Hi. This is "JustMe". I've been in & out of computing since the late 70s. I'm currently running the latest version of Linux Mint LMDE Mate on this Intel Core2 Q8300 CPU running @ 2.50GHz, on an ASRock motherboard with 8G of memory. Storage is provided by a 120Gb Samsung 850 EVO SSD for the OS and a Western Digital WD20 2T HD as home & swap. Video is provided by nVidia. My monitor is an LG E2441 wide screen. I built this box a few years ago and haven't seen a need to modernize it beyond upgrading the OS because it suits my purposes well. Although I'm seriously contemplating switch my desk top to XFCE because Mate is still too buggy.
'nught about me. Let's get on to the subject at hand.
I just finished listening to the HPR Community News for September 2015 episode 1871 a couple of days ago. I listened to the two volunteer hosts talking about coffee, coffee preparation and how hard it was to get water to the correct temperature for that optimal cup of coffee. I'd like to ask the two of them a couple of questions before I continue elucidating on this topic.
The first question is, can you blind taste test the difference between Nescafé Instant and a cup of, let's say, Starbucks brewed coffee? (a blind taste test is where someone prepares cups of coffee without you knowing which cup has which coffee.) Also notice, I didn't say cappuccino or latte. I said, good ol' fashioned brewed coffee, drunk black.
Don't be ashamed if you can't because many people don't have the taste buds for it. But if you can't, I'd say forget making your own and stay with the crappy, Nescafé instant. You'll save yourself a lot of time, money.
On the other hand, if you can taste the difference, and you live in the San Francisco area of California, then I'd like to ask another question. Can you taste the difference between Starbucks and Pete's Brewed coffee?
If you can, then I propose one more question. Can you taste the difference between a cup of coffee made with Columbian beans and one made with Brazilian beans or Ethiopian beans or Costa Rica Beans?
If you can answer yes to all of these questions, then I'd say you should take the time to learn how to make a proper cup of coffee. You will be rewarded a thousand times over with each cup.
Now, providing you have answered all in the affirmative or you're just interested in listening to the rest of this podcast, let's digress no further and proceed to the heart of the matter.
Making a cup of good coffee, just like making a bottle of good wine or a good omelet, takes understanding of the basics and practice in preparation.
The basics of coffee making are simple: Freshly roasted whole beans, a good grinder & proper grind for the type of coffee preparation method, water, water temperature, and brew time.
I'm not going to go into a step-by-step dissertation on each brewing method. Suffice it to say, you can take the time for that later. I'll only discuss the essentials here.
Let me dally a moment longer. Do you drink wine or beer? When you do or if you do, do you add ice to it? Do you want watered down beer or wine? NO!!! Then why in the hell would you add milk or sugar to your coffee?????? 'nough said on that subject.
By freshly roasted whole beans, I mean just that. Whole beans that have been roasted in the past couple of days. NOT two, three, four, five or more months ago. Beans lose their flavor, go stale, with time. Just like day-old bread. Ground beans lose their flavor even faster, so use only whole beans and grind them as you need them just before brewing. In addition, to maintain their freshness, keep whole beans in an air-tight bag or container, out of direct sunlight and in a cool, dry place (NOT refrigerated). Beans hate time, temperature, sunlight, and air.
Another side note here. How much ground coffee per cup? General rule of thumb - 10 grams of ground coffee per 6 ounces of water. The average American cup/mug holds 8-14 ounces of water. So adjust the amount of ground coffee accordingly - experiment. Keep all the other factors the same and only vary the quantity of ground coffee until you get that "just right" cup. But, of course, if you like Nescafé instant, you'll like stale coffee beans and add extra just for fun.
Grinder. A good grinder is imperative. The greatest cost is going to be the grinder. Not all grinders are equal, nor do they grind beans equally well. So don't be afraid to spend good money for a good grinder. Look for a conical or burr grinder. No damn blade grinders. Blade grinders are for spices and grinding dog food. And I don't mean Kitchen Aid or Sunbeam or Cuisinart or Mr. Coffee or such. Look for brand names like Mazzer, Rancilio, Gaggia, Bunn, Macap, or Baratza. Spend good money now, it'll save you money and ensure years of good service.
Note that each brewing method needs a different "grind" - coarseness/fineness. Experiment. Keep all the other factors the same and only vary the grind until you get that "just right" cup. But, of course, if you like Nescafé instant, don't worry about the grind.
Another side note here. If you answered yes to all of the above questions, I'll guarantee that if I were to prepare two cups of coffee where all of the factors are the same except for the grinder (one cheap & one quality), that you would most definitely swear that different beans were used to make each cup. No Joke. That's the difference a good grinder makes. It, more than any other factor, will change the flavor of your coffee. And you'll more likely than not be missing out on a great cup and be constantly plagued with shit coffee if you cheap out.
I can personally attest to this fact. I cheaped out in the beginning. Then I spent the money to buy a great grinder. My first sip of my first cup using the great grinder knocked my socks off. Night and day! I discovered the great taste of coffee that a great grinder provides. So don't cheap out. But, of course, if you like Nescafé instant, you'll like the cheap blade grinder. Or, hell, do it caveman style, just use a hammer to smash the beans.
Water. Mountain spring water is a MUST. The minerals in it help extract the delicate flavors of the coffee giving it a much more fuller, richer flavor. Distilled water leaves coffee tasting flat and lifeless. But, of course, if you like Nescafé instant, you'll like distilled water.
Water temp. Yes. Water temp makes a difference. It's like the difference between scalding milk and burning milk. Coffee's delicate flavors require a temp between 195-200 degrees F or 90-94 degrees C. Too cold, no flavor extraction - flat coffee. Too hot and the oils are extruded - bitter coffee.
First bring water to a rolling boil. This airiates the water. Once the water comes to a full boil, remove from the heat. Wait 30-40 seconds then pour into or over your freshly ground coffee beans and stir. For an even more accurate temp reading, use a thermometer. If you make espresso, the espresso maker will take care of the temp, provided you bought a GOOD espresso maker and not a cheap Cuisinart or the likes thereof. But, of course, if you like Nescafé instant, use boiling hot water.
Brew time. Each brewing method's brew time varies (French Press, espresso, pour over, drip, Aero Press, etc.). As little as 30 seconds (espresso) to between three to four minutes for the others is needed. So, experiment. Keep all the other factors the same and only vary the brew time until you get that "just right" cup. But, of course, if you like Nescafé instant, let it steep for 10 minutes.
Does all of this seem like a lot of time and bother just for a cup of coffee? Hell, yes!! But didn't it seem like a lot of time and bother to make that first perfect omelet? And wasn't it worth it, once you got the hang of it. It was no fuss at all. It's just like putting your pants on or brushing your teeth. You no longer have to think about it. You just do it.
And once you get the hang of it, the timing and flow to making that "Just right" cup of coffee, you'll be able to enjoy a perfect cup every time without breaking a sweat or furrowing a brow.
So, here's to ya. Enjoy. And maybe next time we'll look at blending beans to create a euphoric cacophany of mouth flavors.