Monday, 30 March 2015

Brewing Up a Storm

There's something to be said for a good cup of coffee. Get it right and you have something worthy of poetry; get it wrong and you'll need a wide array of add-ins to mask your crime.
The question is, how do you make the best coffee? Like everything in life, the answer is not clear cut. Here's a handy guide to the different ways of making coffee and what each method can offer you.

The home coffee bar: This is a smaller version of what they use to make coffee in proper coffee shops. It gets major points for its professional appearance, although not all models are aesthetically equal. Some are downright ugly.
It's also the most expensive type of coffee maker (expect to drop a few hundred pounds/euros). And it runs the risk of making you look like a pretentious arsehole or bring out the instagramming hipster in you.
The best way to own this machine? Discreetly. Don't talk about your coffee bar, offer people a coffee without mentioning the coffee bar, don't talk about the process of making 'the perfect cup of coffee', don't diss other brewing methods, and never talk about your beans because you will, I repeat will, make your friends hate you.

The drip coffee machine: This brewing method once ruled the coffee world and it's my personal favourite on appearance. I love the classic glass pot that slowly fills with coffee and the way it evokes memories of favourite American TV shows. It fills your kitchen with a coffee aroma within minutes which lets the entire house know that the coffee is ready.
A decent machine is highly affordable with most of the top brands selling for under £60/€80. You can brew a large amount of coffee at a time which is good for multiple drinkers...or, let's be honest with ourselves, an outright coffee binge. There's also a hotplate which will keep your coffee warm until you're ready for a top-up.
Most modern machines use reusable plastic filters, although I myself own a machine which takes the disposable paper ones. The biggest drawback with this is that filters can be difficult to buy these days, but on the other hand they require less cleaning and are biodegradable so I throw mine onto the compost heap (coffee grounds are excellent for your garden).
The drip coffee machine brews a nice cup of coffee, but it's not as flavourful as other methods. You can always add in more coffee to boost the flavour but it does end up being a bean eater.
Also, if you're going to use this brewing method expect to wait up to 10 minutes for a full jug to brew. Some machines come with a timer option, which is handy.

The cafetiere: Perhaps the easiest way of brewing fresh coffee is the humble cafetiere. Prices range from dirt cheap (you're looking at maximum £20/€25). It's the most time efficient method of brewing and can be easily tucked away in a cupboard.
If I'm being completely honest, and I don't want to be because I LOVE my old-school drip machine, the cafetiere makes the best tasting coffee. It really lets the oils from the beans mingle and infuse with the water.
Drawbacks? You don't yield the massive batch of coffee you do with the drip machine, although that can be ideal for one person, or two people who aren't as addicted to coffee as myself. In saying all this, it's always possible to make more coffee and the cafetiere is fairly easy, if a little messy, to rinse out.

The pod machine: I want to love this method, I really do. The branding that has gone into these machines is fantastic, it's an impressive bit of kit for your kitchen, it beats all other brewing methods on speed, there's no technical skill required, the novelty factor alone had me counting my pennies to see when I could afford one...but, and there's always a but, if you're looking for a quality cup of coffee they rank last.
I was heart-broken when I found this out because I so wanted one of these beautiful beasts in my kitchen. I so wanted to be the girl with the coffee pods. I craved easy, barista style coffee with a spoon of novelty. Alas, it wasn't meant to be.
However, if you want a latte, cappuccino, hot chocolate or something with sugary caramel syrup then this is for you. Basically, as long as there's something to cover up the taste of the bad coffee then this is a good coffee machine. In one way it's for the best, the pods are an environmental nightmare, and the machines themselves are expensive to buy and expensive to run.

The stove top percolator: This was the first type of fresh brewing kit I ever owned. I was lucky enough to be given a rather expensive one by a former Gaggia worker, but they've been known to roam Amazon for under £10/€10. They're darling to look at, whether you opt for a funky brightly coloured one or a classic Italian style.
They can make a good cup of coffee, although I found there to be a lot of trial and error. They take about as much time as a coffee machine, with a fifth of the yield. It does fill your kitchen with that delicious coffee aroma though, which (besides from actually drinking the coffee) is my favourite part about brewing.
However, they're extremely annoying to clean. First of all you have to wait for the pot to cool enough to be able to disassemble it without causing second degree burns (mine is made of thick, good quality metal so this takes ages) which means it's sitting on the side, staring at you, waiting to be washed. Then you have to disassemble the entire thing and wash each part thoroughly. Then dry it and reassemble. It's not as simple as bunging it all together, there's a little rubber ring that has to face a certain way (and I never remember which) otherwise your next cup of coffee will be a total failure.
It's no good for multiple brews because it takes too long to cool.


Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Budget 2015

I watch the budget with the same enthusiasm as a GAA fan watching the All-Ireland Final and the Conservatives did not disappoint today. First of all, we need a round of applause for perhaps the best television advert for a Parliamentary announcement ever made, ever. Check it out here. Seriously, hats off to Sky News on that one.
We should also take a minute to congratulate George on his few sly jokes. From pink vans to second kitchens it was, okay it was far from a riot but it sure gave us all some comic relief.
Now down to the numbers and which numbers really matter to us, because it's all well and good being told we're saving so many million here and so many million there but at the end of the day I only care about the state of my own purse.

Tax-free personal allowance would rise from £10,600 to £10,800 in April 2016 with a further rise to £11,000 in April 2017. A great start, although a while off yet. National Insurance contributions for under-21s will be binned, with the same happening for apprentices in 2017. Also, for anyone who hates doing their annual tax return...the whole thing will be scrapped! That's great news for us but hard luck for the accountants!

There's no plan to cut tuition-fees. This is something I will admit I don't care about anymore. I'm already paying the top rate so, while in principle I agree with lowering them, they can't buy my vote by doing so after I leave uni. Selfish? Yes. Equally, I don't think it would be fair to everyone who's been paying the top rate for the last few years to do a sudden U-turn.

A 'Help to Buy' ISA will be created. The government will top up every £200 you save per month with an extra £50 (max top up is £3,000). An excellent way of helping people get onto the property ladder, although a £200 per month saving is unrealistic for struggling families or single people. Young couples are far more likely to benefit from this.
Keeping on the ISA track, they will scrap the current system of ISA allowance so if you use up your entire allowance and withdraw money you will be able to put that money back in later during the year. Definitely a saver-friendly move.

We also have some great investment into children's mental health services. Anyone who has watched the news over the past few months will know this is a hot topic and an incredibly underfunded service. Children have been kept in police cells because of the lack of places in NHS facilities. The £1.25 billion promised could help do some good work.

There's also hella investment into infrastructure; mobile phone coverage and broadband; science; postgraduate education; and a rake of other new and exciting things. This one is great because it not only powers jobs but brings the UK to the forefront of design and innovation. Be a leader not a follower, am I right?

And now for the liquids, we all like this bit don't we? This, this is where you feel the savings or the pinch. Happy days though, we're set for some savings. Yet another fuel duty freeze. Not so impressive when you think the price of fuel has been falling anyway, but pretty good when you remember it has been frozen since 2011 under the coalition.
There's a penny off a pint, a 2% duty cut on spirits and Scotch whisky, and a freeze on wine duty. There's also a 2% duty cut to ciders. So it looks like whatever your tipple is you have a reason to toast this budget.

Of course, all of the above is dependant on the Conservatives being elected. I'd like to keep my blog free from political debate - I have enough headaches thank you very much- but I will say it's a hell of a budget to beat.
This was only a summary of the highlights, check out the official full summary here.

I tried to put a serious picture to this post, I seriously tried, but
this was just too perfect