The last time I popped through America, I wound up in a hipster jazz bar in Iowa (just wait, it gets more improbable) where I met a boisterous 22-year-old. "I have something to tell you," she said after a few minutes of enthusiastic face-sucking. "I'm ... asexual."
Entries in Americans (6)
Surrounded by Americans? The following key gestures and words will allow you to fake a high level of American English, even and especially when you have no idea what anyone is saying.
This is derived from the Tipsy Pilgrim Language Method, which targets language's true purpose: amusement. Rarely, we believe, does/should language serve a communicative function; more often, it just decorates the time spent eating, socializing and fucking.
This method is useful whether you already speak English quite well, or not at all (perhaps you're using the Google Translate feature — at top right — to read this). Take 20 minutes to learn the following phrases and behaviors, and, for most Tipsy purposes, you will be fluent in American English.
When electricity runs out and the world descends into chaos, you'll presumably be soaking whatever coffee beans your slave scrounged up in the runoff from a sewer crater. A properly roasted, ground and pressurized espresso will seem a distant luxury. But not so for Nate Miller, who has perfected off-the-grid, gourmet espresso.
Nate is an expert in "micro-living". Aside from its obvious survivalist appeal, it offers the possibility of a high-end lifestyle on very little resources, leaving a small ecological footprint. This post will focus on his scheme for getting the top-notch espresso of a $1000+ home setup (typically: $300 roaster+$500 espresso machine+$250 grinder) for under $200, and without all that electricity. At the end of the post, we'll talk about the wider implications of "micro-living" and take you into to Nate's all-around amazing home.
As a long-time friend, I'm totally biased here, so I'll let Nathalie Frank, a French gal who met him while backpacking across the US, back me up. "The coffee was amazing!" Nathalie says. "This guy has a beautiful art de vivre — homemade coffee, wines, cuisine, and a great love for city life."
I’ve asked Nate guest blog his recommendations for off-the-grid, gourmet espresso partly as a window into a certain sliver of American culture (who says Americans never appreciate fine food and drink?), and partly because this espresso setup is fucking awesome, and we should all do likewise. (Unfortunately owning ANY equipment is not quite compatible with my presently unsettled, tiddly lifestyle, but someday soon...)
Enter Nate Miller:
The origin of your coffee makes a difference. There is a wide range of quality out there, but look for shade-grown coffee produced on volcanic soil. For the home roaster, Sweet Maria's is the number one place to go for beans, equipment and advice.
If you forgo roasting yourself, find a local roaster that knows its stuff. I happen to work for a source in Chicago that I'm happy shamelessly plug: Misericordia. It's actually a home for adults with developmental disabilities, but I run a workshop where we package coffee for our own label as well as for Crop to Cup, a company based in Chicago and New York that buys coffee pretty much exclusively from small family farms in rural east Africa. Crop to Cup invests in good relationships with their farmers, who often live in politically and economically unstable areas. They're also areas with lots of rich volcanic soil, which creates some of the tastiest coffees around. My personal favorite of their offerings is a Ethiopia Sidamo; it's from the birthplace of coffee and has really strong fruit notes.
Fresh-roasted is the number one concern for the espresso nerd. About 2-3 weeks after roasting, the coffee begins to oxidize and lose much of its flavor and mouthfeel. Plus, with stale coffee you will have a heck of a time getting any decent crema (the layer of foam that tops a proper espresso).
Of course you can buy freshly roasted beans, but to be truly in the spirit of off-the-grid micro-living, you will roast your own, thereby guaranteeing freshness for yourself and saving bundle of money. Paying $1 an ounce for roasted coffee doesn't make a lot of sense if you can buy green beans for about $5 a pound and have extremely fresh coffee all the time. Coffee roasters enjoy a certain mysticism around their work that enables them to charge these prices, but roasting your own coffee is really not that difficult.
There are all kinds of high-tech electronic gizmos for roasting involving digital readouts and precise temperature controls. However, being an incorrigible cheapskate and luddite, I prefer the stovetop method. My first experiments with home roasting involved nothing more sophisticated than a wok and a wooden spoon. This method works, but it also makes YOU work. The key to having an even roast is constant agitation, you want to avoid burning one side of the bean while leaving another side incomplete.
For this reason, I decided after a few roasts to upgrade to a device called an aroma pot coffee roaster (sadly, it's not currently available, but this is a good alternative). Its design is based on a 19th-century home roaster, from when farmers' wives ordered green coffee from a catalog to roast at home.
Stovetop roasting should last roughly 15-20 minutes over medium-low heat and it is imperative that you actively agitate the beans the entire time. I find it is also necessary to occasionally shake the pan to redistribute the coffee. You will know that you are almost done when you hear a cracking sound, not unlike popcorn popping, and a small amount of smoke starts to appear.
They say you should have a hood vent above your stove. However, I don't, and I find that the smoke is only minor annoyance. Turn off your smoke alarm and enjoy the wonderful smell. I recommend roasting before entertaining guests!
I always get the best shots from coffee that I roasted the day before (sometimes I get anxious and brew the same day as roasting but ideally it should have some rest time).
The most frequently overlooked element of this process is the grinder. Your standard electric rotary grinder will result in an uneven consistency. This means that when you apply hot water and pressure you will achieve what is called “channelling"; a mix of courser coffee and finer pieces will create a tiny delta inside your portafilter, forcing coffee quickly through the larger bits and not allowing it to infuse properly with the smaller ones. You will not get a nice even pour; it will sputter and probably pour too fast, resulting in a bitter, weak brew. You need a grinder that creates easily calibrated, extra fine, consistent coffee that will be infused uniformly and create a homogenous puck (the disk of grounds through which the espresso is forced).
Since we’re staying off the grid we’ll skip the electric burr grinder (otherwise it's a fine option). Instead we'll go with the Hario Mill. These are hand-cranked Japanese ceramic coffee mills that can be adjusted to any fineness. They only run about $30-40. The slim model fits nicely right over the portafilter of the Presso, which is our next element.
The Presso a 100% manual espresso machine that uses two hand levers to create the pressure needed for good extraction. While it doesn't quite match a good italian machine, you can pull a nice shot with good crema from this thing, and it will only set you back about $150.
As with any unfamiliar espresso machine, there will be a learning curve. With the Presso it is no different; there are several tricks to get the most out of your Presso. The first and probably most important is to overfill the reservoir, so as to get the maximum available pressure. I have seen elaborate hacks to adjust for this, involving widdling your own custom widget to insert in the reservoir, but I find this unnecessary. Just fill the reservoir to the top rather than to the suggested fill lines on the plunger and you will achieve a significant improvement in pressure.
I would also recommend priming. Start with a dry run using the hottest boiling water you can get. This heats up the machine so it is ready to pour a nice shot.
As you use this setup, you will learn how to adjust your grind and the pressure you use on the levers to pull a decent shot. Too fine a grain will clog the portafilter, too course will cause the shot to pour too fast.
One thing I love about the Presso is its simplicity. Everything on can be taken apart by the consumer and easily replaced. (I cracked a plunger once when I was getting a little too ambitious with the pressure and when I ordered a new one online I was contacted by a customer representative who noticed I had just bought my Presso a few months before; he bounced the charge and gave the part to me for free.)
The Presso's instruction manual is worthless, by the way. I would recommend checking out the many blogs on how to get the most out of the machine, and coffeegeek.com is always a good resource for general caffeinated geekery.
I've managed to fit a queen-sized bed, a fully equipped kitchen and dining area, an office, artist's loft and living area for my girlfriend and I in one 12'x15' room with a 9' ceiling (the kitchen, squeezed underneath our bed, is pictured at the top of this post). We have a decent library of books and DVD's as well as a respectable collection of vinyl. I've got my espresso setup in the kitchen. Under the counter I keep four three-gallon fermenters for making my own beer, wines and hard ciders. There’s a full sized Yamaha keyboard in my office that’s mounted on a hinge so it can hide behind my desk (which is on casters) when not in use. My girlfriend uses our three windows to grow herbs and we are excited to have a go at cultivating mushrooms on a log suspended over the doorway this autumn. We keep our fridge stocked with home-cooked meals made up of organic ingredients (I was a professional cook in a previous life and have recently started a one-man catering service), and I pretty much always have a cranberry wine or hard cider on tap to help me unwind from a long day.
I once spent some time living on a 100%-off-the-grid farm in Costa Rica. It was a seven-mile hike from the nearest gravel access road and we had a little Coleman solar panel that could power a 40-watt lightbulb for approximately 3 hours. It taught me a lot about what is really necessary to live a good life.
I am convinced that while all of humanity need not go to quite such extremes as these, conservation is the key to our future survival on this planet. The rate at which we have been using non-renewable resources for the last 60+ years is criminal, so I try to enjoy life while using a little bit less of those resources.
More on Nate Miller and micro-living can be found at his blog.
Dear Tipsy Pilgrim,
I am a 32-year-old American woman who has recently taken on a French lover. While his 24 years is quite a blessing in the sack, he’s becoming a bit of a burden to my pocketbook. When we go to dinner or out to a show, he never brings quite enough cash, and I have to cover him. Just last week, he accompanied me on a rather expensive group outing that I had planned; everyone else in the group coughed up their share, but Frenchy Boy has yet to place a dime in my hand, despite his promise to do so once he "found a cash machine." What do you think is the proper way to ask him for the money he owes me?
— Creative Professional Banging Frenchie
You say he's "gainfully employed", but I take it he makes a bit less than you? This is not uncommon when dating someone younger...
Nope. His salary is three times what mine is.
Well I was going to call on you to stop taking your poor boyfriend on fancy outings (or else to pay for them yourself) but clearly that’s not the issue. Frenchy Boy is being a dick. It may help you to know that in France (compared to the States) there is certainly even more expectation that men pay for dates and treat their women well. Frenchiness is no excuse for comportement sauvage.
The next time you see him, be direct; tell him about your feelings and those of your pocketbook, and announce that it’s now his turn to pay for dates. Drive him to a cash machine if you have to. This young man needs to learn now that he can’t get away with this bullshit. Once he's no longer a drain on your wallet, you may go back to draining that lovely French cock.
So there it is, our first installment of Ask Tipsy Pilgrim, where we take questions from TP readers on important (multi-)cultural issues. Got your own drink, party or love conundrums? Just ask Tipsy Pilgrim.
Certain impending life changes here at TP HQ threaten to make us a bit less American in the coming years, so we're delighted to take a week to revel in what we love about the fatherland. America Week will highlight the world's brashest, most flamboyantly ignorant and most creative culture by looking at how these cowgals 'n' guys drink, fuck and amuse themselves.
It shouldn't surprise that the land of pink slime and imitation cheese also tends to favor a drink that leaves you with little idea what you're actually drinking: the cocktail. Many countries do a bit of mixing of liquors, but Americans elevate the cocktail glass like no one else.
The video below is from our lovely rivals at Everyday Drinkers, and covers just one aspect of successful cocktail preparation: handling ice. The entire five-and-a-half minutes of instruction can be conveyed in a single sentence (keep your drink colder by using fresh ice in your cocktail glass, not the leftover ice from the shaker), but as usual TP is not so interested in a particular mandate but rather in what it says about a culture. So take a look.
Here's what we're seeing:
1. The slavish obsession of the presenter, Derrick Schommer, for his subject. This tendency to work way too hard at whatever crazy thing is presumably what has allowed Americans to originate everything from chess-playing computers to nuclear bombs to rock music.
2. Tipsy has investigated a lot of drink wisdom over the years, but it takes an American to demonstrate his wisdom in a side-by-side video test. Wine snobs in Bordeaux have scolded me to open a wine bottle in the "correct" way, and Serbians have, with a lot more levity, passed on the "proper, time-tested" temperature and cooking times for mulled wine, but it takes folks from a young country to verify drinking lore in an empirical test.
3. Pride in geekiness. Take a look at some of the worlds' other drink blogs and videos — Europeans often try to present themselves as smooth connoisseurs, Latin Americans as party animals. But our ice hero seems to have no desire to hide his awkwardness; he's relaxed and at home in an amelodic, staccato delivery and sharp, flailed gestures. I take this as implied expertise; he couldn't be bothered with time or effort on presentation, or anything other than making fine cocktails. (Proudly asserted alternativeness is common among smart folks in the States. I once took a Catalan girlfriend home to visit my Midwestern college town, and she commented that everyone there seemed like a cartoon version of themselves.)
This week (or as soon as we get around to it) we have a lot planned on Americans' geeked out drinking, including homemade hooch and off-the-grid espresso. Your input is of course welcome in the comments. And in the meantime, check out some cocktail recipes over with the Everyday folks.
Photo credit: Fausto Fernos.