The Quest for the Perfect Cup of Coffee

As Outside the Beltway has noted in the past, coffee–its presence, its absence, its quality–is a matter of interest to many. Why, it’s even earned its own category on OTB!

As noted in comments at the above link, Northern Europeans–from Holland, north and east to the Polish border–has its own way of doing coffee. Some of us (well, me and James anyway) find this to be among the world’s best. It’s dark, it’s rich, it’s not bitter, it plays well with cream.

I’ve come across a couple of items that have made my life much happier in the coffee department, a coffeemaking device and an excellent ground coffee, neither of which breaks the bank. Even more friendly, both are available through!

First, the coffeemaker. It’s the Aerobie AeroPress Coffee & Espresso Maker, which is receiving a bit of a buzz on the Internet. Selling for $24.49, this device is a variation on the ‘French Presse’ theme. Instead of putting the ground coffee in the bottom of a container, letting it steep, then pushing the grounds to the bottom, this plastic device puts the coffee above the filter. After some 40 seconds’ steeping, the coffee is pushed through the filter directly into a mug. It uses paper filters (and comes with a year’s supply; refills are $2.50 for another year) that keep the grounds out of the cup completely. The thing is a little fidgety in that you do a bit of juggling the various parts–coffee filter, tube, piston–but I’ve managed to do it all with one hand while talking on the phone. It suggests the use of water well below the boiling point (165°F instead of 212°F), which might take a little learning on the user’s part. It’s far faster than the traditional press which usually requires a steeping time of several minutes.

A potential downside to the lower brewing temperature is that the cup starts out considerably cooler than normal. But that’s not much of a problem for me. I find myself making a 4-cup batch, putting that into my rather gigantic 16-oz cup, then adding boiling water to both raise the temperature and bring the quantity up. The press makes espresso-sized cups to begin with, which are a bit small for my consumption purposes.

There’s an upside to the lower temperature, though. The cooler water avoids the bitterness that comes from too-hot water. And after adding boiling water, the brew is quite hot enough to withstand an assault of cold milk or cream.

The coffee I’ve found is Melitta Ground Coffee, Extra Dark European Roast. It sells for $17.87 at Amazon for a 4-pack of 10.5-oz tins, but is also available at my grocery store (for more, naturally). This really is the kind of coffee that one finds at a German or Austrian Kaffehaus. It’s deep, dark, rich, and complex, with a touch of smokiness to it. And unlike French Roast coffee, there’s not a touch of bitterness to it.

Of course, personal tastes vary. But this combination absolutely floats my boat, turning me into a very happy camper when it comes to coffee. I acknowledge that this might put me into the category of overcaffeinated white people, but so be it.

I’m aware, too, that I’ve put myself outside the pale because I don’t roast and grind my own coffee. I can live with that. Instead of futzing about for a half-hour before I bring the cup to my lips, I’m good to go in under two minutes. That’s something I can really live with!

[Broken link to the coffee at has been fixed. Thanks, Steve!]

FILED UNDER: Popular Culture, , , ,
John Burgess
About John Burgess
John Burgess retired after 25 years as a US Foreign Service Officer, serving predominantly in the Middle East. He contributed 35 pieces to OTB between February 2006 and April 2014. He was the proprietor of the influential Crossroads Arabia until his death in February 2016.


  1. Michael says:

    Im aware, too, that Ive put myself outside the pale because I dont roast and grind my own coffee.

    No, that would just make you a liberal elitist LA snob. But using a “French Presse” with European style coffie, well that’s just down right American. Cheers.

  2. Steve Verdon says:

    The link to the coffee doesn’t appear to be working.

    Fixed. – jhj

  3. Anderson says:

    I appreciate the post, though I am myself fond of what my father in law calls “perfumed” coffee. My wife is much more serious, & devoted to Starbucks’ French Roast. Perhaps the Melitta will please her.

  4. Richard Gardner says:

    A bit late to the discussion, but as an ex-Nordic lands dweller, I’ve missed the sugar crystals made just for coffee that you find in Northern Europe, so that your cup gets sweeter as you drink it. Or the coffee sugar crystal swizzle sticks. When you can find these crystals, they are at a crazy price, like this one at Amazon for a pound for $11. This one at Amazon is much better at under $3/lb if you buy 10 lbs of coffee sugar. In Europe this type sugar is about the same price as granular sugar.

  5. John Burgess says:

    I’ll defer to others’ views on the sugar front. I rarely use sugar in coffee and when I do it’s just an off-the-shelf Demararra or other raw-ish sugar. Occasionally, the slight caramel taste appeals, particularly in iced coffee.

    I’m curious, though, what a ‘perfumed’ coffee might be. To my mind, that suggests something like the Arab addition of cardamom or the Yemeni addition of ginger. Do you mean something else?

  6. Anderson says:

    I’m curious, though, what a ‘perfumed’ coffee might be.

    Sorry, didn’t mean to be interesting inadvertently. My father-in-law calls “perfumed” any coffee w/ hazelnut, vanilla, etc. —

    I married into a family of black-coffee drinkers (hey, now THERE is an example of why the hyphen matters!), and only started drinking the stuff myself after we had a baby & I started getting 4 hours of sleep per night.

    So I’m not anywhere near y’all’s station on the Coffee Wheel of Karma. Just ordered the Melitta Dark for my wife, though — anything I can do to get her off that burned Starbucks brew …

  7. John Burgess says:

    Oh, I get it. And I avoid it like the plague! I truly have to hold my nose going down the aisle of my market where they have all that crap stuff.

    I can drink it black, but I prefer it white. I really do like ‘Arabic’ coffee with the cardamom or Turkish/Greek without. Those, of course, have to drunk black.