Shopping: I Want ... A Decent Cup Of Coffee - How to spill the beans

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Indy Lifestyle Online
Coffee may not be the first thing that you think about at Christmas. I know it wasn't top of my list to Santa at the age of 13, when my Uncle Paul sent me three-quarter-pound bags of beans, inscribed with the words Kenya, Columbia and Brazil respectively.

With hindsight, I can see how valuable this exercise in discriminating geographical flavour fluctuation should have been. However, since I had neither the equipment to grind the beans nor an interest in the drink - the only Brazilian exports I was interested in at the time were the nuts (preferably encased in butterscotch) and the footballing legacy (Pele et al) - the educational opportunity was lost on me.

Thus the closest that I came to any sort of caffeine revelation during my adolescence was the discovery that Nescafe Gold Blend was a meteoric improvement on Sainsbury's own-brand coffee powder (an evil compound) and my development from occasional drinker of Italian cafe cappuccino to Seattle Coffee Shop addict was delayed by quite a few years.

Now, of course, coffee isn't just a drink, it's a lifestyle option: skinny cappuccino, hazelnut latte, Nescafe Blend 37 (the favourite of British touring car fans, didn't you know?)... the choices are myriad. Yet the closest most of us get to a Christmas present caffeine fix are those horrible chocolate-covered coffee beans.

Which is rather a shame. After all, compared to the other muck that you're obliged to imbibe during Christmas - from mulled Estonian table wine to vile liqueurs - who in their right mind wouldn't crave a decent cup of coffee? So, here is the equipment to make yourself one, and Uncle Paul, if you're reading this, the Papua New Guinea Organic always goes down very nicely in my house.

RAW POWER

Name: Pure Jamaica Blue Mountain

Price: pounds 30 per lb

Stockists: Mail order from Algerian Coffee Stores (0171-437 2480)

Description: This is the connoisseur's coffee bean, and Germany and Japan snaffle up the lion's share of it, hence its astronomical price over here. It is also virtually impossible to get hold of the green unroasted bean, so if you are determined to roast your own - coffee drinking taken to its most personalised level - then you will be sorely disappointed. Incidentally, coffee beans can be roasted in the oven or, if you want to look like you really know what you are doing, in stainless steel roasters on a hob (pounds 25.50 from the Monmouth Coffee Company). The process takes roughly 25 minutes, and has the added benefit of allowing you to roast the bean to your own particular liking while saving money too (a pounds 6 bag of roasted Colombian Medellin Supremo costs pounds 4.62 in its raw form).

Style rating: *****

Any others worth considering? Loads, and experimentation is one of the best things about coffee drinking. Despite bemoaning the fact that American roasters have muscled in on its favourite estates in Nairobi, the Monmouth Coffee Company (0171-379 4337) is currently enjoying the harvests of a rich-bodied bean from Mount Kenya's Ithekahuno Estate (pounds 7.50 per lb plus postage & packing). If you can't be bothered to hunt around or grind your own, Lavazza's Crema e Gusto (pounds 1.99 for 250g) is a good supermarket stocking filler.

THE HARD GRIND

Name: Salter wall- or table-mounted coffee grinder

Price: pounds 35

Stockists: Monmouth Coffee Company (0171-379 4337)

Description: An old-fashioned, cast-iron grinder with a wooden handle and a tricky adjusting screw to select the fineness of your ground coffee. Once screwed into the wall, this is an extremely therapeutic ritual and infinitely more fun than pouring it, ready ground, out of a packet. There are also a number of hand-held versions available - such as the matt black and chrome wooden coffee grinder by La Cafetiere (pounds 19.95, Liberty) - but although they look good, they are a bind to operate.

Style rating: ***

Any others worth considering? If, like Bob Dylan, you prefer to go electric, then there are loads of plug-in grinders. Moulinex (pounds 15.75) and Braun (pounds 18.99) do reasonably priced kitchen standards, while Russell Hobbs does a stylish chrome-plated 150g, 12-cup number for pounds 18.75. But, be warned, manual grinding takes a lot less time than finding the thing and plugging it in.

DRIP-DOWN ECONOMY

Name: Ceramic coffee dripper

Price: pounds 3.50

Stockists: Muji (0171-323 2208)

Description: Certain coffee drinkers believe that cappuccino and espresso makers are the bane of the finest arabica coffees; the extreme heat and pressures involved accentuate the acidity, making the coffee sharp and thin at best and bitter at very worst. For these people, there can be no simpler method than placing this conical ceramic filter-paper holder on top of a mug, adding an unbleached filter paper, then simply pouring the near-boiling water over the top.

Style rating: ****

Any others worth considering? If you prefer the plunging method, you can buy Bodum coffee-makers just about anywhere. More stylish is the solid, stainless-steel version by Cafe Stal (pounds 35, from Selfridges). If you feel the urge to splash out on designer ware, then Nick Munro's elegantly hand-crafted pewter sets (with wicker-covered handles) are available at Liberty, Harvey Nichols and Harrods. The 1-litre-capacity pot costs pounds 160.

THE STOVE PERCOLATOR

Name: La Conica espresso maker

Price: pounds 112 (for the six-cup size)

Stockists: Alessi (01920 444272)

Description: Those hexagonal- shaped stove boilers may look authentic, but over time their aluminium construction will have a marked influence on the taste of your coffee. If you want to cook coffee on gas, do it in a stainless-steel pot. If drinking coffee is a religious experience for you, Aldo Rossi's La Conica design is the Sistine Chapel of coffee percolators. Its shaft of stainless steel is erected on brass foundations and finished with a conical spire. Perfect.

Style rating: *****

Any others worth considering? Heretics might settle for Matise's sophisticated four-cup stainless-steel percolator. It costs pounds 21 from branches of John Lewis.

THE ELECTRONIC CAPPUCCINO/

ESPRESSO MAKER

Name: La Pavoni Europiccola

Price: pounds 360 (for the eight-cup machine)

Stockists: 0171-722 7648

Description: Unlike its adversaries, this is a lever-controlled, steam- pressure-operated machine: hence its modest 1.5-bar output and the distinctive edge to the flavour of the coffee it delivers. This may be an acquired taste, but acquire it you must because this chrome-plated beast is pure old-school chic, right down to the vertical glass tube that runs down its side. And if you want to turn your home into an Italian cafe, you can also buy a chrome base (pounds 115) for it to sit on. Classico.

Style rating: *****

Any others worth considering? If you prefer something more playful, Francis Francis does a range of curvy, retro-styled machines (pounds 299 from Selfridges and Liberty) designed by Luca Trazzi, in brilliant burnt orange, mustard yellow and pale blue enamel with a chirpy temperature gauge featuring a picture of a beaming kid - cooler than it sounds. Sadly, these are only nine-bar machines and those absorbed by the science of espresso-making won't touch anything unless it delivers 19-bar pump power. For them, the solemn black-and-chrome Krups Nespresso 554 Black 1.8-litre machine (pounds 350, Selfridges) is the one to hunt down. It includes a computer chip, which you can programme with your personal preference in strength to get your coffee-making down to a fine art - particularly since it runs on specially prepared tubs of ground coffee (pounds 2.50 for 10). If this sounds dull, then Alessi has dressed the same technology up to resemble a cross between an office mineral-water dispenser and a multi-storey car park (pounds 365). Siemens goes a step further, by enlisting FA Porsche to create its flash filter-coffee machine, predictably named the Siemens Porsche TC 9110 (pounds 129). Surprisingly, the designer did not choose the ubiquitous bright red colour that sports-car fans tend to favour, but a cool, brushed stainless steel. It's in its engineering that this machine brings its namesake to mind - the 1,000-watt, award-winning (Industrie Forum Design Hanover) coffee pot boasts an automatic adjusting water flow for 2-4 or 5-8 cups and a vacuum flask container that remains cool to the touch even when full. If only it could accelerate from 0-60mph in 6.3 seconds.

STOCKING FILLERS

1 Heat-resistant clear glass espresso cups and saucers, pounds 2.50, Muji

2 Stainless steel cup and saucer, pounds 11, John Lewis

3 Weiss Palets de Chocolat noir, pounds 5.80 for 250g, Monmouth Coffee Company

4 Chocolate shaker, pounds 3.85, Bodum

5 Six-cup cappuccino plunger for frothy milk, pounds 29.95, John Lewis

Shaun Phillips,

Deputy Editor, ZM

Other stockists: Monmouth Coffee Company 0171-379 4337; Lavazza 0181- 580 8810; Moulinex 0121-380 0500; Braun 0990 143223; Russell Hobbs 0161- 947 3000; Selfridges 0171- 629 1234; Liberty 0171-734 1234; Harrods 0171- 730 1234; Siemens 0990 222777; Harvey Nichols 0171-235 5000; John Lewis 0171-629 7711; Bodum 01451 810460

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