Retrotopian Espresso

Justin Patrick Moore's picture

Andy Dwelly, a prolific commentator on JMG's Ecosophia blog, has written a guest post for the main page here on his old school Espresso machine that would be able to work during the long descent. He writes the article on getting interested in making espresso while re-reading Retrotopia. Excerpt below the link to his full article! Check it out, it's a great piece and I'm going to be looking forward to hanging out in some coffee houses with fellow deindustrial fiction writers about twenty years from now drinking coffee from a set up like he describes.

"'I've recently had the pleasure of re-reading John Michael Greer's Retrotopia novel, a description of life during the early part of the Long Descent in the Lakeland Republic. The Republic is one of the successors to the United States, that in the novel has broken up around a quarter of a century prior to the story. Centred around its capital of Toledo, the Republic has been forced by circumstances to face the reality of the end of the American Empire and declining energy supplies rather sooner than its neighbours. It must be said that they've made a pretty fair fist of things, and the novel itself is at heart a thoroughly optimistic one.

In between the descriptions of clothing, fashion, transport, newspapers, business law, and food, there's an occasional mention of coffee - but not the particular style of coffee that I drink, which is espresso. Espresso in its current form was discovered in 1948, but it evolved from a series of patents that were attempts to reduce the brew time of a cup of filtered coffee. In '48, the owner of a cafe in Milan called Achilles Gaggia invented a machine that pushed water through a puck of finely ground coffee at much higher pressure than was usual for the period. This had the effect of releasing a carbon dioxide foam from the beans that floated on the surface of the resulting tiny drink. In a stroke of maketing genius, he called this foam 'crema' and the result was pretty much an instant hit throughout Italy. A good espresso combines intense coffee flavour with a relatively syrupy texture and the natural caffeine kick, but if it's done right avoids both bitterness and acidity. Actually achieving that goal in a simple espresso takes some practice."

Sweet Tatorman's picture

I personally find espresso more trouble than it is worth to me but I am otherwise ready on the retro coffee front ;-)

add photo: 

Do you have any of the Spong brand? I recently read that of all the older ones these were the most capable of an espresso like grind.

Sweet Tatorman's picture

I don't knowingly have a Spong in my collection though several I have lack any maker ID. I don't think I have ever seen a box style Spong. Spong models I am aware of are wall or table mount styles. Ones in my collection that I can ID include Dienes (a.k.a., PeDe), Armin Trosser, KYM, Stoha, and Zassenhaus.
BTW, welcome to the community here. I suspect that anyone whose first post on this forum is in any way related to the appreciation of coffee may be a kindred spirit.

I enjoyed the post. Beautiful machine.

We still have my mom‘s coffee grinder which she used every morning in the late 40’s when first married. Apparently it was a grumpy memory not a happy one.

It would just be a chore when you are young I should think. I’m relatively old and I’ve come to enjoy the whole 10 minute process as the start to my day. I’ve been to an actual tea ceremony on one occasion and I could imagine the whole procedure ending up the heart of some advanced future civilisation and occupying a similar mental space.

That’s for the manual process of course. I think the very modern push button machines are partially sold to the sort of people who spend big sums on hifi equipment. The kind that lets you hear the woodwind section inhaling before their bit in a symphony. I’m not sure it’s a very healthy obsession, the Hifi that is. Coffee’s fine obviously ;-)

I think that could be true of a lot of daily tasks, and we’d be less annoyed and more peaceful.

Sweet Tatorman's picture

For my Winter reading I treated myself to a couple of books on the history of coffee. I am just now finishing "Where the Wild Coffee Grows" by author Jeff Koehler. As you likely know, coffee is native to a small highland region of Ethiopia. It is still gathered from the forests there by the locals and prepared in much the same way as they have done for centuries. Chapter six of the above mentioned book describes their version of the coffee ceremony held outdoors in the forest. It starts with building the fire to roast the beans. I thought of your comment above as I was reading it. Definitely the polar opposite of the Keurig or Sanka.

The traditional Ethiopian style coffee is the nicest coffee I've tasted. If you have access to the raw beans I think it would be the most low tech way to make coffee.

ClareBroommaker's picture

I helped a friend carry furniture up three floors to her Eritrean friends' apartment. They were not going to let us leave without a demitasse cup of so-sweet, so-spiced coffee. Did it have milk?--I think so, but memory fails. It was good, but a dessert! Forget what they served with it except for bubbly buckwheat flat bread. Might have been yogurt to pinch up with the bread.

Sweet Tatorman's picture

Eritrea is the country just to the North of Ethiopia. A quick look at the Wikipedia entry for Eritrea suggests that it does have some areas that have the right conditions for growing coffee. Over the years I have purchased green coffee from at least a couple dozen countries. I am fairly certain that I have never seen a coffee from Eritrea offered by my supplier. At the moment I do have two coffees of Ethiopian origin among the 8 or 9 currently on hand.
Edit: You piqued my curiosity so looked into it a bit. The coffee ceremony of the two countries is pretty similar. Slight difference in the preferred pot design is noted in the link below.