"The only real stumbling block is the fear of failure. In cooking, you have got to have a what-the-hell attitude." ~ Julia Child

cafe bella

by Julie Tilsner on December 22, 2006

in Caffeination

I had to move at the end of the summer, because my greedy bastard landlords wanted to sell their house and make a killing in real estate. Too bad for them the market had stopped short and nothing was selling anymore (it sits on the market still). But good for me, because I was forced to leave a house I never liked that had bad energy and unpleasant memories (not to mention a ghost in the dining room) and found my dream home instead.  A two-story, sun-filled 1920’s Spanish style duplex. Just around the corner.

A benefit of having to pack up and move abruptly: I got rid of mountains of superfluous crap, purging my life and getting ready for a clear new beginning.

I found beautiful items along the way. Among them: My Bialetti (moka pot) from Italy.

All good associations here. Kitchen Goddess Three, Christina Bess, lived in Italy in the mid-90s with her husband Andy. His employer rented them a villa just outside of Florence, in the middle of a working orchard, with a view of the mountains. This villa had a small apartment over the garage. Needless to say, I was there every chance I got. This was before kids, in another life. It seemed somewhat easier to get to Europe in those days, for some reason, even though I was even more broke than I am now. I guess I was richer in time.

And my times there were languid and filled with tastes and aromas and the heavy, fragrant air of Tuscany in late August. In the mornings I’d come down to the kitchen, following my nose to the coffee boiling in this strange little pot on the stove. I’d never seen a Bialetti before. I was more a Mr. Coffee sort of American. I couldn’t fathom how such a small appliance could produce enough coffee for four adults. But it was espresso that was being brewed, and as such, it only took a small amount, mixed with three parts warmed milk in a large cup, to perfectly sate. I was so delighted by the output I bought my own to take back home with me.

A lot has happened in the ten years since then. I hadn’t even thought of the Bialetti for years. I couldn’t even remember how to work the thing when I first found it, deep in the back of a top cabinet. It requires a small modicum of mechanical sense. There are several sections that need to be assembled correctly for it to work. There is a rubber washer involved. The first time I tried to use it, I don’t think I packed the coffee in right: The water in the bottom boiled away without ever percolating up into the pitcher. The second time I used too much coffee. The time after that I used too little water.

All standard for me. I thought about giving up. I was not about to Google how to use a Bialetti. Just typical for me not to be able to use a simple appliance. One morning I tried again, using ground espresso I’d bought just for this purpose. I set it on the stove. I was busy, pre-occupied as usual. I had no expectations, and indeed, I had every intention of going out and buying a coffee later on, when this last experiment failed.

I smelled it before I heard it — a rich, creamy olfactory hit that instantly took away the last ten years and put me back into a kitchen in Tuscany. Then I heard the strange hissing burble and I knew it was working. I sat down and waited patiently. Nothing that tastes the way I hoped this would taste is made quickly.

I had half-and-half left over from my holiday party. I heated some up in a small saucepan. To my delight I remembered the large, artsy teacup set my sister-in-law had given me for Christmas and poured one part espresso to three parts half-and-half into its deep bowl. It was a light brown mocha color. It smelled sublime. I stirred once. I sipped. I closed my eyes.

It’s August, 1996. Except that it’s December 2006 now and I’m so happy I could weep.Mokapot_2

Need more coffee? Here’s a great how-to essay by the really smart, irritatingly prolific guy at the Big Picture.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Joey Nerenberg July 14, 2016 at 11:11 pm

Best coffee I have ever had…bought a small version in a 200 square foot Italian hardware store for nothing…wish I can find the various parts!


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