Sunday, January 27, 2013

Part 1: How To Brew Awesome Coffee...Every Time.

You know what isn't the best part of waking up (besides Folgers). It's waking up with a stuffy head and drippy nose. What makes the morning even less enjoyable is having to pass on that warm, tasty cup of coffee that you so enjoy every morning while you do your morning routine. Well today is day 2 of being stuffed up and I've said, "the heck with this, I'm making myself a cup of coffee. And I'll even blog about it! So take that, cold!"

As I've told you already, this past year and a half have been very enlightening to me in regards to our world's second greatest commodity (darn you petroleum for being number one!). I've gone from drinking garbage coffee, to making what I thought was good coffee (realizing now that it wasn't), to now being able to replicate awesome tasting coffee every day. So without further adieu, allow me to explain to you step by step what goes in to making an amazing cup of coffee so you too can make an amazing cup every single time!

Choosing The Beans

It's all about the beans! Let me take a moment to emphasize that:  IT'S ALL ABOUT THE BEANS! If you were to assign each component of coffee making a percentage, I would say that the kind of coffee you use makes up about 60% of the overall coffee making experience, 20% would be in brew technique, and 20% in equipment. You can have the most expensive brewing equipment, fantastic technique, and awesome grinder, but if you're using regular store bought Maxwell House coffee, it's not going to taste good. This is a mistake I made back when I first started making coffee. I started using a pour over method with just any coffee, thinking that I'd be making awesome coffee and I wasn't. It tasted like regular old coffee. Then I decided to step it up and use pre-ground Starbucks beans. Still, no good. Then I stepped it up yet again, now getting whole beans from Peet's Coffee and Javatini's. Better, but not as good as those shops like Portola, Intelli and Verve. Disappointed, I brought my situation before my friend and awesome barista, Andrew, who threw down a bit of coffee wisdom on me saying, "It's all about the beans." Sure enough once I started buying artisan coffee I got artisan results.

For today's brew, I'm using a nice El Salvador Pacomara from local roaster Golden State Coffee Roasters (oddly enough their website didn't help me in finding out who they are or where they're at...not good when you're starting out a brand name for yourself).

The Equipment:
For a good cup of coffee every time, you're going to want a couple of essential items that will allow you to replicate your good brew every time you're in the need of some caffeinated goodness. Here's our equipment list we're going to be needing.

  1. Coffee Grinder
  2. Digital Gram Scale
  3. Hario V-60 Pour Over
  4. Coffee Drip Kettle (not absolutely necessary, but very helpful).
  5. Some sort of water boiler or tea kettle
 Okay, let me talk real quick about some of these pieces of equipment. Real quick!

Coffee Grinder:

Now in order to make awesome coffee every time, you're going to want to be consistent in everything, including grind size. It's true for grinders that you get what you pay for. The least expensive coffee grinder, the blade grinder, is going to run you about $15 or so which isn't much. Blade grinders are the least consistent grinders when it come to making coffee as it overly grinds some beans while not grinding other beans enough. Next on the hierarchal scale of grinders is the mid priced conical burr grinder such as my Cuisinart Supreme Grind Automatic Burr Mill. These will get you a good enough grind for pour overs and presses, however not good enough for espresso grinds (the burrs aren't that good). These ones fly for about $45-75 at a Target or Macy's. Last on the affordable home grinder range is the higher priced Baratza grinders. The one in the picture above is an older model Baratza Maestro Plus, which has been replaced by the Baratza Encore (pretty much the same thing but with better burrs). This is my weapon of choice. This Baratza grinder has the ability to deliver consistent grinds for anything from French Press to a good espresso grind and for $129 it's the best deal on the market for the home barista (especially if you intend on making espresso in the near future).

To speak on the importance of grind size very briefly here's why it matters for our pour over coffee:
  • Grind too fine= Water passes grinds too slow= Over extracted coffee= Muddy/nasty coffee
  • Grind too course= Water passes too quickly= Under extracted coffee= watery/flavorless coffee
Obviously you're going to want something in between the two. Now with a blade grinder, you get some grinds that are course, some that are pulverized into dust. Therefore, some grinds are over extracted and some are under extracted. It's inconsistent and some day's you'll have okay coffee while other days you'll have bad coffee. I say if you can just get a burr grinder.

Digital Gram Scale:
Why the US refuses to use the universally accepted and preferred metric system is still a mystery to me (besides the fact now that...never mind I won't get into it). For our coffee purposes, I always encourage people to weigh things out. It doesn't take long, and it saves you from wasting coffee and allows you to repeatedly make awesome coffee every time. I always compare coffee making very much like baking a cake. If you add 3 cups of water instead of the 2 that the recipe calls for, you're going to get some drastic differences in that cake. Same with coffee. If you're going by the measurements I'll be giving you but decided to add 28 grams instead of 26 grams of coffee, you will get very different results. Coffee's a finicky beast. For this reason, and in addition to not wanting to waste coffee, I say that the gram scale is very important. You can get one for anywhere from $20-60

V-60 Pour Over:
There are many different good ways to brew coffee. From a Chemex to Aeropress to French Press to siphon and beyond, there are many brew options to work with. For today, we're using one of my favorites, the Hario V-60 Pour Over. I like the V-60 because it's easy to use, makes a tasty cup, and the $25 price tag makes this a good bargain for good coffee making. I could go on into further detail why I like this method, but I'll save you from my excess and unnecessary ranting.

Drip Kettle:

This piece of equipment is kind of pricy, but if you're looking for long term use it's a good investment. This will allow you to pour consistent streams of water when brewing which is very important in making good coffee and for the sake of repeatability. This piece of equipment will run you about $50

Tea Kettle/ Water Boiler: You know what this is. It boils water. I use this guy, pictured to the right. Use whatever will get that water to a boil. Whistle kettles bug me, so I use this Capressi Water Kettle. No whistle and, most importantly, looks cool when it starts boiling.

Now if you're thinking, "that's a lot of equipment just for a cup of coffee," I would remind you that we're making an amazing cup of coffee here for you, everyday. Artisan cups of coffee run for about $3-7 a cup, so if you do the math you'll see that over a short period of time you'll be saving money by making these cups at home rather than going out and buying them daily. On top of that, you'll have the freedom to use different beans, try different measurements, and see what kind of results you get. For me, it's a hobby. A tasty hobby. And if you're looking for a one stop shop that'll get you most of these items at a REALLY good price check out Portola's online store for the V-60 Bundle Kit. $100 and your set with everything I've mentioned and more.

Coffee's one of those things that many people use to survive in the morning. Maybe that's you too. If coffee's something that you'll be drinking every single day, why settle for something that doesn't taste good unless you drown it in creamer or sugar (which isn't really coffee as much as it's just coffee flavored sugar). If it's that important to you, it's worth the investment of a couple extra bucks and an extra minute or two.

Brewin' Time!
Wow, I think I wrote too much. Intermission time. Go take a break, grab some Goldfish, listen to this, then pass Go, Collect $200 and advance token to nearest railroad. And then read my next entry.

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