Wednesday, January 4, 2012


It so happens that most people have been convinced by industry and the media that the electric coffee pot is the one best way to achieve a decent tasting and healthy brew. In this post, I’m challenging that belief. Here are my reasons.

Since I’ve been an adult, I’ve gone through at least one electric coffee pot every four years. At my age, that makes for more than a dozen of these items, ranging in price from $10, a cheap filtered, drip-type when money was tight, to $40+ for electric percolators, when I had some extra coins in my pocket. The coffee that I made with these pots ranged from poor to mediocre to acceptable, depending on a range of factors. All of my electric pots broke or were short-circuited and had to be replaced in just a few years of daily use. What a senseless way to throw away money and to use up so many industrial materials and processes! Being eco-wise and earth-friendly demands more than that of us. That’s why I’ve decided that from now on, I’m going to make coffee the old-fashion way without using electric pots, plastic parts, or paper filters.

For some months, I've been making my coffee by heating water to boil in a regular saucepan and passing it through a metal strainer with a fabric strainer into a ceramic pot, one or two times – depending on the quantity of coffee needed and how tight my coffee money budget is. I reheat the coffee on the stove/ ( For just one cup I use the microwave oven.)

Now, I really like to drink coffee and drink tea as well, and almost don’t drink sodas or bottled water. But I decided a while back to limit my coffee drinking to three cups a day. More coffee than that and I’m going to have gastric symptoms or heart flutters. Also, I don’t go to fancy coffee beverage stores to buy or drink coffee more than once a month, and when I do, it's usually for social reasons – someone else is going and invites me to go along. I make coffee at home and I don’t often drink the commercially imported stuff. I hand-carry excellent Mexican coffee over the border whenever I can. That’s one of the advantages of visiting Mexico often.

Having said enough about my coffee making, I’ll do a quick review of health-related aspects of this brew. Then more about coffee preparation without using an electric coffee pot.

Coffee drinking – good or bad for you?

Is coffee drinking good for you? Well, there’s some controversy on the subject but, all-in-all, it seems that it may be healthy choice for most people. In a long-term Harvard University study that tracked the diet and lifestyle habits of thousands of adults, they found no relationship between coffee consumption and increased risk of death from any cause. Apparently, coffee drinking provides us with useful anti-oxidants, just as tea does, and in moderate use - 3 or less 6 oz. cups per day - hasn’t any serious negative effects on health for most people. And, at least, coffee is less toxic and healthier than sugary soda pop.

But coffee is more than caffeine and actually has hundreds of different compounds in it – and some might be good, neutral or bad for us. Obviously, people who have gastric problems, high blood pressure, or high cholesterol need to seriously limit their caffeine. Decaf coffee with some of the same anti-oxidant benefits is a good option for them. The fact that coffee has a slightly negative influence on calcium absorption could also be a concern. Coffee also contains a oily substance called cafestol that may increase cholesterol levels. Luckily, when you brew coffee with a paper filter, the cafestol doesn’t get through.

Old-fashioned boiled coffee

We prepare our daily java in a way that we hope captures rich aroma and gives us a boost while avoiding the heavy, bad taste of too much tannic acid. The simplest possible way to brew coffee is the old-fashioned boiled kind – no electric pot needed. All you do is put the ground beans into a pot with water, put heat underneath it, and let the water boil. The longer coffee is boiled the more "muddy" it becomes, because of the breaking down of the fibrous material of the bean. After you turn the heat off, you are left with a murky mixture of grounds and coffee that has to be strained. If you use a sauce pan, you can strain the grounds using a close-mesh strainer or a cheesecloth.

Boiled coffee is often associated with cowboys and campers out on the trail. The traditional pot is made of enameled metal and has a strainer built into the pour spout. There are two tricks to its use. First, watch the pot very carefully to take it off the fire as soon as the water starts to boil and, second, toss a few eggshells into the grounds. The eggshells help settle (congeal) the grounds, making them easier to strain and help reduce the acidity level.

And many cooks, not just cowboys and campers, praise the old-fashioned boiled coffee made with eggshell  for its richness, body, and aroma. Adding eggshell to the grounds of coffee is said to take away some of the bitter taste of over boiled coffee. Eggshell is alkaline. When the eggshell is boiled with the acid brew, it makes for a smoother taste.

Recipe for “traditional” boiled coffee

1 cup medium ground coffee
1/2 cup cold water
6 cups boiling water with two crushed, empty eggshells in a saucepan
1/2 cup cold water.

Mix the coffee with 1/2 cup cold water, add to boiling water with eggshells. Simmer with a lid for 5 to 8 minutes, depending on the strength you desire. Strain with a fine-mesh strainer and/or filter the coffee into a clean serving pot. Leave the last settled, muddy half cup or so of liquid in the saucepan to be thrown out with the grounds. (Always save the grounds, crushed shells, and any unused coffee for your plants. It’s a great fertilizer.)

All this results in a rich, strong coffee, serves about 10 cups.

Note. One Mexican variation on boiled coffee (café con canela) is really good. Add pieces of two fresh cinnamon sticks, one tablespoon of natural unsweetened cocoa, and some sugar – to your taste - to the boiling mix. (No eggshells called for in this recipe.) Served piping hot, alone or with cream and sugar, this brew is delicious as a breakfast or after-dinner drink.

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