Friday, March 25, 2011

The Perfect Cup of Coffee

Like many people, I love my morning coffee. I crave perfection in my coffee. Electric drip machine coffee in heated glass pots and huge steel canisters of brewed coffee at the office cafeteria don't really cut it for me. I've taken a long time to try and perfect my morning cup (or cups!), and today I'm going to share my formula. The keys are the actual beans, the grinding process, and the brewing method. I've put my steps together based on tips from around the internet, conversations with other coffee drinkers, and regular old trial and error. Everyone has a different taste for coffee, so I'm sure you can modify some of my steps to create your own perfect cup!

Let's start with the beans. Buying whole beans and grinding them yourself just before brewing ensures a fresher cup of coffee, because the grinding process releases oils from inside the beans that go rancid when exposed to air over time. So if possible, I highly recommend getting whole beans and bringing them home without grinding them at the store. Choosing the RIGHT beans is also important. When I say "right," I mean the ones that fit the taste profile you enjoy coffee. I like strong, dark coffee, so I generally get dark roasts, like French (the darkest), Italian, or Colombian (a medium-dark roast). Theses dark roasts tend to be slightly more bitter, but they have an almost choclatey quality to them, and they produce a very thick feel in your mouth. You have to be careful to pick a good roaster for these dark roasts, because in the wrong hands, dark roasts can be TOO bitter and even have a burned taste to them. Around Ithaca, we have the Ithaca Coffee Company, which produces outstanding-flavored roasts (and which supplies all organic, free-trade coffees for those of you into that sort of thing). Look how dark this French Roast that I used this morning was:

After picking the right roast and roaster, the next important step is grinding. What I have to say here might seem unnecessary, and even a bit pretentious, BUT - if you want to get the best out of your coffee, you need to spend a bit on a grinder. We used to use one of those blade grinders that you can get at any home store for under $30, but we recently switched to a Bodum Burr Grinder that was closer to $80 - believe me, the coffee tastes much better. Blade grinders produce uneven grinds and generate heat because they chop each bean with friction, leading to a burned aftertaste in even the perfectly roasted coffee. On the other hand, the burr grinder applies moderate crushing force, leaving the original coffee flavor intact. Burr grinders can run up to $300, but our Bodum works very well and looks quite attractive:

You have to make sure to grind your coffee to the right size for your brewing method. I use a French Press, which is a direct immersion method (the coffee grounds are actually in the water), and this requires a fairly coarse ground (see at the right). Using a drip machine, you need a finer ground, and espresso is the extreme, generally requiring the finest ground size possible for your grinder.

So now, on to how to brew the cup with this coffee that you have ground so meticulously. As I said, I go with a French Press:

It extracts much more flavor from the beans than a drip machine, making the resulting coffee a bit thicker and stronger. To optimize taste though, you need to use the right amount of coffee and the correct brewing time and temperature. Generally, 2 tbsp of coffee per cup is a good amount for a well-balanced flavor (this may come as a stunner to many Americans who drink weak drip coffee with about 1 tsp per cup!). My French Press makes a little more than 3 large cups of coffee, so I go with around 6-8 tbsp of grounds per brewing. Keep in mind that a French Press has the disadvantage of not having a heat source, so you should only make enough coffee to drink right away in the near future. I generally share my coffee with one of my colleagues and Trish, so 3 cups is perfect for me to make at a time. Before you add the coffee to the French Press, make sure your water temperature is right (if the water is too hot, you're coffee will be too bitter, if it's too cold, the coffee will be weak) - I generally add boiling water to the press, let it cool for about 30 seconds, then add my grounds in. At this point, the grounds float, so you need to force them down with a stirrer. Once they're all down, gently stir for 30 seconds. Don't overstir, because, again, this makes the coffee too bitter. After stirring, let the coffee brew for 4 minutes. Yes, exactly 4 minutes, as this is the optimal time needed to extract the good flavors without getting the overly bitter notes out of the coffee. After 4 minutes, SLOWLY depress the plunger (if you go too fast, guess what? that's right - too bitter!). Now pour yourself a cup and enjoy! Look at this beautiful dark coffee I made this morning:

I generally take my coffee with milk and some splenda, and the resulting color is still a deep brown (not that milky white that you often get at diners and restaurants):

This woke me up! Give it a shot - if you're used to weak drip coffee every AM, this method might really take you by storm and make that morning caffeine more enjoyable!

1 comment:

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