WHY IS THERE SO MUCH CRAPPY COFFEE IN THE WORLD?
Brewing a consistently great cup of coffee would seem to be an easy thing to do. The elegant simplicity of something so seductive as coffee can sometimes lead us into thinking the process would be easy too. Even in the coffee industry there seems to be an ongoing problem of “bad coffee”. There is an tendency in our lives and at the coffee shop to focus primarily on whether the coffee is fresh, what type of coffee is used, and what type of brewer is best. These things are indeed important but some of the most important things are often overlooked. The problem here is not is the coffee’s fault. Brewing an awesome cup of Java is actually a complex process dependant upon many variables. It demands a need for knowledge and an attention to details. Lack of knowledge and over emphasis of the less important factors in the process results in an inconsistent and less that delectable cup.
WHAT IS MOST IMPORTANT IN THE PRODUCTION OF GREEN COFFEE?
The process of brewing a great cup of coffee is not confined to what is done in the kitchen or behind the counter at the coffee shop. A long chain of events precedes the actual brewing of a cup. Every step from the planting of a seedling to the pouring of the brew has to be attended to with great care supported with the correct knowledge of how to bring superior goodness to our lips.
In a first phase of coffee production, the soil quality, water quality, quality and type of agricultural technique, varieties of coffee plant selected, the altitude and climate in which the plants grow, the amount of sun and water the plants received like any farming endeavor contribute greatly to the success of the crop. At harvest the coffee cherries must be hand selected at the peak of ripeness. Skilled hands must pick quickly over a 2 to 5 day window to achieve maximum consistency in the ripeness of the crop. The process of hulling the coffee bean from the cherry is extremely important. Great caution must be taken to prevent damage to the bean, and to control fermentation, molding, and spoilage. In drying the processed beans the length of time, temperatures, humidity, and cleanliness all play a part in producing a superior product ready for the market.
The storage and transportation of the bags of dried green coffee is a critical link in the chain that delivers an outstanding brew to your cup. Temperature, humidity, time in transit, and cleanliness of the storage and transportation facilities have to be maintained to very strict standards. A fantastic bean can be ruined in transit by a failure to take care of each of these variables.
Once the bean reaches the roaster the product begins a second phase of handling criticality. The roast process is perhaps the MOST important link that fails in the chain of knowledge. There is a often a sentiment of some individuals in the coffee industry to understate the importance of skills in the roasting process. There are a lot of roasters out there with infinite ideas on how things should be done. Most of them have such a subjective viewpoint to what should be applied as great skills, that they ignore the most obvious points of learning and honing ones skills as an evolution in the pursuit of the perfect roast. Most roasters fall short of this mark for whatever reason and disable the potential of a great bean to nothing short of an inferior product. An insult really to all the careful and deliberate nuturing of the farmers contribution. This mediocre attitude concerning the approach in tending to the roast disables the person brewing a cup. This generally results in “bad coffee”. Very few roasters out there are true artisans in the skill of manipulating a super roast. The roast master must have an innate sense of how to pick the right bean worthy of a great potential. They must have a serious knowledge of the science and art of managing the roasting and blending of beans. This can only be achieved with the experience that comes from a good knowledge base, an ongoing attention to detail, and the observations that only time can develop. The difference between roasters handling the EXACT same bean can be like night and day. The difference between a memorable cup and one worthy of only being poured on the ground. Remember, it’s not the coffee’s fault; it’s the lack of applied knowledge that is to blame.
WHAT ARE THE MOST IMPORTANT THINGS IN BREWING GREAT COFFEE?
Once the coffee is roasted it then become available to you to brew (BUY LostDogCoffee here) or to the local coffee shop to create a masterpiece for you to enjoy. In this third phase of the coffee chain there is a lot that can limit the ability to achieve maximum goodness. This is where there is an endless amount of scientific information, subjective opinion, misinformation, and poorly placed priorities. At this point, assuming that the roasted beans being used are of a higher quality,, and the roaster has tweaked the most from the beans, we can to begin the prioritizing the steps in maximizing the brew.
The type of brewing process or brewer that is used is the LEAST important part of the process. It goes without saying that it is important to purchase the highest quality device that you can afford. What type of brewer does the best job is mostly a subjective opinion. Each person will have their favorite way to brew their cup be it an espresso machine, drip coffee brewer, French press, AeroPress, stovetop Moka pot, percolator, vacuum siphon brewer, copper Turkish Ibrik, or any other brewing gadget. The higher quality brewers always produce better results, last longer, and are often easier to use. The brewer in a well maintained condition can be considered quite static in the brewing process. It is the knowledge of how to use your preferred brewing device is the key to a consistently great cup of coffee.
Now we can talk about what is actually going on to make the water dark and delicious. There is a lot of things going on to make a cup taste wonderful. The 2 most important factors that make a perfect brew are all too often overlooked or under emphasized. Grinder technology and water quality are “the everything” in releasing a roasted beans potential.
There are 2 basic grinder types; Burr and Blade style grinders. The only style that can be considered in this argument is the Burr grinder. Burr grinders don’t really “grind” coffee buy rather exert stress on the bean causing it to actually shatter around it’s fracture pattern resulting in small pyramidal shapes. Blade style "grinders" maciate or chop up the beans. This rudely mismatched mix of different sizes and shapes of the bean can only lend to a dramtic example of wrongness. The better the grinders quality and burr technology is the more consistent the particle size and shape will be. This equal sizing and shaping lends to an equal surface area for the grind. This results in a balanced and equal extraction of each particle when exposed to hot water. Blade grinders, hammers and socks, and other creative methods of grinding you valuable beans should be avoided at all costs. A quality Burr grinder will cost a little more but certainly worth the investment. Your local coffee shop will have a good grinder and will be glad to grind your coffee for you. Remember that is important not to grind more than you would use in a 3 to 4 day period. Whole bean coffee will have a 1 to 2 week window of goodness if simply stored in a light tight, air tight container in a cooler part of the kitchen. No refrigerators or freezers please. They will destroy your beans. It is always better to grind the whole bean right before the brew.
Water quality has several definitions. It is often assumed that water is what extracts or imparts the cellulose from the beans into the water. This only partially true. Aside from the water soluble elements like caffeine and various oils, acids, and esters, the vast majority of extraction is a byproduct of the amount and make-up of minerals in the water. Water in a sense it simply a carrying medium for the minerals and chemistry that deliver the liquid gold to our cup. The substance of mouth feel, taste, and aroma are in large contained in the microscopic coffee particles that are suspended in brewed coffee. Distilled water will not brew anything remotely resembling coffee; leaving behind a horribly under-extracted cup. Hard water will lend abusive amounts of over-extracted portions of things that should be left behind in a balanced brew. Likewise the chemical byproducts of treated water such as chlorine and fluoride can also effect coffees taste. Well water often has an iron rich makeup and may contain an odd mix of nitrate, nitrites, sulfur and other noxious chemicals, and should be filtered heavily and tested for quality and chemical make-up. Well water generally needs water softening to insure a good cup. On any given scale of reference for water hardness a mid point reading will usually create an tasty ideal cup. Care should be taken to filter out particulate matter as well as chlorine and the potential toxins and chemicals our water supply generally contains. If in doubt, any bottled drinking or mineral water will often work better than what comes out of the tap.
WHAT DO I DO NEXT?
Now it’s time to brew. If your using a drip brewer throw away your paper filters and invest in a permanent drip brew basket. It’s a better way to brew. Paper holds back too much of the valuable essential coffee oils and particulate matter that will give a cup brightness and pleasing body. The amount of ground coffee, time elements on certain processes will vary depending on the application. Generally, a good rule of thumb is 2 heaping tablespoons of ground coffee for each serving will be adequate. You should play around with time factors of grind sizing, time variables, and amount of coffee to find your sweet spot. Slight variations of these factors sometimes lend strikingly different results.
Let the hot water flow. A temperature of 198 to 205 degrees Fahrenheit (30 to 31 degrees Celsius) is ideal. Once contact is made it's only a few moments from that warm inviting liquid love to wrap your soul in it's simple carress. Watch as the goodness is magically transferred in to the cup or pot. Bathe in the aroma, sounds, and feelings around you. Smell the coffee. It’s time to wake up sleepyhead. Now go out and use your familiar friend to kick ass on idleness or sit back and enjoy the moment of contemplation that only a wonderful cup of coffee can illicit. ENJOY!