The life blood of a creative, especially an independent filmmaker, is filled with caffeine. So when an A.D. (Assistant Director) asks the P.A. (Production Assistant) to make coffee and the P.A. says they don’t know how, we’ve got big problems!
In my production company, we love to take part in 48 hour film competitions, and coffee is the foundation on which they’re built.
As I result, I want to teach you how to make great coffee. I’ll teach you how using several different approaches so that if you find yourself on a set or in a film office staring at the coffee maker, wondering which buttons to push, hopefully you’ll have all the help you need from this article.
The Different Approaches/ Do hickies used to create great coffee:
- The Coffee Maker
- The Plunger
- The Stove Top Espresso Maker
- The Pods
- The Emergency Cuppa (not pictured)
One quick note. All approaches mentioned here are for coffee that’s already been ground, but if you don’t know how to grind coffee, here’s a quick lesson.
Take grinder and add coffee beans. Replace lid. Make sure grinder is plugged in and push button. Hold for 15/20 seconds. If beans are now tiny granules well done, if not, press down button again for another 10 seconds. Or if you’re feeling more adventurous, pick your favourite song and press the button to the rhythm of the song. You’re welcome.
- The Coffee Maker
This is the most basic way to make coffee and probably the most unpleasant but most practical.
You’ll have a variation of different types of plain ole coffee makers, but most only require a flip of a switch.
What you’ll need for this is tap water (not hot water) and coffee grounds.
First, you’ll want to fill the pot with water to the fill line. It’s important not to overfill the maker as this can cause all kinds of messes you’d rather not clean up.
Next, you’ll pour said water into the maker. Each maker is slightly different, but most commonly the water goes into a space at the back of the maker. Flip open the lid and when in doubt pour water into the back spot.
Then comes the important bit. Take ground coffee and pour into the filter. A lot of people will use exact measurements, but I just eyeball it, it makes the process a bit quicker, and when you’re rushing from job to job on a set or in a film office, this comes in handy. If you go the eyeball route, see the picture below for the rough estimate. For those of you that like a little more details, pour in 4 or 5 large scoops.
Now if you need STRONG coffee, I’d recommend our Lazarus Brew. It’s so strong that it can raise people from the dead. For this, you’ll fill the filter to the brim and even pat it down a bit to add more coffee.
Once you’ve got the coffee in the filter and the water in the maker, you’re ready to slide that pot onto the space provided and all you gotta do from here is flip the switch. If like the photo below, there’s more than one switch, I’d recommend asking someone which switch it is, this is acceptable to ask as you’ll retain this info for next time.
Once you’ve flipped the switch. The hard work is done. You should start to hear the lovely sounds of coffee gurgling and churning into the pot.
Side note – if you were asked to make a cup of coffee for a producer, director, or actor, stick by that pot with your life and be ready with coffee cups. Otherwise, you may do all the heavy lifting and come back to discover the pot is empty again.
- The Plunger
This used to be my favourite way to make coffee, it’s the simplest of all the different makers and seriously user friendly. Not to mention it’s super cool. I’ve discovered that it also keeps a lot of the acidic content within coffee and too much of this makes my stomach sour. So, keep that in mind if you notice people popping antacids.
What you’ll need for this is hot water and coffee grounds.
Pour coffee grounds into the plunger until the bottom is covered and is about an inch thick. If you’re super lazy you can stick your finger into the grinds and it should pass your first knuckle on your pointer finger. Alternatively, you could drop a spoon in and at least half the spoon should be covered by the grinds.
Next, pour hot water into the plunger.
Place the lid on the plunger, but don’t push down. Let it sit for about four minutes and then carefully and slowly push the lid down. If you go to fast, the hot liquid will burst through any opening. (Trust me, I’m speaking from experience.)
Once the lid is all the way pushed down. Pour and enjoy.
- The Stove Top Espresso Maker
If you’re looking to go more elegant, especially if you only need to make one or two cups for your Producer and Director, try going this route. The coffee always tastes better.
For this you’ll need coffee grounds and tap water.
This one is a bit tricky, but if you look closely, you can see that this maker twists open from the middle. In the bottom half is a little metal bit that looks like a small cup. This is where you put the coffee.
Then place the tap water into the bottom base and fill to the notch pictured below.
Once this is done, you’ll put the puzzle back together. Carefully placing the coffee metal bit into the base and screwing the whole thing back together. Make sure it’s tight. Then, place on a stove top, turn the burner to the middle setting and keep an eye on it. The stove top does the rest.
I’ve noticed this takes about 4/10 minutes depending on how high you have the burner. Be careful not to have the burner on too high as it can burn the coffee. Also the other negative about this process is that the maker itself becomes incredibly hot, so be careful when you pick it up to pour it.
- The Pods
I’m a huge fan of these, but I’ve noticed that when I make one for someone who doesn’t take any milk in their coffee it’s a very small shot of coffee. So, I’d recommend sticking with one of the other forms if you’re making it for someone who likes their coffee black.
The pods come in lots of different flavours and strengths. There are also many brands, so you’ll want to make sure you buy the pods that work in your brand of maker, but other than that, they’re pretty easy to navigate.
Place an empty cup in the slot provided. Choose a pod and place in the top of the machine, make sure there’s enough water in the maker and then hit the button for the size of cup you’re after.
Each brand has their own way of where the pod goes and different options for the size of the drink, but I’ve discovered that once I used one, it was pretty easy to navigate the other kinds. They’re all similar enough that you can kind of treasure hunt your way through it.
Side Note – A nice alternative to milk is Almond Milk or Soy Milk.
- The Emergency Cuppa
Worst case scenario, if you’re on set or in the office and for some unspeakable reason you are out of coffee, jump in your car, or get your running shoes on and go to the nearest coffee shop.
It’s your job to make sure the director, producer and others are taken care of, so get out your wallet and pay it forward by buying your director a cuppa. A little gift today, will pay for itself tomorrow. Do yourself a favor and don’t ask for petty cash, go the extra mile/ kilometer and see that it’s taken care of.
In my office, we call it the “No excuses mentality”. This kind of selflessness goes a long way and is always noticed. Going the extra distance endears you to the people you’re working with and they’ll want to give you more to do. It might land you in your dream position. Who knows?
There are three intolerable things in life—cold coffee, lukewarm champagne, and overexcited women…” – Orson Welles
I hope this has been helpful to you; coffee plays such a vital role in the life of so many filmmakers. The more you know, the more you can put your hand up and jump at any and every opportunity you’re given. Most of all, enjoy, have fun and drink coffee.