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The old adage says, “write what you know.” As you can see from my profile picture, I know coffee. As a little kid, my Finnish uncle would roust me before dawn to go fishing, then serve us the morning’s catch with heavily sweetened java. I started guzzling the stuff in earnest as a 13-year-old paper boy. Over time, I used less cream and sugar, so by the middle of high school I was slamming down black coffees before trig class. (I was also very ADD, so I apologize to my mom and teachers for being such an annoying spaz.)
There are a zillion ways to make coffee, many of them complicated and insanely expensive. But after trying most, I can tell you that simple and cheap is the best way to brew the finest damn cup of joe you’ve ever tasted.
Get the good stuff. Now the good stuff doesn’t need to be expensive. Jamaican Blue Mountain is great, but $50-a-pound great? Nah. And if you drop $150 on beans crapped out of a civet, your lower GI deserves everything it gets.
There are two types of bean, Arabica and Robusta. Always go for the former; the latter is what you find in instant coffee and bucket-sized tins. If you have a good coffeehouse nearby that roasts in-house, buy there (it’ll always be Arabica). Look at the roast date and make sure the beans are fresh. If they’ve sat around for a month or more, the flavor takes a big hit.
As far as country of origin and roast level, explore a bit to see what you like. Medium roast is a bit sweeter and a lot of times dark roast is used to pass off inferior beans. And make sure you get whole bean. The grinding should be done at home.
There are two types of grinders: blade grinders and burr grinders. Blades are cheaper, but they heat up the beans and make an inconsistent grind. Both of these hurt the flavor in a big way. So you need a good burr grinder, which will be your most expensive purchase.
After shopping around for months, I highly recommend the Breville Smart Grinder Pro. It’ll set you back $200, but it’s built like a tank and grinds like the gearbox in a used Fiat. A hand grinder works too, but I don’t need that much exercise.
I use filtered, but my palate isn’t sophisticated enough to tell the difference from tap water. Feel free to boil the water on the stovetop if you like, but it’s quicker to use a simple electric kettle. When you need caffeine, every second counts.
Above, I linked to a $7,000 espresso maker. You know what the best brewer costs? Twelve bucks. Making coffee isn’t a high-tech endeavor, and your best bet is a modified plastic funnel called the Hario V60. If you want to get fancy, get the ceramic version for $10 more, but that one’s prone to breakage when you’re stumbling around the kitchen at 6 am. And remember to pick up some filters while you’re at it.
Now, the Hario is designed for brewing one cup at a time. If you want a potful, get the little piece of modern art known as the Chemex for $40. The process is identical to the V60 — just water pouring over ground coffee.
It’s Time to Brew Some Coffee
Now that you have all the gear, it’s time to wake up.
- Set your burr grinder to a somewhat-fine grind and select the number of cups you want to make. I have a big mug, so I set mine to three cups, or 24 oz.
- Fill up your electric kettle with that amount of water (24 oz. in my case).
- Place a filter in your Hario or Chemex, then run some hot tap water over it. This wets the filter and gets rid of that raw paper taste you don’t want in your coffee (my palate is sophisticated enough to pick that up). Dump that nasty water out.
- Pour the ground beans in the filter.
- Once the kettle is boiling, take it off the heat for a few seconds. The optimal temperature for brewing is 205° F, or just off the boil. A big reason your auto-drip coffee tastes crappy is because it often only heats the water to 160° or so. This creates bitterness, both in your mug and your mood.
- Pour a little bit of hot water over the coffee, just enough to soak the grounds without dripping through. Then wait 60 seconds. This steeps the coffee a bit and releases the CO2 created during the roasting process.
- Slowly pour in the rest of the water. Again, the idea is to soak the grounds instead of letting the water race through. This will draw out all those flavors that make coffee so great.
- Drink the best cup of coffee you’ve ever made.
By controlling every part of the process, you get the best quality coffee, grind, water, and temperature, and it doesn’t take much longer that setting your Mr. Coffee to “Brew.”
If you have any tips, tricks, or blasphemous dissent, please let me know in the comments.