Jim Pellegrini's friends will tell you that he can be more than a little obsessive when he decides to master something. You would expect this from a guy whose career has centered around the medical devices and biotechnology. What is a little surprising is that it took him about thirty four years to develop that same level of obsession about coffee, a truly complex subject that he suspects he'll spend the rest of his life trying to master.
It all started with that damn Krups. Why did it have to be so cool looking? Or at least that's what I thought of it at the time. That was eleven years ago.
I was graduating from college, and my then girlfriend (now wife) thought it would be a great gift for a first apartment. You probably remember it, or have seen its descendents – the dual purpose machine: drip coffee one side, espresso on the other. Jet black. So different. So bad.
Funny thing was I had never had an espresso in my life. Maxwell House was my idea of good coffee, and I still have the can collection to prove it. Nobody told me it didn't make good espresso. So my first experience was horrible. Why does everyone rave about this stuff? Six or seven years would pass before the steam side would heat again… good thing that drip maker worked so well. Meanwhile, I got myself a Gold Filter. Am I a connoisseur, or what? Actually I cheaped out on buying paper filters. Right decision, wrong reason – hey, I'd rather be lucky than good.
So at that point, I'm drinking what I think is the world's best drip coffee, buying the 100% Columbian exclusively – it doesn't get any better than this, right? Juan Valdez can't be wrong.
I don't remember where that first blade grinder came from, but once my rock started rolling, it picked up speed pretty rapidly. I discovered whole beans. Yowza! So THIS is what that espresso thing is about…
Lookout. I'm steaming. I'm frothing. I'm giving Starbucks a run for their money, at least in my mind. I still haven't been introduced to the concept of crema, but hey, this doesn't suck. Then it happened: my whirly-blade grinder broke.
Normal people would have gone to Wal Mart and picked up a new one. But I've got "the gene". The defective gene. The one that causes an otherwise-rational person to engage in the perennial search for better toys. And then I saw it: the Solis 166. Conical burrs, adjustable on the fly, made in Switzerland… oh, oh, OH! There's just no turnin' back now.
As these things frequently do, one thing led to another. What's this brownish-white froth on top my espresso?? Oh my. And I can get MORE of it but adjusting the grind? And the tamp? Next thing I know, I've got steam pumping out of every joint or connection on what's now "this old Krups". And the drip maker hasn't been used in ages. Can't even find the Gold Filter.
All it took was a steam burn at that point. The Krups had to go. Ten years. It's served me well. Time to retire, soldier. A quick internet search results in more revelation: that machine that I knew and loved… it wasn't even a real espresso machine. It was a «GASP» "steam toy". Defective gene boy will be having no more of that.
So I go from one extreme to another. I draw the line at running 220V power and water lines into my kitchen. This limits some options. Holy @$#$%! Look what the real (read: pump) machines cost. This limits options a little further. But then I find it. The Saeco. Superautomatic. Silver. Digital. Dear God, help me. He does. He reminds me of my credit card.
If only it were over there. But the defective gene dictates the progression of the disease. A man cannot live on espresso alone. He needs vac pot coffee. And press pot coffee. All this coffee necessitates more beans. Which means home roasting. The disease is ruthless. Cory. Bodum. Alpenrost. Pavoni. I've fallen off the wagon that is self-restraint, and I can't get up. But I don't want to.
Brother, can you spare a hundred for a cup of coffee?
While Jim isn't working his day job, or dreaming about the business concept that might someday crush Starbuck's, he spends his time with his twin daughters, who at six years old know the correct proportions for a latte, and his wife, who doesn’t drink coffee and thus provides another challenge if he ever does master this coffee thing.
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