Ever found yourself doing 147mph down the M11?
I’ve loved coffee from the moment I had my first milky bowlful as a child. In the ’80s, The Dome in Hampstead introduced me to Espresso. Those little powerful hits of coffee are all I’ll drink. I’ve had a Pavoni machine for years and it’s wonderful; I use it every day. It needed a service and I asked my Italian friend Alex Silva (his father's first job in the UK was as a coffee machine serviceman before becoming a restaurateur) if he knew of anyone; he recommended Dr Espresso. So, I started to follow him on Facebook. This guy restores old Espresso machines to an exceptionally high standard. The machines are Italian industrial works of art.
Looking at all the wonderful machines made me feel like it was time for a bit of an upgrade on the old Pavoni, so I started searching for something new. Trundling around the internet threw up plenty of machines, mostly from failed coffee shops or pubs that had hoped that serving coffee might save them. This was quite sad; the machines looked cold and lonely.
Then, like a glorious brass angel, The Elektra Belle Epoque appeared on my screen. All my minimalist, form and function aesthetics vanished and were replaced with a desire to own such a glorious machine. It was somewhere in Essex, and needed a home. I won the auction (I was the only bidder), and headed off to deepest Essex to collect it from a man called Dan.
After getting lost a couple of times, I finally arrived on the small, neat housing estate, with black cabs parked in the driveways. Dan appeared from around the side of the house. He was an Eastern European gentleman, who spoke excellent English. He invited me in and, sitting there on the counter, in all her glory, was the Elektra. Dan had set her up to prove that everything was working and to demonstrate how to use her. After my initial shock at the size of her, I fell totally in love with her; she was definitely from The Beautiful Era.
Dan ran through the fairly straightforward operating instructions, then we got on to making some espresso. The first couple of cups weren’t up to his exacting standards, and as he worked on producing a coffee that he approved of, he explained how this machine had come from one of the coffee shops he had owned in Italy, and how he wanted to open another in Covent Garden; he couldn’t believe how much people in London would pay for great coffee.
He then explained that he bought Caffè Carbonelli beans because they’re wood-flame roasted. He ground the beans in an Elektra grinder, which wasn’t for sale (much to my annoyance). I listened, and learned. Finally, after several attempts, the espresso in the tiny pre-warmed cup had the exact crema he desired, and he presented it to me. I confessed to liking a little sugar in my espresso. He looked slightly upset, then said he had something better than sugar. He produced an earthenware jar. It was date molasses from India, which he bought in bulk from a supplier in the East End. He scraped a teaspoon of the dark, sticky stuff out of the jar and into my Espresso. “You know it’ll dissolve the crema, don’t you?” he said.
The taste was full and strong with a punch. In moments, every fibre of my body was buzzing; I felt a little high.
Whilst we discussed our love of coffee, we managed to drink at least another seven of these glorious little cups of pleasure.
Finally, we loaded the Elektra into the back of the car; he even gave me a new earthenware jar of molasses from his stock. With much brotherly hugging and farewells, I left the neat little housing estate, totally off my tits on coffee. I was rushing. I was driving a 399BHP Stuttgart behemoth under the influence of the brass and copper coffee goddess in the boot (trunk).
The M11 is a lovely road to drive fast down, and the Essex constabulary know this. Thankfully I realised that I was travelling at a prison sentence speed, and slowed down. It was a really tough thing to do: when you’re flying on coffee, the national speed limit feels slow, and rather dull.
I got home and unloaded the Elektra. My wife sighed, “Bloody hell, that’s big. Oh God, it's like those speakers you bought..”
I took the dog for a long walk.