LI caught up with him, he had just finished roasting 75 pounds of green Arabic coffee beans in his garage/warehouse. Comuniello sources his beans from around the world – “The higher the elevation where it’s grown,” he notes, “the better the coffee” – and turns them into dark, aromatic little bodies of pure flavor.
He credits his perseverance and investigative skills in pursuit of the perfect cup to his days on the force.
In 2012, Comuniello “took half of my life’s savings” and bought a specialty roaster, made in Portugal, perfect for small-batch roasting. The whole process of beginning his roaster research and finally getting what he wanted took nine months – “like an expectant father” — until he picked up his Portuguese beauty on the docks in New York.
One of the perks, so to speak, of his business is what every owner would wish for: Nearly every visitor enters his place with a wide smile, saying, “Oh, what a beautiful smell.”
You can sample that smell and taste at close to a dozen Long Island establishments serving East Coast Roast, and meet the master himself on most Saturdays (through the end of November) from 7 a.m. to noon at the Seaford Farmer’s Market.
I was happy the coffee commander agreed with me on the best way to make coffee: a French press. “My favorite method,” he says. “It’s the ultimate extraction of flavor from the beans.”
Now, about that grinding. To begin, don’t grind the beans to powder. Leave them a bit coarse, then put the grounds into the French press (a tall, cylindrical pot) and pour in boiling water.
Let it steep for five minutes, and then press a mesh plunge through the mixture of coffee and water, until the grounds are at the bottom, screened from the coffee by the plunger.
Comuniello recommends this as better than paper filters, since paper removes most of the oils from the beans, robbing their rich and rounded taste. Also, with the French press, unlike filtering, the coffee is allowed to steep in the grounds.
Savor your cup of coffee. Grab the moment, like poet Hart Crane says: “Firmly as coffee grips the taste – and away!”
Ambrose Clancy is an award-winning writer/editor and veteran Long Island journalist. He currently serves as the editor of The Shelter Island Reporter.