Learning how to brew good coffee at home has been one of my projects this summer. Experimenting with both equipment and brewing methods over the last few weeks has proven to be an exciting learning experience. Though I’m still a long way from coffee mastery, I feel like I’m starting to understand some of the basics. Though there are numerous variables you can adjust to tweak a cup, there are a few easy essentials that will make a big difference in the quality of your drink. You don’t have to turn into a complete coffee geek to upgrade the flavor of your caffeine kick. Read on to hear about the three things that have made the biggest difference in how my coffee tastes each morning: the beans, the grind, and the brew method.
Not all beans are created equal. The difference between Folgers, Starbucks, and a pound of freshly roasted, high grade beans from Ethiopia is vast. Every step in the coffee brewing process relies on whether or not you’re using good beans. Coffee beans are like anything else, they can go bad. Leave milk for too long and it turns sour, leave bread too long and it gets hard, leave coffee beans for too long and they get stale. While unroasted coffee beans can easily stay fresh for up to a year, roasted beans are only fresh for 1-2 weeks. After around a month, they’ll be completely stale. The sad thing is, most beans that you purchase are already stale before you use them! One of the best things you can do for yourself is to buy fresh beans. Find a shop that labels their beans with a roast date and look for something less than 3-4 days off roast. Be sure you’re only purchasing enough for the next few weeks so they don’t end up going stale. Beans that have already been ground only keep their flavor for around 24 hours so be sure you’re buying whole beans. If they’re whole that means you’ll have to grind them, which leads into the next item of importance…
One of the first things I heard when I started working at Prima Coffee was that a good grinder is key to getting a good cup of coffee. Being able to grind your own beans preserves freshness and also gives you the ability to adjust the coarseness of the grind depending on the brew method. Forget about buying one of those basic blade grinders because they will chop the beans randomly and inconsistently. What you need is a burr grinder. It won’t break your bank if you stick with a manual option such as the Mini Mill or the Skerton. For a little bit more, you can start with something like the Baratza Maestro Plus, an automatic burr grinder which will be helpful for grinding lots of coffee at once. Though it’s best to grind right before you brew, even grinding the same day as a brew is better than buying pre-ground beans which will have already lost their flavor by the time they make it into your home. Grinding your beans fresh will ensure that you get maximum flavor out of your cup.
The Brew Method
Though good beans and a good grinder will drastically help the quality of your coffee, the brew method is what will really bring all the flavors out of freshly ground beans. There are a number of important steps that are lost in an average automatic coffee brewer. First is the water temperature. Coffee needs to be brewed with 195-205 degree water for all the various flavors to be brought out. Most automatic brewers have to keep the water temperature far south of the ideal due to safety precautions. Automatic brewers also don’t give the brewer control over the pour which results in water being unsystematically spewed over all the beans at once. There are many great (and cheap) ways to brew coffee manually. I’ll be introducing a few of these items in an upcoming post, but I’ll go ahead and link to my favorite now. It’s called the Clever. To loosely quote one of my office mates, “If everyone in America replaced their automatic brewers with a Clever, coffee would be in a good place.” Brew Methods has tons of instructional articles and videos that showcase the various home brewing devices and teach you how to use them properly.
Coffee might not be important enough for you to justify spending extra money on it. But for a small investment, you can start making some great coffee at home and begin enjoying a great new hobby. This isn’t for everyone. It takes some desire and a little added effort. But if coffee is your thing, and you want to learn how to make something that tastes good before you add the cream and sugar, you should give it a try.