Espresso yourself

Andreae Prozesky wants it good to the last drop.

I’ve been accused of being a coffee snob. But it’s not snobbery, exactly. The problem is this: everything I know about making coffee I learned in Montreal. And what a gal calls coffee in Montreal is something else entirely in St. John’s, or in Vancouver, or in Paris or Rome or Athens, for that matter. 

In a less glamourous time, I, like many others, was a minimum-wage cappuccino-slinger. My first of such jobs was in a brightly-lit gelato shop that stayed open until 3 am. My boss was a smallish, middle-aged, roller-blade-wearing Italian Montrealer who referred to me almost exclusively as “Adrianna, my angel” and who paid us all “six dollars an hour, cash money.” According to his pedagogy, a long espresso was just barely an ounce. With him looking over my shoulder, I made shots of coffee until I feared repetitive strain injury. “Adrianna, my angel, look at the crema on that coffee,” he would say, referring to the thick, pale froth coating the coffee’s surface. Then, with great joy, he would place a sugar cube atop the crema and watch as it floated there one, two, three seconds before sinking to the bottom of the tiny cup. 

The cappuccino and the caffe latte were made following rules of proportion that would please artists and mathematicians alike. A cappuccino was equal parts espresso, steamed milk and mountainous foam, about 2 ounces of each. Any cappuccino that rose less than an inch and a half from the top of its cup was sent back to be re-made. A latte was one part espresso, two parts milk, and a spoonful of foam, just for “the look.” If anyone asked for a café au lait it was the same thing. “Café au lait, caffe latte, French, Italian, it’s all a cup of coffee!” my boss would exclaim, arms waving about as he decried the foolishness of “Canadian girls” who would dare suggest that, where they came from, a café au lait was made with (horrors!) drip. 

I went from the gelato shop to a Greek bakery where the same obsessive passion prevailed under a different accent. There I learned that, if you don’t have an espresso maker, you can make coffee the way the Greeks and the Turks do, by grinding the beans to the finest powder (choose “Turkish” on the grinder) and stirring a heaping spoonful and any sugar you might like into a very small pot (think “butter-melter”) of cold water. Bring to a boil, then remove from the heat and pour into cups. The grounds will settle to the bottom, so don’t stir, and stop drinking once it gets sludgy. You can also let the coffee sit a few minutes then pour it off, leaving the settled grounds behind, and proceed to make a multicultural version of a café au lait.

And this is one of the coffee world’s best-kept secrets: you don’t need a cappuccino maker with a steamer arm to heat milk. A pot on the stove on medium-high heat works. Don’t worry about stirring, but don’t take your eyes off the milk for a second, or it will boil up over the sides of the pot and end up all over your stove. Burnt milk smells horrible, and it’s hellish to try and scrub off. If the milk threatens to boil over, take it off the heat and blow into the pot to break up the bubbles.

So, you see, it’s not that I’m a snob, it’s just that I know what I like. What I like is a Montreal cup of coffee. In St. John’s. Infused with a whole lot of St. John’s style.

– Andreae Prozesky

A really good cup of joe

2 oz brewed espresso or Greek coffee
4 oz hot milk
Sugar to taste

Optional: add two or three crushed cardamom pods to the milk as you are heating it.