How not to make a cup of coffee…

HERE is an idiot’s guide to making a cup of coffee. To play this game, you need an old aluminium espresso pot and it helps if you are tired.

Our pot is more than 30 years old and came from Paris. We bought it from an African man who had a stall outside a department store. There are four main parts: the bottom where the water goes, the funnel for the coffee, the filter plate and the top with a handle and spout. The pot has kept going all these years, although we did once have to change the rubber seal that holds the filter plate in place.

It is election morning and I slept fitfully, so a coffee seems like a good idea. There is a routine with this coffee pot and I could do it with my eyes shut, although it turns out I might have made a better job of it that way.

Grind the beans, put the coffee in the basket, screw everything together and place the pot on the hob. And – hey espresso! – a few minutes later you have lovely, dark coffee.

The milk goes in the pan, ready to place on the turned-off hob so that it warms without getting too hot. It’s the attention to detail that counts, you see. I pride myself on knowing how these things should be done. A degree of smugness may even be summoned up on occasions.

But this morning something doesn’t seem right, doesn’t smell right. Then I spot my mistake, which you may be able to glean from a quick sweep of the available clues: no water.

I only realise the error when the coffee doesn’t begin to bubble as it should. A watched coffee pot doesn’t boil when you forget to put the water in. Instead it heats up alarmingly.

Using two tea towels, I try to undo the pot, but the heat expansion has stuck everything together. Do you know how long an aluminium coffee pot stays hot? Longer than you might think, longer than a man with an urge for coffee is prepared to wait.

The pot is left to cool for a few minutes, until the parts will unscrew. Then a thin butter knife is used to ease out the hot basket, spilling the ground coffee on the work surface. After that, cold water goes in the bottom half of the espresso maker. There is, it must be said, steam involved. The spilled coffee is rescued and the coffee pot is reassembled using those tea towels.

Normally the coffee bubbles up gently, but today it heats up alarmingly and spurts out of the spout. Still, it’s a coffee and – bloody hell, that’s hot! Nuclear hot, coffee bought from a stall at the core of the earth.

The coffee is poured and the warm milk added. The next part of this important process involves reading the paper for ten minutes until the coffee has cooled to a point where you can pick up the mug.

I hope these instructions prove useful. Incidentally, there is a theory that you shouldn’t use aluminium utensils because of a possible link with Alzheimer’s. It’s probably too late to worry about that now, and there’s just enough left in the pot for a mini-refill. And I’ll raise a cup to that.

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