Maybe I’ve got this coffee thing all wrong. I’ve made no secret of my horror of hot brown drinks on this site, my tea drinking family spent a great deal of energy into getting me to enjoy tea. My earliest memories of coffee are adverts with Joanna Lumley throwing it into plant pots to avoid drinking it. (Sadly I can’t find the clip on YouTube but here is the 1990s version.) My family were not coffee drinkers – even if they were obsessed with tea – and Starbucks didn’t exist so coffee was never on my radar as a desirable drink.
To this day, I very rarely drink tea or coffee. My one exception would be if I wanted to use a loo in Italy and for the price of an espresso you can justify sitting in a bar for two minutes before using the facilities without filling yourself up with so much liquid it’s time to go again 45 minutes later. There’s barely more than an eggcup full and even I can force that quantity down in the manner of administering medicine.
Yet I do enjoy coffee flavoured things a great deal. The coffee fondant choccy left in the tub of Roses that no one else wants I’ll joyfully polish off.
So I got to thinking. Maybe it’s the milk. I don’t like milk. Ever since those hideous warm third pint bottles with skinny green straws we were bullied into drinking at school. Thank God Margaret Thatcher got rid of the stuff I say.
But I still couldn’t escape the dreaded milk on cereal. Separating into swirls. Perish the thought, turning brown and making my Coco Pops soggy.
Then I discovered that actually it wasn’t that I hated milk, I hated full fat milk. I can cope with semi skimmed and happily drink fully skimmed.
Today I will drink tea. But only if it’s served without milk and only if it’s a spicy lapsang souchong.
I used to think I didn’t like opera. I’d been twice and been bored to tears.
Then it occurred to me that maybe I just didn’t like German opera but that Italian opera would be better. I often enjoyed short snatches of opera I heard on telly so how come I couldn’t cope with a live performance of the stuff?
I bought myself some fairly low brow Lesley Garratt / Sarah Brightman opera greatest hits type CD and to my surprise I discovered that in fact I DID like opera, I just didn’t like Mozart.
Both times I’d seen opera it had been Mozart. So there you have it. I do like opera, I just don’t like Mozart.
Once I thought I didn’t like beer.
The weird thing was that those little beer bottle sweets you got in the pick and mix I really loved. So it wasn’t the taste of beer I didn’t like.
Then I discovered it was the temperature, I didn’t like warm beer. Cold lagers I discovered I liked. Chilled fruit beers even better!
But pints in glasses with handles with froth on top that old men drank on Coronation Street: no way.
So what I’m trying to explain in a round about way is why the hell does someone who doesn’t drink coffee agree to blog about a coffee machine?
Well I live in hope that like tea, like milk, like opera and like beer that some day I will discover exactly how I do like my coffee.
And what better way than the folks from De Longhi sending me this handsome beast to try out? If I like the machine I’m more likely to like the drink right?
There are some more hurdles before I qualify as a barista. I suffer from a type of coffee machine induced narcolepsy. Whenever I’m faced with one I glaze over as if someone especially dull is talking to me about pension plans.
My complete ineptitude at making tea and coffee is again due to my upbringing. After all, if you’re not drinking the stuff you don’t want to be fetching and carrying it for other people. My family soon gave up asking me to make cups of tea for them since I didn’t drink it I just couldn’t grasp how to make it properly. When I worked as a secretary I found it very convenient indeed to absolve myself from being demoted to always fetching the drinks on the basis that if I didn’t drink it myself, any tea or coffee I produced must surely be guaranteed to taste vile. I happily cultivated a perception of my making the tea or coffee being more threat than favour.
Yet I love the smell of coffee, I enjoy watching people in aprons and black shirts make it in cafes. When I lived on Muswell Hill Broadway in the mid 90s, there was an independent coffee shop called W Martyn. The smell of freshly ground coffee beans as you walked past the door was intoxicating. A different animal altogether to the caked brick of Nescafe sat in my cupboard since five years earlier.
On my journey to discover what kind of coffee I do like, I need to learn to use the machine. Initially I picked up the coma inducing badly laid out instruction leaflet and stood confused. There aren’t many buttons and plenty of other people make coffee so why am I mystified by the process? I understand how our silver hexagonal hob based coffee maker works and even I could fathom that this machine worked on the same principal.
My husband had already filled the back with water, I was armed with Illy powder and a plastic scoop. Then fortunately I came across the short cut instructions on glossy card: “6 Easy Steps to Making your First Espresso” which were much easier to understand.
Next I had to phone my husband at work. “I’ve got the Illy powder in the scoopy thing so now what??”
There’s a handle that sticks out the front like on the big machines you see in coffee bars – the baristas always give these a satisfying pull as if they’re compressing every last bit of flavour out of coffee grounds so I was a bit disappointed not to do that movement here, the arm stays rigid.
Once the arm was in position, I felt a bit silly needing to phone my husband as you basically press the “on” button then the button underneath with the coffee cup/liquid. Then you press that one again to stop.
I found most of our mugs were too tall to easily place under the nozzle – which was not a problem with either the Tassimo or the Lavazza models I’ve featured before. Nor would it matter if you used proper coffee cups for cappucino or espresso.
We do have two odd espresso mugs (prop shopping finds!) but they’ve got dark chocolate mousse in them at the moment so I couldn’t use those.
But eventually, mug manoeuvred in position (these gorgeous cute mugs were a present from Italy no less) I pressed two little buttons in the right order and MANAGED TO MAKE A CUP OF COFFEE.
It was easy, I didn’t burn anything. It wasn’t noisy. I managed to press the right button to stop it before I overfilled the mug.
It actually looks like coffee. Damn fine coffee to quote the man from Twin Peaks (or was it damn fine cherry pie?). I was surprised it had proper foam on it because I thought you only got that with coffee with milk in it. I’m not going to drink it yet though, I have other plans for it and I promise these don’t involve plant pots.
Meanwhile, whilst my coffee cools down here are my initial thoughts on the machine:
- For under £200, I’d say this is the best looking coffee machine that you’re going to find. The styling is beautiful, it’s not just retro, it’s the colours that make it stand out.
- Taking a look at various De Longhi Icona coffee machines in John Lewis, I noted that three models all at different prices were effectively the same machine. Same size, same shape, same specification – just finished in different materials. The silver model and black model are both cheaper than the pale blue or pale green ones (the silver one significantly so).
- The blue and green ones with coffee coloured trimmings look the most sophisticated. I hanker after the matching toaster and kettle which would sit very nicely in place of the green Morphy models you see on my Facebook cover photo.
- I pleased we didn’t need to buy special pods. There are two attachments for pods or powder. That said, once you’ve bought pods it would be more convenient and quicker to use and clean.
- I’m not sure which brand of pods I ought to buy. Do they do De Longhi ones?
- Supposedly the tray on the top is for warming cups although equally filling them with hot water will warm them too.
- The nozzles drip a lot so the drip tray (heh it’s not called that for nothing) gets full of cold coffee. Yuk.
- There’s a steam arm on the side and I’m dying to have a go with this. Apparently a metal third pint jug is best and by chance I have one of these already.
So today my espresso is ending up in cookie icing – you get a really subtle coffee colour and I think I will use this method in future when I want a pale brown icing. You can read my directions how to make my chocolate coffee sugar cookies below.
But my quest to find a way to drink coffee that I enjoy continues. Here are the types of coffee that I can eliminate that I know I already do not like:
- With milk (although the jury is out on skimmed milk)
- Hot (hot drinks bore me. They’re not ready straight away then you forget about them until they’re tepid)
- With “mud” left in the bottom. (My in-laws drink Turkish coffee with sloppy grounds sludging in the bottom. I cannot cope with this).
- That stuff that’s been digested by civets and comes out as poo coated beans. I think we can ditch that too.
So probably this reduces things down to my trying a good quality coffee bean that I grind myself at home; make strong espresso from it, get rid of any froth on the top and make iced coffee with it. Probably I’ll need sugar or sweetener too.
When I’ve done this I’ll let you know but in the meantime here are the biscuits!
- 1 batch of chocolate cookie dough from THIS POST (although see note below)
- 2 tsp espresso powder
- 300g icing sugar
- 1 egg white
- 40-50 ml cold espresso
- Demerara sugar for sprinkling
- Pre-heat the oven to 180c or Gas mark 4.
- Make up a batch of chocolate cookie dough but add the espresso powder in with the flour and cocoa.
- Roll out the cookie dough to 5mm thickness and cut out circles with the cutter. Cocoa powder is great for dusting chocolate cookie dough so you avoid getting white marks on it.
- Bake the cookies on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper for 15-18 minutes - ovens vary as does shelf height and cookie thickness.
- When the cookies are baked, leave them to cool on the tin for a few minutes then transfer to a wire cooling rack to cool completely.
- Meanwhile, mix the icing sugar with the egg white in a medium sized bowl. Add a little espresso until you have a thick paste consistency suitable for icing lines (i.e. not runny).
- Fill one piping bag with no3 tip with a heaped tablespoon of the soft peak icing and pipe outlines on the cookies and allow to dry. The longer you leave it, the more solid the borders will be - if you fill the cookies sooner the icing you flood them with is more likely to bleed into the border icing.
- After you've piped your borders, carefully add a few more drops of espresso to the royal icing so it is a gently flowing consistency.
- Fill a disposable piping bag with another heaped tablespoon of the now runnier icing. No need to bother with a tip for this one, just snip a 2-3mm hole in the end.
- Flood the centre of the cookie with icing and coax it into the corners using a cocktail stick.
- Whilst the icing is still wet, sprinkle with demerara sugar and allow to dry completely.
Don't over fill your piping bags. A generous tablespoon at a time is fine - the bags are easier to handle if you keep the contents the size of the palm of your hand. You can always put some more in if you need to.
Finally, if you’ve been taunted by this luscious looking dark chocolate mousse then you’ll just have to wait for a forthcoming post where I shall tell you how to make it!
With thanks to De Longhi for supplying this beautiful machine.