6 min read

An Average (Cup of) Joe

An Average (Cup of) Joe
Photo by Nathan Dumlao / Unsplash

See below: the Delonghi Dedica manual coffee machine, a contraption I've now owned for three months.

Purchasing a manual coffee machine was my personal venture into the world of coffee. I found myself lost in elaborate Wikipedia style articles about coffee bean locations, grind size, dose weight and pull duration, and decided that it was time to splash the cash on a coffee machine.

Making coffee has opened my eyes to caffeinated goodness in a way I'd never seen it before. Making coffee is fun.

Let's rewind

I didn't grow up in Australia. I grew up in Singapore, in a coffee culture which comprises of a depressing one dollar instant coffee sold in a hole-in-the-wall hawker center down the road.

Getting fancy with your coffee would involve a trip to the local shopping mall (plenty to choose from) for an overly-sweet and diluted Starbucks or Costa Coffee that costs you a whopping $7.

As a result, coffee only came into my life towards the end of high school. Exam pressure was mounting and instant Moccona coffee was my stress solution.

Moccona Classic Medium Roast 400g | BIG W
the trusty old Moccona Classic Medium Roast

I'd add a small amount of boiling water to a teaspoon of Moccona, top up with a hefty amount of milk, and possibly throw in some ice cubes on a hot day.

When I moved to Australia in early 2018, I found myself immersed in an evolved and artisan coffee culture, with fancy cafes spattered along every main road and side street.

I won't lie, I like fancy things. Coffee seemed sophisticated and mature. I wanted to sample every café under the sun and develop my own taste for coffee. I landed pretty quickly on the flat white as my drink of choice. The Moccona drinker in me prefers a bit of extra milk alongside the two shots of coffee.

A flat white feels a bit more mature than a cappuccino, and I thought I was getting more bang for my buck.

I was under the false impression that the milk froth on top of a cappuccino meant that there was less milk - see diagram.

I have come to learn I was wrong. It's the same amount of milk in both. This diagram has catfished me into thinking otherwise.

I now end up drinking around 2-3 coffees a day, usually at regular timings: one in the morning about half an hour after I wake up, One late morning/lunchtime, and one around 2pm when the food coma hits.

I've stopped drinking coffee (and any caffeine) after 2pm. My sleep has thanked me for it.

There's a strong possibility that I'm addicted to coffee, but that's something I'm willing to let slide for the many benefits I think it provides.

Coffee Chats

Speaking of benefits, let's chat about the professional aspect of coffee consumption.

As I was fortunate enough to gain my first few professional experiences, I quickly began to appreciate the importance of coffee for networking, known colloquially as 'coffee chats'.

However, my regular 'large flat white with one sugar' order began to sound childish as I stood next to an older corporate professional ordering a piccolo or macchiato.

To add insult to injury, they would often treat me to the coffee. I am very appreciative of this courtesy. Maybe the least I can do is drink a more sophisticated type of coffee...

I now tend towards piccolos in professional situations. They're growing on me, and I'd recommend giving them a try. Maybe I'm a pushover. I'll concede that one.

This sounds dumb, but it seems to be a subconscious reality of professional coffee culture. Drink 'professional' coffees. Why? Beats me.

It also makes me wonder whether non-coffee drinkers are disadvantaged in networking situations. Do they feel forced to drink coffee in social settings? I guess the same goes for people who don't drink alcohol. Might discuss this in a different post.

Café Coffee

Back to my coffee consumption timeline.

I've frequented the coffee shop down the road, Café Felix, for almost four years now. There are a few reasons I enjoy buying coffee out:

  1. It's a nice escape from my bedroom. Even if just for 10 minutes, the short walk gets my legs moving and resets my brain
  2. They have a lovely student discount. I pay $3.50 for my large flat white. That's pretty hard to beat at the Campos next door, even if they claim that their coffee is ethically sourced, hand-packaged, and professionally made by baristas with ten years of experience in Italy. I'll take the $3.50 coffee.
  3. It's a great excuse for a chat. Whether it's with someone I've seen at lunchtime five minutes beforehand, or a friend I haven't seen for years, drinking coffee with friends is a nice way to catch up and socialise. My advice is to reach out to someone you haven't caught up with in a while. Have a chat over a coffee on a nice sunny morning.

So, Xander. You opened this post showing off your fancy manual coffee machine, but you've just raved about the social aspects of coffee.  

I'm glad you bring that up. I'll get to that. But first, let me show off my coffee-making paraphernalia.

  • DeLonghi Dedica Manual Coffee Machine - nice small form factor, good for a college dorm room
  • DeLonghi Coffee Tamper - I upgraded the coffee tamper that came with my machine. Had to buy a special 51mm tamper because DeLonghi decided they didn't want to go with the industry standard
  • Breville Temp-Control Milk Jug - nice to be able to see the temperature as you steam the milk. Would recommend for beginners
  • Two little espresso cups (like the ones in the picture at the top) - makes me feel sophisticated. Allow it
  • A monthly coffee subscription from Melbourne-based Three-Thousand Thieves - I order 250g of coffee grounds, and they send me coffee from a different specialty roaster each month. I pay a small premium for the convenience, but it's worth it - highly recommend.

Why I make my own coffee

So I've spent a few hundred dollars on coffee equipment.

Why did I do it?

  1. If it hasn't come through yet, I'm really into coffee. It's a weirdly technical art form. There are such a wide range of factors which impact the final product, and I find it fascinating to learn about them. By investing in coffee machinery, I've been inspired to learn more and put my skills to the test
  2. I was hoping to save some money. I've realised that this is a bad reason to start making your own coffee. At least in Australia, coffee is part of social culture. Going out and buying coffee with people is a valuable social activity. I underestimated the extent of this reality
  3. It's a nice break from screen time. A manual coffee machine is more work than I was expecting. It's nowhere near as fast and easy as a pod machine. It has multiple components which all need to be cleaned regularly. It probably takes me around 5 minutes to make a cup of coffee. But that's okay. I enjoy the time away from my phone screen or computer monitor. It's a screen break. In the morning, it keeps me away from blue light for those extra few minutes, which lets me wake up naturally

Maybe some of these reasons resonate with you. If you've been holding off, maybe this post is the motivation to buy a machine. I'd be extremely interested to hear if you do!

You're not going to save money on all the coffee, but it's a very niche and sophisticated skill, and it's very rewarding. There's much more to learn than meets the eye.

That's all for this post. I've just remembered that I've got a cup of milk in the fridge specially dedicated to my post-lunch coffee. Time to go make it. Thanks for reading.