You Don’t Know What You’re Missing

I saw this report from Bloomberg that Folgers is America’s number one coffee.  I shook my head in disbelief. Coffee is more than just a caffeine jolt in the morning.  It can be akin to a fine wine.  So many of us are missing out on the delicate flavors of the thousands of varieties of coffee by brewing with the stale grounds from the store or getting the overflavored, heavily sweetened, latest mocha-latte-frappaccino with a double shot, soy milk no whip at the coffeeshop.  I say this as someone who has sampled a pumpkin spice latte or two in my day.  I know, however, that’s not coffee.  That’s a coffee drink.

Over the years, my husband and I have moved from buying ground coffee, then whole beans, to buying green coffee beans online and roasting them ourselves.  We do not have an automatic coffee maker.  We have both a French press and a vacuum press.  We have sampled coffee from such places as India, Peru, Colombia, and Guatemala.  We have tested the beans at different roasting heats and lengths to bring out different flavors and acidity.  In short, we are spoiled.  We know what coffee can really be.

Green Coffee Beans

Green coffee beans

Roasting the beans

Roasting the beans. We usually get ours from Sweet Maria or Green Mountain Coffee.

We normally use a French press when making our morning coffee.  It’s an infusion method, pouring almost-but-not-quite boiling water over coarse grounds and steeping for four minutes.  Master coffee tasters use French presses when “cupping,” a rather noisy and messy way of grading coffee, which involves large sniffs of the aroma as well as huge slurps to quickly spread the coffee all over the palate at once.  The coffee is not swallowed but spat into urns.

French Press

French Press

Most of the coffee you buy at the store is stale.  The green coffee beans can be stored for months.  Once roasted, you should use the beans within a week.  How long has that bag of dark roast been sitting on the shelf?  Another rule:  Do not grind the beans until just before brewing.  The pre-ground vacuum-packs are not worth your time and money.

One of the worst things you can do to your coffee is have an automatic coffeemaker with a burner element.  “But it’s to keep my coffee warm!” you wail.  No.  It destroys the delicate flavors and aromas in coffee.  Instead, use a coffee carafe, fill with boiling water to heat, then pour out the water and add in your coffee.  You will keep the coffee nicely warm without burning off the flavors.  I won’t even discuss restaurant coffee.  It’s mostly likely been sitting on the burner for hours and/or brewed with stale grounds.

For the true coffee aficianado, the vacuum press offers both a bit of showmanship to the coffee brewing process as well as allowing all the nuances of the coffee flavor to shine.  Because of the time involved, we only use our vacuum press on the weekends.

We first encountered the vacuum press in Seattle in a cafe around the corner from the first Starbucks (which had a line out the door and we didn’t want to fight the crowd.)  We were on vacation and wanted to see exactly what a $9 cup of coffee got you.  The vacuum press is two glass globes connected by a stem.  The coffee, medium ground, is put in the top half and the water is put in the bottom globe.  A spirit lamp heats the water and as the water boils it bubbles up through the stem into the top globe, where you give the coffee a quick stir and let the water steep out the flavors.  After a bit (my husband and I are still experimenting with this) pull away the heat source and and as the water cools, the coffee flows into the bottom globe, ready to be poured.Vacuum Press

As the barista handed my husband his cup (we were sharing, because, after all, $9 for a cup of coffee) he told us we should taste fruit notes with a hint of chocolate.  We took our first sip, black, no sweetener or creamer.  A look of dazed delight passed over our faces, as we could indeed taste the ripe blueberries and the hint of dark chocolate.  It was a smooth, slightly sweet brew with no bitter aftertaste.  We didn’t need to add anything to it.  It was like a fine wine, delicate flavors and with a pleasing lingering on the tongue.  If coffee is brewed correctly and with care, you shouldn’t need to add anything to it.  You don’t add anything to wine unless you’re making sangria.  Kind of makes you wonder why you have to add anything to your coffee to make it drinkable, doesn’t it?  And if you are drinking it black, why not treat your palate with coffee that has been carefully prepared with fresh beans to bring out all of its nuances?  You may be surprised at what you’ve been missing.


One thought on “You Don’t Know What You’re Missing

  1. Amen to it all. It’s so easy to ruin what should be easy to make. After returning from Italy, we decided to sprint headlong down the espresso branch of the flowchart. We dusted off our Krups and have been making cappucinos every morning since. Doesn’t feel like labor at all.

    Forced-steam coffee is a different animal. We don’t grind moments before we use it, but we go through our fine-grind dark-roast quickly so it doesn’t have time to become stale. The massive concentration of flavors, smoothed but not erased by the frothy steamed milk (skim makes the best foam) is a daily epiphany. Not the same as vacuum press or French, but also good. Another friend of mine froths whole milk in a pot on the stove; that’s very comforting and tasty.

    Away from the espresso-drink world, I still believe — as Wendy writes — that a truly good cup of coffee needs no additive at all. If it’s good, it’s good black.

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