Forget what I Said Earlier About Coffee

Little known fact about me: the first college class I ever taught was a Spanish class at the University of North Alabama. I was a Spanish minor, which meant I got to hang out in this fantastic building all the time:

That’s Wesleyan Hall, the oldest building at UNA. It’s also my favorite building on campus. I used to get really excited when I was giving a campus tour and we made it around to Wesleyan (I really miss giving campus tours). Oh, and it’s haunted.

But I digress. I cannot tell you how excited and honored I was to be asked to teach the Spanish language lab sections my senior year. Truth be told, I wasn’t that great at Spanish, but Dr. Vance and Dr. Adler (both AMAZING professors who truly made a difference in my life, and whose teaching styles I try to emulate in my own classes) probably knew I’d show up every day, give it a good effort, and keep accurate attendance, which was the main requirement for the job since it was an attendance-based grade. I’m eternally grateful to Dr. Vance & Dr. Adler for giving me that opportunity, because it helped me realize that I really wanted to be a college professor. In fact, I remember the moment, standing there in Wesleyan at the end of one of my Spanish classes, when I just knew that I wanted to teach for the rest of my life. When you finally find it – your calling – as I did on that day, when I realized that I could do what I’d just done for the past hour, for the rest of my life, and be really happy… it’s a pretty cool feeling.

Fast forward a few weeks into the semester. I was covering vocabulary, and this word: “sauce” was one that we needed to review. Now, in English, obviously it refers to something yummy served as a condiment. But in Espanol, it means “weeping willow” and is pronounced “sah-OOOH-say.” Not “sauce.” But, in a moment of stupidity, I pronounced it with its English pronunciation, realized that I said it incorrectly, and just kept on going. Sure, I felt bad about saying it wrong, and got some strange looks from the people in class who were actually paying attention and realized I said it incorrectly, but I didn’t want to look dumb in front of the class and admit that I made a mistake.

Bad idea.

The next day, as I was hanging out between classes and preparing for the next lesson, Dr. Adler approached me in the hallway. “Hey, Laura Beth,” he said. “Pronounce this word for me.”

He flipped open the elementary Spanish textbook to… you guessed it… the word “sauce.”

I just looked at him and I’m pretty sure tears came into my eyes. Word had reached him that I was a complete idiot who had no business teaching Spanish. Even if I wasn’t actually teaching anything and instead was just calling roll & making everyone say Spanish words. And making them listen to Spanish music for hidden vocabulary. Or playing Spanish Jeopardy to review for their test. I profusely apologized for my error and promised it would never happen again. I thought I would be fired. My teaching career was over. It was such a stupid mistake. All these thoughts are racing through my ever-neurotic brain.

Dr. Adler, kind soul that he is, just smiled and said, “when you mess up in front of the class, you have to admit it. Ok?”

I didn’t realize until later that he’d just taught me the most important, valuable lesson about teaching anyone anything: when you mess up (and you will mess up, eventually), as soon as you realize you’re wrong, you have to go back and correct whatever you said erroneously. It was a lesson I learned the hard way, but I’m so thankful I learned it so early on in my teaching career.

It is with that opening story, LBDelicious readers, that I have to tell you that I was wrong. In fact, I want to go back and delete the post entitled “On Coffee,” because all of what I told you about how to make delicious coffee is incorrect.

I have been converted to espresso, made fresh daily with a stovetop espresso machine.

I recently got back from a phenomenal trip to Italy, where they do coffee (and about a million other things) amazingly well. It’s perfect, actually. One week of drinking cafes con latte and macchiatos was enough for me to change my favorite part of my morning routine.

The morning after the day we got back from Italy, I went through my usual routine of making coffee with my trusty drip coffee maker. Poured some half & half into my favorite big mug. Poured in the coffee (that used to look so dark, but compared to espresso shots in cafes across Sorrento, looked so weak), took a sip, and thought it was disgusting.

By 2 pm that day I’d been to Bed, Bath & Beyond to purchase a Bialetti stovetop espresso machine, and to Harry’s to procure Illy espresso. I put the Mill & Brew in the storage closet and have not looked back.

You should know that I’m pretty lazy in the mornings. I was worried that it would be too much trouble to make espresso every day, when it was so convenient to make a big pot of coffee. I was wrong. The espresso machine is much smaller and easier to clean than the Mill & Brew, so I actually save time during my day. I also find that the coffee is ready just as quickly, if not faster, than waiting on the regular coffee maker. Within 5 minutes, I have a beautiful, dark, rich, delicious cup of espresso to start my day. And, best of all, I can get my espresso maker set up the night before (just like I did my Mill & Brew), set it on the stove, and just let the coffee magic happen until I’ve prepared my breakfast and am ready to get caffeinated.

I can’t really think of a downside, except that this method is slightly more expensive than the previous method. I can find Illy for about $12/pound, and I was spending about $8/pound on my previous coffees at the grocery store. I haven’t done the math to figure out if it translates to that much more per cup (guessing it does, although I only use one tablespoon at a time of Illy and I was using at least 3 tablespoons per day of the cheaper whole beans), but the taste is just so worth it. If you like good coffee, I highly recommend the stovetop espresso method.

I started out making a couple of shots of espresso, and just chugging them, Italian style. That seemed to result in coffee that was just too rich and dark, and left me wanting to enjoy the act of drinking my coffee while I was warming up for the day. I’ve since realized that the perfect ratio for me is 5 ounces of water to 1 heaping tablespoon of ground Illy espresso. Yes – I’m being brand specific because it matters. And I measure it out because I’m neurotic. If you can’t use Illy brand, Lavazza would also probably work. But I’m in love with my Illy. Anyway, 5 ounces gets me a perfectly delicious, small portion of coffee with just enough caffeine to get me going and enough to take my time to drink while doing my early morning emails. And, I’ve reduced the amount of half & half I need to use. Just a splash is all it takes. Honestly, the coffee from the stovetop espresso machine is so good, I don’t technically need the half & half… I just enjoy it.

And the possibilities for actual cappuccinos and gourmet coffee drinks are endless. Today, I made the most delicious iced soy milk latte. I thought I liked my iced coffee with soy milk, but there’s something sublime about an icy cold, homemade latte with simple syrup to sweeten it up.

So, in the spirit of being a good educator, please forget what I said earlier about good coffee. It’s simple: a Bialetti (get one for about $20) stovetop espresso machine with Illy coffee. 5 ounces of water to 1 tablespoon of ground espresso. 5 minutes on the stove, a whole day of happy.