Making The Best Out of You And Your Java
There are many opportunities either to ruin or be enraptured by our beloved coffee beverage. When it comes to making your own coffee I will not insult you by insisting it be a certain roast, or strength, or variety, and I will not judge your use of creams and sweeteners. While wars have been fought to control coffee economies, they should not be fought over the use of condiments. That being said, there are recommended methods of handling this perishable ingredient that can improve your coffee routine and make even that day-old coffee taste better.
Coffee derives from seeds of select species of the fruit bearing Coffea plant. These plants thrive in warm, moist geographies of varying altitudes, all around the globe. The ripe Coffea cherry is picked, pulped, and separated from its protected prize, the seed, which is then washed, dried, sorted, roasted, ground, and brewed. For most of us, the relevance in the lengthy process is in these last steps—roasting, grinding, and brewing.
Coffee roasts are highly varied. It is important to notice which roast you prefer when buying your coffee beans. Some roasts are better suited to some bean varieties than others. A medium roast will highlight a bean’s specific regional flavor characteristics while a darker roast, beans cooked at a higher temperature longer, will take on flavors of charred foods. Burned toast tastes the same regardless of the bread, and it might just be the charred flavor that you love. Whatever your preferred roast, make sure the beans are stored in airtight containers until ready to grind. Oxygen is the enemy of the roasted bean’s CO2 protective buffer, and the flavor will go stale in a matter of days if exposed. Please freeze your fresh ground coffee for storage, but do not freeze your beans. A taste test will confirm why.
There is a suitable grind for each method of coffee making. Generally, the grind is determined by the contact time between the water and the coffee, the longer the coffee preparation, the coarser the grind. For example French press is a six minute steep using a very coarse grind, brewed coffee is a slow pour-over using a medium grind, and espresso is a high-pressured fast extraction using a very fine grind. It is ideal to grind your freshly roasted beans immediately before brewing for freshest flavor and to maximize the undeniably awesome aroma. Please note that crushing the beans in a burr mill grinder instead of chopping with blades will ensure a consistent grind.
The key points for any brewing method are to use the freshest coffee grinds, the cleanest water at the right temperature, and to not skimp on ingredients. No matter what method you prefer, I recommend reading the instructions for the device again to see if you omitted any steps from your routine. For example, an important and often skipped step for your pour-over is to moisten the paper filter before you add your grounds and water. This ensures none of your strongest initial coffee flavors are absorbed by the paper instead of flowing into your cup.
Taste your coffee before adding milks or sugars and consider it an exercise in quality control. An otherwise delicious coffee may disappear under the weight of fatty milk and taste bland, while another variety of bean can taste entirely new and wonderful when blended with the usual condiments. If the seemingly infinite variations on the coffee theme overwhelm you, just remember the hardest work was already done at the farm. Coffee is food, so play with it. As long as you enjoy your brew, then you are already making it right and do not let anyone bully you into thinking otherwise.
Melissa Knott, the owner of grounded.coffee catering can be found with more coffee and coffee advice at www.groundedcatering.com and every Saturday morning at the Palisades Community Center during market season. Graphic by Julius Schorzman