Life Without Coffee Is Meaningless
I think I mean that title in a semi-sarcastic way, but I’m not really sure. See, I love coffee. Let me repeat. I LOVE coffee. I’m not sure if I could function without coffee. It is my happy place every morning on my drive to work, it keeps me from killing my co-workers in the middle of the day and gives me strength to keep going. I’m not sure if that qualifies as addiction, but it is probably close. Great coffee is to legendary fatherhood what John Lennon was to the Beatles.
There is No Time for Bad Coffee
If you don’t express the same love for coffee as me, you might as well stop reading now. I can already feel you rolling your eyes. If, however, coffee is your source of power and happiness, as it is mine, then read on my friend.
There is no time for bad coffee in this life. While saying, “life without coffee is meaningless,” is a little tongue-in-cheek, it certainly feels true. In fact, I once went a month without coffee to see if I could do it. The first sip I had after that month was glorious, like an old friend I had’t seen for far too long. So, clearly, if coffee is that important, we should treat it that way. Stop drinking bad coffee. Should I say it louder? STOP DRINKING BAD COFFEE! Life is too damn short.
What Makes Coffee Great?
Don’t let the massive amounts of flavored creamers and #mochafrapalattiattos (or whatever they sell at your local coffee shop today) fool you into believing that the stuff we put in coffee makes it better. That is simply not true. What makes coffee great, is the coffee itself. The underlying composition of fresh roasted beans, ground right before being brewed between 195 to 205 degrees Fahrenheit is the kind of magic that only a true coffee-aholic can appreciate.
Now, do not think that I am going to take this to the level of snobbery. I am not out to win competitions, I am not going to spend 30 minutes making a cup of coffee and I sure as hell am not going to do anything that requires a ton of dishwashing afterwards. What I am expressing is the idea that coffee be made well, quickly, for mass consumption, and that it will change your life. With a few changes in your coffee brewing routine, you can take your coffee experience from good to great.
Just Tell Me How to Make Great Coffee
Calm down my young Padawan, you know how this works, I can’t simply just GIVE you the recipe for great coffee. You could not appreciate it without letting me describe, first, the greatness of coffee. But, alas, it is time to move on to what you are actually here to find out.
Step 1 – Great Coffee Beans Make Great Coffee
Types of Beans
There are two main types of beans you will likely encounter on your weekly adventure to the local supermarket: robusta beans and Arabica beans. The easy rule of thumb is that, most of the time, Arabica beans are better than robusta beans. However, they both can vary a bit in terms of quality and flavor. For example, in 2007, Maxwell House, switched its blend to 100 percent Arabica beans. That doesn’t mean they were good beans or that the coffee is any better – so buyer beware.
Arabica beans are grown at high altitudes and more prone to disease than their robusta counterparts. Additionally, Arabica beans are easily influenced by their environment. They are farmed with a lot of care; and therefore, demand a high price. When Arabica plants are grown in more hostile climates, the effort to keep them healthy is twice as difficult, if not more. The reason for all the fuss is that Arabica beans are the mildest of the coffee beans. They have bright flavors and higher acidity, along with more complex flavors and aromas. Arabica beans account for over 60% of all coffee beans produced in the world.
Robusta beans are the second most produced coffee bean in the world and can withstand different climates and are less prone to disease. Their flavor, like their name, is very bold with less acidity and are often considered harsh. Often, robusta beans get blended into lower quality coffee blends you can find at your local grocery store. Additionally, robusta beans have over twice the caffeine as their Arabica counterpart. While Robusta is often the inferior bean, quality can range greatly between both – and there are high quality robusta beans used in various blends, especially espresso blends.
Roasting coffee beans brings out many flavors and aromas from the originally green coffee beans. There is no good, better, best when it comes to roasts – it is all a matter of preference. Also, contrary to popular belief, darker roasts do not have more caffeine. In fact, it is actually the opposite – although probably not noticeable.
Light roasts are the mildest variety and are light brown in color. Typical varieties include light city, half city and cinnamon.
Medium roasts are the most popular in the United States and often come labelled as city, American or Breakfast roasts. The coffee beans are a medium brown color and a bit stronger in flavor than the light roasts. Both light and medium roasts exhibit little to no oil on the beans.
Medium Dark & Dark Roasts will start to display oil on the surface of the beans. Dark roasts will have shiny black beans and a more pronounced bitterness than the medium dark roast. Medium dark roasts are often called Full City; whereas dark roasts have a variety of names including High, Continental, New Orleans, European, Espresso, Viennese, Italian and French. Both beans are very dark to black or charred in color.
One thing that will instantly make your coffee better is to only purchase beans that show the date they were roasted. Not only will this ensure that you are buying coffee from a good coffee business, but it will make sure that you are buying good coffee.
You should treat coffee as a perishable food like milk and eggs. The older it gets, the more flavor it is going to lose. The ideal time frame for drinking coffee is 7 to 21 days after the roast date. You do want to let it sit about 7 days after roasting because the beans are still releasing CO2 which hinders extraction of the ground coffee particles during brewing.
The hardest part of this equation is actually finding coffee that was roasted within the 7 to 21 day window. You will find that, at most grocery stores, that window as already come and gone. What I would suggest is checking around at local coffee places. I have a bakery near my house that resells amazing coffee beans, the same that they use for their own coffee. The beans are almost always in a 7 to 14 day window, which is the perfect window for consumption. With a little digging, you can find a consistent place to buy great coffee beans recently roasted.
Step 2 – Fresh Ground Coffee is Imperative
You may have noticed that I have only talked about buying coffee beans and not ground coffee. That is for a reason – the #1 best way to make great coffee is to grind it fresh. Simple. End of story. Nothing else to see here.
But, seriously, if you do nothing else, start grinding your coffee and you will notice a big improvement immediately. This is especially true if you drink your coffee black instead of adding a lot of cream and sugar. It is amazing how good black coffee tastes when made well!
Types of Grinders
If fresh ground coffee is the single most important step towards great coffee, it stands to reason you may need a coffee grinder. There are two main types of coffee grinders: blade grinders and burr grinders.
A blade grinder is the least expensive style of coffee grinder. It uses a metal blade chop the beans instead of grinding them. The only way to control the resulting ground size is to control how long you let the grinder run. The biggest problem with this type of grinder is there is no way to have a uniform ground size. Grounds that are inconsistent in size will lead to poorer coffee quality. Additionally, the heat caused by the rotating blades can also give coffee a burned taste which can lower quality even further. If this is all you can afford, it is better than buying pre-ground coffee. However, I think if you love coffee as much as I do, you know that splurging on a good grinder is a great decision.
A burr grinder is what you want to use to grind your coffee beans. It crushes the beans between a grinding wheel that moves against another surface. The distance between the wheel and the stationary surface dictates the size of the coffee grounds which creates consistency in size and quality. This is important, because, unlike blade grinders, you can control the size of the grounds based on how you are going to brew the coffee.
Now that you have a burr grinder on order, it is time to decide what size grounds you need. I could go on at length about the differences between under-extracted and over-extracted coffee during the brewing process and how ground size affects both, but that’s not very exciting. Therefore, follow these rules for ground size and you will be all set.
- Extra Course Grind – This is for cold brew coffee and we won’t talk about it at all. Nothing to worry about here.
- Coarse Grind – This is a great place to start. While you want more of a medium to medium-coarse grind for your normal drip coffee maker, coarse is perfect for the french press.
- Medium Grind – Later in this post, I am going to talk about the benefits of the normal drip coffee maker. The french press is great, if you like making one cup of coffee at a time. The average dad needs big pots of coffee enough for the family and company. Medium grind is your friend and the best choice for every day coffee needs
- Fine Grind – If you are going to make espresso (and have an espresso machine) this is where you need to play. We aren’t going to talk about espresso in this post, but maybe we will in the future!
Step 3 – Nothing Matters if the Water Isn’t Hot Enough
The final step is where the magic happens. In an ideal world, we are looking at high quality Arabica beans, freshly roasted and ground perfectly to a medium or medium coarse grind. Now we have to actually brew the coffee. As men, we cannot allow ourselves to get weak. We must show fortitude in front of our daughters and sons so they can grow up strong and confident like us. Therefore, use the right temperature water.
What is the correct water temperature to brew coffee? 195 to 205 degrees Fahrenheit. In fact, if you want to make sure you are optimally brewing your coffee, you should make sure your coffee maker is SCA approved. The SCA is the Specialty Coffee Association and their mission is to create an association that upholds the integrity and ethics of quality coffee. When it comes to SCA approved coffee makers, here is what you are getting:
- Must brew coffee at the proper water temperature. (Between 195 and 205 degrees Fahrenheit.)
- Must brew coffee in a proper amount of time.
- Must brew coffee within the SCA’s Golden Cup.
Currently, I use the Bonavita BV1900TS which works great. Below are some other great suggestions to brew your perfect cup of coffee.
Finally, you want to use around 1 to 2 tablespoons of coffee for every one cup of coffee you are making. Keep in mind, when talking about coffee, one cup is considered to be six ounces. For a more precise measurement, use a kitchen scale, and measure 10.6 grams of coffee for each 6 ounces of water.
I hope you enjoyed this post about my love of coffee and obsession with making it better. Do you agree or disagree with my assessment of making good coffee? What do you do differently at home and how do you think it makes your coffee better or worse? Leave a comment below and let me know!