Sunday, April 13, 2008

The Perfect Cup of Coffee

I started drinking coffee at a fairly early age. I remember my first sip, which resulted in this violent projectile spitting of the bitter taste from my mouth. My parents laughed at me. "see.. coffee is for adults," they chided. I started to believe they were right. How in the world could someone drink this stuff? It was hot, it was bitter, it tasted like a mouthful of dirty water from a puddle on the sidewalk steeped with tree bark and bird poop. (not that I know what that tastes like; but it seemed gross enough!)

When I was in high school, the 'cool' people had morning coffee. Well, not to be excluded from the cool people, I would choke down coffee and pretend to enjoy it. "mmmmm... this Maxwell House is great!" I would proclaim. (I was a brand whore even at that age..) Inside, I thought my stomach was going to explode in protest. My best friend at the time, Doug, suggested the addition of cream and sugar to my coffee. He poured me a cup of the repulsive brown liquid and added his secret ingredients. "Try this," he said, handing me the hot bitterness. I took a sip. I took another sip. It was pretty good. Hey, I could handle this coffee thing. I now felt I was a legit 'cool person.'

Through college I worked in restaurants. I would go to class, work, stay up late studying, go to class, work, blah, blah, blah.. I was lacking in sleep big time and coffee gave me the 'jolt' I needed to keep moving. I worked in a fast paced environment where I was on the move from the time I entered the restaurant until I finished my night. Taking the time to pour a cup of coffee, and mix it up with the cream and sugar just seemed to never happen. Who had time to dress a beverage when customers were waiting? Yet, without the evil brown beverage, I would surely fall on my face from exhaustion. That's when I started drinking coffee straight up. Black. Hardcore. John Wayne. Like a man. I'd pour a quick cup, do my best to drink it quickly without burning the inside of my mouth and I'd wait on the next customer. No fuss, no muss.. no empty sugar packets to throw away and no spoons to clean. Grab and go... with renewed energy and vigor.

I've been a black coffee drinker since. The thought of cream and sugar in my coffee just seems wrong to me now. While the fancy creams sound as if they would taste good in my coffee, I've yet to find one that really tickles the taste buds. But this change in coffee preference presents a continual challenge - making the perfect cup. It has to be good. Poorly brewed coffee has no place in my life or in my mouth. But believe me, I've had some pretty horrible coffee in my day!

I've done some research on making the perfect cup of coffee. Those that consider themselves experts have some variance in theory, but there are consistent basics.

Brewing the Consistent Pot

Start with freshly roasted specialty coffee for optimal flavor.Buy only enough coffee for a week (7-10 days) to insure that the coffee will always taste the best.

Make it the right H20 - not H2 oh no!

Use the right water. Remember that 98.5% of coffee is water, so having well filtered and/or softened water is necessary. Always use fresh, cold water. I keep filtered water in the fridge ready for use.

The Daily Grind

Having the proper grind matters. Whole beans keep better than ground coffee. Therefore, the recommendation is grinding your beans before brewing them. Use an appropriate grind for each coffee maker. For a French Press, use a coarse grind, a medium to fine grind for a drip coffee maker, and very fine for espresso. The shorter the brewing time, the finer the grind. (If coffee is too coarsely ground, it will be short on flavor; to fine, it will be somewhat harsh.)
Commercial grinders should be set at auto drip. If the coffee is too coarsely ground, it will be short on flavor. If the coffee is too fine, it will be harsh tasting.

Filters

If you use paper filters, use oxygen-bleached filters. Chemically bleached paper filters will add a disagreeable taste to your coffee. Natural, brown filters will impart a woody taste. The ideal filter is a gold mesh filter which imparts no taste but does require cleaning.

How Much is Enough?

When brewing, use enough ground coffee. Start with 2 tablespoons per 6 ounces of water and adjust to suit your taste.
The coffee brewer should always be clean in order to produce the best pot of coffee. As a result, it is imperative that the manufacturer's cleaning instructions are followed. Coffee oil residue will interfere with good flavor.

If You Can't Take the Heat...

After brewing, take your coffee of the burner and transfer it to an insulated carafe. Leaving it on the burner will cause it to become sour and bitter. Never boil or reheat coffee. Keep in mind that the quality of the coffee deteriorates as it sits, even if it is in an insulated carafe. Ideally, coffee should not sit more than an hour, but never more than 3 hours.

I can't start a day without a great cup of coffee. I'm having one as I write. Care to join me?

1 comment:

Elaine said...

I guess I'm not a coffee connoisseur. I drink mine with milk (half 'n half if I have it) and sugar - just like I drink my tea. And I just use my inexpensive drip coffee maker. The only thing I am picky about with my coffee is that it not be too strong or bitter!

Thanks for the info on how to get perfectly brewed coffee - I may have to change my lazy ways! :-)