Coffee: Three tips for much better home brew
Posted by Matt on April 16th, 2012
In keeping with our coffee feature, I asked Matt to document the improvements he’s made lately to our coffee brewing process at home. With some good beans (maybe from Revolver) and a few inexpensive tools, you can vastly improve your home brew.
In my head, I’ve mapped the concept of coffee snobbery to a tee shirt (no doubt incorporating a common slogan from the nefarious underground coffee snob movement) that reads “Coffee is a recipe”. Really? A recipe? Give me a break. It’s some measure of dried, roasted, ground stuff steeped for some period of time in some amount of hot water, strained or filtered and served. This isn’t a recipe, it’s a checklist. It’s a simple set of rules. That results in something we consume.
Allow yourself a moment of imagining my displeasure when I realized that the tee shirt was right: coffee is a recipe. A pretty complicated one, at that, compared to most of the things we make for breakfast. And (if you’re like Degan and I) it’s the most important part of the morning routine!
I’d always thought that we made good coffee. Inconsistent? Sure, sometimes – but we buy whole beans and grind them right before we make the coffee and we use a French press. That was as far into snobbery as I was willing to go until Degan asked me a couple of simple questions about making good coffee that I couldn’t answer. I don’t remember them so won’t repeat, but in the end she suggested that most of you probably weren’t interested in descending into the firey depths of coffee snob hell, but would appreciate it if I did, and distilled three simple tips for making better coffee at home.
After weeks (hours) of fastidious research, dear reader, and many (a few) test runs at home, I present to you the three best things you can do to improve your morning coffee at home, in ascending order of complexity.
Use a French press. The Internets (and presumably the French) agree: this is the way to the most flavourful, consistent coffee. Yes, you can’t set a timer and have your French pressed coffee ready when the alarm goes off (unless your house has a staff), but it quickly becomes a comforting part of the morning ritual – and it will immediately improve your coffee flavour / experience, even if you don’t change anything else. Put the ground coffee in the bottom of the empty press, pour the hot water over top (fill to the bottom of the metal band), stir with a spoon, wait five minutes, then put the top on and gently press the plunger down all the way.
Grind your own beans at home, just before you need them. Not too fine, or you’ll get sludge in your cup; not too coarse, or you won’t get all of the flavours from the beans. You don’t need a $250, pit-bull-sized burr grinder on your counter – a $20 plastic unit with a rotating blade will work just fine. You’ll learn really quickly how your grinder “feels” when the grind is just so. As a bonus, you get to measure your beans here each time you make your morning fix, so you have a happy shortcut to consistent brew strength.
Pay attention to the numbers. Let the kettle boil, then use a meat or candy thermometer to make sure that the water has cooled to between 195 and 205 degrees Fahrenheit before pouring into the French press. With our kettle it takes about five minutes to cool back down to that temperature; the Internexperts suggest that this temperature range minimizes bitter flavours from roasted coffee, and our at-home experiment(s) agree. I cannot describe how much better coffee tastes when you do this – Degan and I were both shocked at a simple back-to-back comparison of coffee brewed with boiling water vs. brewed with 200 degree water. Once you try this, you may not be able to go back. Ever. So be warned.
Et voila: three simple tips, $50 or less to try them out, ten extra minutes in the morning. We think the results are worth it!
Life is too short to drink bad coffee.
AND A BONUS TIP FROM MY ART TEACHER
When you’re rinsing out the French press, wash your hands with the coffee grinds. The oils from the coffee will make your hands smooth and soft and the grinds will help exfoliate – especially good if you were up late painting the night before.