Stephen Newman

Brewed Coffee by Stephen Newman

Brewed coffee tastes better than the instant freeze-dried stuff. This I learned for certain a few weeks ago, thanks to a fundraiser where inmates were allowed to buy brewed Folgers (along with a 200-pack of filters). The fundraiser earned $3200 to support a local animal shelter who provides the canines for our prison’s dog program. In addition, it afforded inmates the opportunity to be creative, quirky, resourceful, ingenius, perhaps even slightly insane, as we were tasked with the challenge of figuring out the ideal way to brew coffee…without a coffee maker.

METHOD #1: THE BREW BASKET
In this method, an inmate uses a paperclip to poke small holes in the bottom of the small plastic container that our tuna salad comes in for lunch. (It’s similar to a container holding a side of salad dressing). Then, a paperclip is inserted through the top of the container, as a handle. Fill up the brew basket with coffee grounds, then lay the paperclip and basket across the top of an open coffee mug. Boil water in a cup in the microwave, then pour the boiling water into the brew basket. The coffee will slowly drip down into the mug.

Pros:
1) Because of the multiple holes, the coffee brews much faster and stays hotter.
2) The coffee brews much stronger

Cons:
1) Those (like me) with a discerning palate can detect a plastic taste from the basket, in the coffee.
2) Paperclips are contraband, so certain officers might confiscate the entire brew basket.

METHOD #2: THE FILTER AND RUBBER BAND
You simply put coffee grounds into a filter, then rubber-band the filter around the rim of the open coffee mug. It will hang down a few inches into the inside of the mug. Pour hot or boiling water from a hot pot directly over the filter, into the mug

Pros:
1) This method brings out the best flavor in the coffee
2) It’s the easiest method, and doesn’t require much handyman creativity (of which I have very little)

Cons:
1) It takes quite a while to brew, as the water is slow to drip through the filter
2) You have to use more coffee than other methods to get the same flavor
3) Rubber bands are contraband, so again, if a certain officer sees it, he could take it, and the coffee, and the coffee mug.

METHOD #3: HOBO STYLE
You boil water in the microwave, then pour the coffee grounds directly into the boiling water. Let it sit for 5 minutes, then knock the bottom of your mug on a hard surface, so all the coffee grounds settle to the bottom. Drink the coffee directly from the mug, very carefully. Wash your mug immediately after drinking.

Pros:
1) The easiest of all the methods

Cons:
1) You will end up drinking some coffee grounds, and they burn your throat
2) It’s more difficult to control the strength of the coffee

METHOD #4: THE UPSIDE-DOWN HOT SAUCE CONTAINER
Picture one of those plastic hot sauce containers (like Tapatio, or a tabasco sauce bottle) thoroughly rinsed out and scent-free. Now imagine you cut the bottom of the container off, and remove the cap on the top of the container. Turn the empty hot sauce bottle upside down (like a funnel). Put coffee into a filter, then tie it with a string around the lip of the hot sauce container, so it hangs down like a little baggie. Hold the hot sauce container over your empty coffee mug, then pour boiling water through the hole you cut in the hot sauce container. This channels the water through a narrow passageway, brewing the coffee.

Pros:
1) Strongest flavor with the least amount of coffee grounds
2) The most fun method to watch
3) Brews quickly

Cons:
1) The string can come untied, and coffee grounds can end up spilling into the coffee mug. If this happens, one must revert to method #3, Hobo Style.
2) Other inmates who see you using this method will be more likely to approach and ask you to make them a cup, which can be annoying.
3) It’s easier to spill the water as you’re pouring it, causing painful burns to the hands, especially for Diabeeto who gets shaky around lunchtime.

METHOD #5: THE T-SHIRT AND HOT POT
This method was recited to me by an inmate known as “The Saint Maries Slayer.” He swears by this method, though I haven’t personally tried it yet. In simplest terms, you put the coffee grounds and water into your hot pot and let it brew. Then, fold a rag from an old t-shirt in half, and rubber-band it over the top of your coffee mug. Pour the hot pot coffee over the t-shirt, and it will filter out most of the grounds.

Pros:
1) More porous and much faster than a filter
2) Coffee can get extra dark and stays extra hot

Cons:
1) Grounds can get stuck in the heating element of your hot pot, and future hot water may taste like coffee (which might not mix well with, say, herbal tea)

METHOD #6: THE PLASTIC STRAINER AND HOLIDAY COOKIE CONTAINER
Years ago, we were able to purchase a round holiday tub of Christmas Cookies. Many inmates kept the empty container. (As we often learn in prison, the container can often be more useful or valuable than the product it once held.) In this method, a person puts the coffee into a filter, then lays the filter inside of the plastic strainer that comes with our hot pot (think of a small spaghetti strainer). The strainer fits perfectly inside of the plastic cookie container, so that one can pour boiling water into the strainer, and brew the coffee directly into the cookie container

Pros:
1) Coffee brews quickly due to the larger surface area of the strainer
2) The filter is used, which eliminates any grounds
3) Coffee brews extra-strong

Cons:
1) The cookie container is contraband, if it’s not being used to hold cookies, and could be taken if a guard is in a bad mood.
2) A greater than average amount of coffee grounds are required to brew effectively using this method

ONE FINAL IDEA: To save money, Alex, our resident chef, suggests making instant coffee and simply adding a few of the real grounds to enhance the flavor.

Starbucks, anyone?

Stephen Newman
DOC #90843

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