Making great coffee at home

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The recipe for making great coffee at home begins with a simple bit of advice: unplug your automated coffeemaker and simplify: use a manually controlled coffee-making system.

Most automated home brewing systems are unable to highlight the characteristics of great coffee because they do not precisely control the temperature of the water when it comes in contact with the coffee. This is a fatal flaw if your goal is to discover the full complement of flavors and aromas in high-quality specialty beans.

That said, there are excellent, easy methods for making coffee at home, and superb home-brewed coffee is within reach of every coffee lover.

The Coffee

You have to begin with good coffee. Find a quality local roaster or supermarket that sells freshly roasted beans. Take home a quarter of a pound of a few different kinds of coffee and try them out. Make note of how they are roasted. When you take the beans out of the bag, smell them. Smell the coffee again after you grind them. Even if you like your coffee with milk or cream, try a few sips without anything added. Taste it. Consider what you are tasting and smelling as you would with a glass of wine. And make sure you try coffees from different parts of the world—Latin America, Africa and Asia.

If you like a particular coffee, you might want to take a look at some of the Web sites listed below to see what the coffee guys have to say about it.

Don't buy more than a week's supply at a time. Store coffee in a dry airtight container. You need not freeze it.

One more thing about what goes into the pot: Make sure you use filtered water.

Equipment

For home use, the coffee guys recommend low-tech coffeemakers such as French press pots that employ a finely perforated piston (or plunger), or drip brew pots, also called filter pots, where you pour water over ground coffee beans contained in a filter. The French press method requires a bit more dexterity, patience, and skill to master than systems such as Chemex or Melita that use filters. Stumptown and Counter Culture do not sell coffeemakers, though both companies' Web sites have information about making coffee at home. Intelligentsia recommends and sells coffeemakers and other coffee-making equipment on its Web site. George Howell's company, Terroir Coffee, also sells coffee-making equipment online. Note: Four minutes is considered the optimal extraction time for French Press. If you use this method, you might want to buy a small kitchen timer.

 The coffee guys insist that the single most important investment you can make if you brew coffee at home is a burr coffee grinder that crushes whole coffee beans by moving them through a grinding wheel. The burr chops the coffee into uniformly sized pieces, which enables the water to run through it and extract evenly. You can buy a mid-range burr grinder for around $100. Capresso, Bodum, and Saeco make many different models, as do a number of other companies. The only specific home burr grinder recommended by any of the coffee guys is the Rancilio Rocky Burr Grinder that Intelligentsia sells on its Web site for $320. The best coffee grinders are made by Fetco for commercial use. Note: The blade grinders most people use at home slashes through coffee beans, producing pieces of uneven size that prevent water from running through evenly. In addition, these machines overgrind, producing heat that burns the coffee and spoils the taste.

Use a standardized scoop. Most experts say 2 tablespoons of ground coffee per 8-ounce cup, but coffees differ and tastes differ. If you are very persnickety, buy a small digital scale, which will give you a truer reading, as coffees differ by weight and one scoop of coffee A may be denser and contain more flavor than one scoop of coffee B.

If you make more coffee than you can use immediately, always pour it into a thermos or carafe to keep it warm. Never let coffee sit on a burner or warming device, as this will kill the taste.

Cleanliness counts! The coffee guys recommend cleaning coffee equipment periodically with a commercial-grade cleaner such as Cleancaf.
Read the directions that come with your coffeemaker and follow them.

Home Espresso

Different systems for making home espresso have passionate supporters and detractors, and home systems for making espresso can be very expensive. If you are interested in slipping down this particular rabbit hole, you will probably want to do some research before investing in a system.

A good place to start gathering information is the Web site home-barista.com.

Roasting Coffee at Home

If you are interested in trying your hand at roasting your own green coffee, take a look at sweetmarias.com.

Sweet Maria's sells home roasting equipment and high-quality unroasted green coffee beans on the Web. Sweet Maria's proprietor, Tom Owen, knows a great deal about coffee, and his site is a worth a visit, even if you're not planning to roast your own.

Online Resources

Other excellent sites for information about coffee and coffee-making methods are:

  • Coffeegeek.com: Coffee Geek founder, Mark Prince, also hosts a podcast. This site has links to many coffee blogs, forums, and discussion groups.
  • Coffeed.com: This site has links to many other coffee blogs, forums, and discussion groups.
  • Portafilter.net: Here you can also access barista Nick Cho's coffee podcast.

You can order coffee beans and get lots of coffee information online from:

Excerpted with permission from God in a Cup by Michaele Weissman. Copyright © 2010 Michaele Weissman. Published by John Wiley and Sons. All Rights Reserved.

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