Wednesday, June 20, 2007
Cup o' Joe
I figured I'd make a quick deviation into a common passtime of grad students and professors alike. Coffee. Mmmmm Mmmmm coffee. Why? Because I saw the above shirt on Boing Boing, and doesn't it really speak the truth.
If you are like me, and love coffee/espresso, be sure to check out Coffee Geek. Here you will find some of the best advice on crafting everything related to your favorite caffeinated beverage, from picking machines to crafting the "God Shot". But if you want the basics, here they are.
The most immediate way to improve the quality of your coffee at home is to actually drop some decent cash on a good grinder. Avoid the "whirly blade" variety, as they slice the beans at odd angles. You want a uniform, spherical grind by a machine that doesn't heat the beans too much as they go through. Go for a solid quality burr grinder and you will see an immediate improvement in your cafe. For home use, a doser, the part you see teh barista smack to the side to drop grounds into the holder, is not necessary. 'Stepped' refers to whether there are set increments that the grinder is 'stepped' to for the grind size. Some people swear by steppless grinders because they, in theory, have an infinite number of steps, but as long as each step is small, most people agree it isn't a big deal.
Next, try using a gold filter - the reusable type that need to be washed after each use. These don't absorb the oils, like paper filters, and are probably the cheapest way to get better coffee.
Consider french press instead of fancy coffee machines. You can adjust the strength to your liking, though you risk getting grinds in your teeth. It requires more attention, but the setup costs very little and can easily be tweaked.
Next, for espresso, the grind should take about 27 seconds, and the shot pour should take 26-30 seconds. Any less and you lose some of the bean flavor, any more and you begin to get the bitter components. You should tamp to 30 pounds of pressure - use a bathroom scale to get a feel for it or buy a clicky tamper. Any more and you risk blowing out the machine's pump and extending the shot time, and less and you get channeling (which is when the water digs a path through the grounds, and a disproportionate amount takes the same path).
If you are making a drink with milk, add the milk to the espresso within 30 seconds of the pour for the best results, and heat the milk to between 150-160 degrees F - 60-65 C (right below the boiling point, which would denature the proteins and reduce the naturally sweet taste).
Coffee beans should be stored in an airtight container at room temperature out of direct sunlight. Only refridgerate if you don't expect to use your beans within 6 months. Avoid Starbucks. They overroast the beans so that their taste remains consistent regardless of how old they are. If you find a local roaster, they will have MUCH better, freshly roasted beans. Coffee shouldn't taste burnt! Buy whole bean and grind yourself. If you grind them when you buy them, you expose a greater surface area to the air, and thus your precious bounty will go stale quicker. If you want some excellent espresso, and you live in the US, order some of the Black Cat blend from Intelligentsia. Also try the Berkeley's Blend for coffee. Two of my favorites. (If you live in Providence, RI by chance, the Edge cafe serves Intelligensia beans.)
My current setup, which will probably last me decades, is a Capresso CoffeeTEAM Therm for coffee (I like being able to set a timer and having the machine grind and make a pot), a Racilio Rocky grinder, and Rancilio Silvia. I love 'em and have yet to master them.
There are all sorts of finer issues - convex vs flat tampers, single vs dual boiler machines, time until stale, roasting your own beans, etc - but the information above is pretty spot on as far as general first steps. Enjoy! Oh, and sorry about your wallet. Once you start looking into this stuff, you get sucked in. Enjoy some espresso porn (SFW)...