'Qualità Rossa'

Yup, I'm reviewing a packet of coffee. But not just any old 'fresh' coffee, but the product I've been drinking each morning for the last god knows how many years.

The thing is, I'm fussy about my coffee. I want good stuff, every morning, without exception.

I've got to start, though, with a point about advertised products.

Many years ago, I did not know how to make coffee, so I had to research it. It was this work that helped me realised:

  • A product that has something-people-want will sell itself (word of mouth);
  • A product that does not have something-people-want will not sell;
  • Advertising suggests a product has a particular feature;
  • Advertising often works;
  • Advertising is expensive;
  • Thus if a product has a desirable feature, it will sell itself; there is no need to waste money advertising it;
  • However, if a product does not have a desirable feature, it will not sell itself; but it might sell if advertised to have that particular feature;
  • So, if a product is advertised as having a particular feature, then it does not have that feature;
  • If you want something, and a product is advertised as fulfilling that want, avoid that product.

It is illegal to advertise that a product has a property when it does not. However, for the law to be enforced, it has to be proven the product does not have the feature. This is easy for an objective value (e.g. "Buy our five legged cats! They've four underneath and a spare at the end."). The trouble is that English law is so badly drafted, all a bunch of liars need do is find someone, anyone, someone short of money perhaps, to say they personally think a product has the subjective property, for the law to ignore the advert. Thus, not only does a product that is advertised to have a particular feature not have that feature, but the company selling it are legitimate liars.

What's this got to do with coffee? Well, I learnt it all wasting money on percolators, which were advertised heavily at the time as producing a good cup of coffee. I found they all produced dishwater, or worse.

It was not possible at the time to buy a decent cup of coffee in the UK. Even today, there are too many rip-off joints that claim to sell espresso but actually sell weak black coffee made in an espresso machine. It was clear then, and now, that good coffee cannot be just made; it requires good technique and good ingredients. I had some research to do.

I found the decent stuff can be made with espresso machines, or by hand with cone, kettle and filter paper. Otherwise, the better brands of instant coffee produced tastier results than all further alternatives. Yes, I am saying at that time, when both were made properly, instant was always better than percolated. More recently, I've been introduced to some non-espresso machines that produce not-bad coffee, but they're not as good as a cone and they're not cheap. I've also found a cafetiere can produce better cup than instant, but none I've bought have lasted more than six months; their gauze fails.

A problem was that both espresso machines and the cone technique produced variable results, sometimes excellent, occasionally undrinkable. They depend on the right ingredients and good technique.

Since I wanted the best, I had learn how to make the best, and use the best ingredients. After I experimented with espresso machines, I realised that consistent results depended on a machine significantly more expensive that my pocket could allow. So I settled on the low technology cone technique.

This search took a lot of packets and a lot of purchases. I like my coffee strong; most brands made strong coffee with nasty extra flavours; iron seems rather popular. I realised I should use coffee intended for strength, for espresso; not surprisingly, really.

Since I did this work, flavoured coffees have been introduced in the UK. I personally enjoy the basic taste of coffee itself, so these extra flavours do nothing for me. Having said that, I admit I don't really like tea, but I enjoy the flavoured teas, especially Lapsoung Souchong. So I do understand why strange people like to ruin their coffee.

The best coffee I found is the ready roasted Columbian from the specialist shop in St. Martins Lane, London, but I can't get down there regularly, and it doesn't last more than a couple of days. I had to settle on a commonly available brand.

I found a few brands, all intended for espresso, make consistently good cone coffee. I found the brand that was best for me is Lavazza. They do a number of alternatives; the cheapest, Qualità Rossa, is perfectly good for cones. It gives a bright harsh morning upper, something to scare the cobwebs off the tongue and boot up the brain.

This is how I prepare my coffee, even early in the morning:

  • Put enough water in the kettle and activate it;
  • Put the cone on the cup / jug;
  • Put a fresh filter paper in the cone;
  • Add two tablespoons of ground Qualità Rossa per person, or whatever amount you prefer, in the cone (having said that, I just pour until it looks right);
  • Let the water boil, and cool slightly;
  • Slowly pour (don't sprinkle) the water into the cone, scattering the wet to ensure all the coffee gets soaked---pour less water than you'll need;
  • Do not put a second run of water through the dregs; this brings out nasty flavours;
  • When the water's soaked through, remove the cone, chuck the filter and dregs;
  • If you've used a jug, pour the coffee so each cup has an equal amount (if someone prefers weak coffee, give them less);
  • Add milk if required;
  • If necessary, top up the coffee with hot water from the kettle.

In the UK, Lavazza Qualità Rossa comes ready ground in single 250g packets, or double packets. The double packets are cheaper than two single packets. At the moment (6.9.2K3), where I live, Sainsbury's is cheaper than Safeway, Tesco or Morrison. The bottom of the market supermarkets don't stock it. There isn't a better-quality supermarket near me. Watch out for Lavazza's not infrequent promotions; I tend to buy rather a lot of the stuff to stock up when this happens.

Lavazza Qualità Rossa, Luigi Lavazza S.p.A., Corso Novara 59, 10154 Turin, Italy

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