The internet is awash with articles detailing the best way to brew coffee, and many a barista will happily tell you more than you ever care to know about the only way to make your cup of joe. For those of us who want to drink good coffee without either wasting precious time in the morning or spending thousands of dollars on specialty equipment, those articles and directives aren’t very useful.
We visited our local coffee shop, Tucker Silk Mill, in Easton, PA, to learn how to brew the best coffee we can with the equipment regular folks are likely to have in their homes. Before we dive into specific brewing methods, here are some basic tips that will help you get your best coffee no matter your brew preference.
TIPS OF THE TRADE
- Store your beans in an airtight vacuum container in a dark place. Like wine, the less the beans are exposed to air the better. If you want to go nuts, store your beans in individual pre-dosed containers only to be opened before brewing.
- Work in grams and ratios, not scoops and cups. The best bakers measure ingredients by mass and the best baristas do the same.
- Good water is critical. If your water tastes bad, so will your coffee. But you don’t need a fancy filtration system installed in your home because a good water filter pitcher will do the trick.
- Control the water temperature and don’t pour boiling water on your coffee grinds. Ideally, the water should remain at a constant temperature, just off the boil. But without a kettle that maintains a preset temperature, that’s virtually impossible to do. The next best thing you can do is avoid burning the grinds with boiling water.
6 METHODS FOR THE BEST CUP
1. Pour Over
Pour over coffee is the most low-tech method of brewing, yet produces one of the smoothest cups of coffee you’ll ever taste. For the most nuanced flavor that isn’t espresso, start here. Unfortunately, pour over comes with a stigma perpetuated by baristas who fancy themselves God’s gift to coffee, ready to crucify any who blaspheme in their presence by ordering drip coffee. Please, don’t be scared off by that. Follow these simple steps from the comfort of your own home to make a glorious cup.
Add 23 grams, or roughly six spoonfuls, of grinds to the filter. Pour in 20 percent of the hot water that it will take to fill your mug, and let it soak into the grinds for 20 seconds. Then pour the remaining water in two slow, flow-controlled pours while maintaining a continuous flow of water through the grinds. When adding water, start in the center and pour in concentric circles, making your way to the outside of the filter to soak all of the grinds. Do not pour directly down the side of the filter. The entire process, from first pour (called the bloom) to finish, should take three minutes.
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2. Camp Coffee
Maybe it’s the first sip of hot coffee on a crisp morning, maybe it’s the peaceful feeling of waking up in nature free from the encumbrances of the daily grind, or maybe it’s the simple satisfaction of producing a delicious brew outside the convenience of your kitchen that makes camp coffee a wonderful experience. But what do you do when you’ve left your survival kit (french press or Aeropress) at home? Don’t fret (too much) because paper cups (or styrofoam if you’re really in a jam) and #2 coffee filters are all you need to rig your own pour over contraption.
Punch a small hole (precise size isn’t critical) in the bottom of your cup, place the filter inside, and brace the cup and filter over your mug. As long as you didn’t forget your Jetboil as well, you’re back in business! Follow the pour over process and you’ll be enjoying delicious camp coffee in no time.
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Melita #2 Coffee Filters
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Fresh Roasted Coffee
An Aeropress is just a fancy french press with a filter. It’s simple to use and produces one of the most balanced tastes of all the brewing methods.
For the perfect cup, add 17 grams of ground coffee, or about five spoonfuls. Like pour over brewing, first pour in just enough hot water to soak the beans. Let that sit for 20 seconds before adding the rest of the water. Total brewing time should be three minutes, including the initial pour. Then install the filter and cap, flip it over and press the coffee into your mug.
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Intelligentsia House Blend
4. French Press
The french press uses a brewing process similar to the Aeropress, but produces a gritty and slightly bitter cup of coffee that couldn’t be more different.
To get the most out of your french press, use 34 grams of coffee for your standard eight-cup press. Pour in 20 percent of the total water and let it soak into the grinds for 20 seconds. Then pour in the remainder of the water. Brew time should be four minutes, starting from the first pour.
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The key to brewing the perfect cup of coffee with your drip machine is perfecting the grinds to water ratio. Stick to a ratio of 1:15 grinds to water and you’ll get the best brew that ever came out of a Mr. Coffee.
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6. Home Espresso
Espresso is made by forcing water at high pressure through finely ground coffee beans. It produces one to two ounces of very rich and slightly bitter coffee. One shot of espresso, despite the very strong flavor, has roughly 25 percent less caffeine than a typical eight-ounce cup of drip coffee.
Start with 15 grams of ground coffee for a double shot, and adjust the grind setting (coarse for faster flow if the brew time is too long and the shot tastes overly bitter, fine for a slower flow if the shot brews too fast and the flavor tastes flat) until the coffee starts to flow 10 to 12 seconds after starting to pull the shot. Cut the shot off between 27 and 32 seconds of total brew time. If the flavor is flat, let it go longer. A bitter tasting shot is over-brewed, so dial back the brew time for the next one. Small changes make a big difference; 32 seconds may be over-brewed but 31 seconds could be spot on. You’ll know you’re on the right track if the flow is steadier than a trickle and leaves a thick crema on top.
A Notes on Espresso:
Here’s the kicker with espresso: ambient air temperature, humidity, and moisture in the beans changes the shot. Unfortunately, the perfect shot you get after futzing with the settings won’t taste the same the next day. You can mitigate some of that variation by storing your beans in an airtight container instead of the hopper on top of your machine. But it won’t be perfect because that doesn’t control for the temperature and humidity in your kitchen.
To get the perfect shot everyday you’ll have to brew several test shots and adjust the grind settings accordingly. I just gave you permission to drink a lot of espresso every morning. You’re welcome. If you’re the “close enough is good enough” kind of person, you might find you only need to make adjustments when you switch to a new bag of beans.
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Calphalon Temp iQ Espresso Machine
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Coffee Bean Direct Italian Roast Espresso
Coffee Bean Direct
Special thanks to the helpful staff at Tucker Silk Mill.
Bobby Lea Test Editor, Bicycling Bobby is part of the Bicycling Test Team and brings with him over a decade of professional racing experience, including 3 Olympic Team berths.
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