How to make a tiny cup of powerful coffee

A cool thing about capitalism is that you can choose from many different kinds of a given commodity. I remember going to the store recently to buy flour, and feeling overwhelmed by the many different options available to me. These various choices all contained ground up seeds from the same species of plant, so they were all basically the same thing, but it was a mildly fun experience nonetheless.

One of my favorite things that I saw in Russia was a drab gray delivery truck that was simply stenciled with the word “ХЛЕВ” (bread). The purpose of the writing on this truck was to simply state: “This is bread.” There was absolutely no branding nor any effort to distinguish the product at hand. I was struck by how acapitalistic this was. In America, the bread might be branded as a “disruptive wheat platform leveraging crowdsourced consumption to fill the hunger niche.”

Which is to say, or perhaps not to say, that cool things generally come in many kinds, like beer, wine, cars, or coffee.

However, out of these, coffee is the coolest of all, because it allows you to double-dip and be twice as bourgeois: once you are finished choosing what kind of coffee to get, you can then choose a method of brewing it.

Basically, all you have to do is make ground coffee enter and then exit some hot water, but it’s amazing how many different ways of doing this have been invented. There’s your old standby, the Mr. Coffee (as well as the more pretentious models Dr. Coffee and Coffee, JD) the Freedom Press (formerly known as the French Press), as well as a bunch of others that don’t lend themselves as well to jokes.

I seem to have many tools for making coffee in my kitchen. As I mentioned, they all pretty much do the same thing. But in my Sisyphean pursuit of coffee chic, I decided to get yet another tool.

Phin

This is a Vietnamese coffee filter dripping into my mini Moomin mug. Moomin is a Finn. This little filter is called a “phin.” I took this as a strong sign that these two objects were meant to be paired. I got this mug as a promotion from Mister Donut in Japan (as they were facing stiff competition at the time from Doctor Donut and Donut, JD.)

How it works is that you put ground coffee into the phin, and then pour hot water over it. The water comes back out of the phin, but the ground coffee stays inside. Does this sound familiar?

Perhaps a little non-standard is the resulting brew volume, which I would describe as “Euro.” Hence the mini Moomin mug. The brew is also very muscular, being darker than the depths of Dick Cheney’s soul. The resulting brew is pretty much interchangeable with a moka pot brew in my mind, but the phin is much less fussy, and much quicker. You do not have to watch the process with an eagle eye, as you do with the moka pot. Since the phin came to my kitchen, my moka pot has been relegated to shelf-warmer status.

The “proper” way to enjoy this brew is to pour it over ice and mix with sweetened condensed milk, which is delicious, but I think it is good black as well.

The best part is that one of these filters will only set you back around $5 at your local Asian grocery store. This is how you know that you are on the leading edge of hipness. Watch out when you see one for sale for $20 in a trendy café somewhere next to some Moleskine journals. Then you will know that it is time to seek the next challenge. Ceremony means nothing to us. The coffee is all.

Taking away

After typing up 1300 words, I remembered the wise words of Antoine de Saint Exupéry: “perfection is finally attained not when there is no longer anything to add, but when there is no longer anything to take away…”

After taking this advice to heart, eventually I found myself staring at a blank page. Perfection is sadder than you might think.

It’s good to explore all approaches to writing, though. I just might go Full Creed for my next post.