Streams

Last Chance Foods: Coffee Klatsch

Ways to brew a superior cup of joe.

Friday, February 24, 2012

American coffee culture has exploded in the past two decades. The brew draws devotees, as well as a flurry of opinions on how to make the best cup of joe. Some swear by French presses, while others are certain that vacuum brewers produce a superior beverage.

“It’s less about one particular brewing method being the best for a coffee and more about following basic brewing procedures with any brewing method you use,” said Katie Carguilo, an award-winning barista who is competing in the Northeast Regional Barista Competition and Brewers Cup on Saturday and Sunday. “Different methods will produce different results, and it’s all about what you like the best.”

French presses, for instance, make for coffee that is silkier because the metal filter does not capture as much sediment. What is certain, however, is that regular drip-brew coffee makers fail on one front.

“It’s    less about one particular brewing method being the best for a coffee and more about following basic brewing procedures with any brewing method you use,” says Katie Carguilo, an award-winning barista who is competing in the Northeast Regional Barista Competition and Brewers Cup this weekend. “Different methods will produce different results, and it’s all about what you like the best.” French presses, for instance, make for coffee that is silkier because the metal filter does not capture as much sediment. 
What is certain, however, is that regular drip-brew coffee makers fail on one front: “They don’t get the water hot enough to brew the coffee properly,” says Carguilo, who works for Counter Culture Coffee. That results in cups of coffee she describes as tasting “flat.” 
The proper water temperature is between 195 to 205 degrees. “If you’re making a cup of coffee at home, my general rule of thumb is to boil water, shut off the flame or the heating element, let the water settle down, and then brew the coffee with that water,” she says. 
Carguilo also adds that its important to use coffee that’s freshly ground using a burr grinder, rather than a grinder with a whirley blade. That distinction is important enough that she recommends having a barista grind coffee using a burr grinder rather than doing it at home with a blade grinder. The reason is because burr grinders have an adjustable set of teeth that only cut the coffee once for even sizing. Blade grinders chop the coffee many times and result in grounds that are not uniform. That means the coffee loses its flavor more quickly and doesn’t brew as well. 
Another basic principle to making an ideal cup of coffee is to use the correct grounds-to-water ratio. That’s 1.6 to 2 grams of coffee for every ounce of water. A tablespoon is about 5 grams of coffee. “It’s all about the amount of dissolvable material — so what that water is actually going to be able to dissolve from the coffee grounds,” explains Carguilo. “If you use too much coffee it won’t dissolve enough flavor, and those cups of coffee will taste really sour and very papery. If you don’t use enough coffee, it will dissolve too much flavor and those cups of coffee will end up tasting very bitter.”
As far as storage goes, Carguilo dispelled another myth: Don’t keep coffee in the refrigerator or freezer. Since it is very efficient at taking in moisture, coffee will absorb the smell of food around it. “I like to think about coffee like I think about fresh bread,” Carguilo explains. “I only buy it in small quantities when I need it and try and use it within a couple of days because it really does get kind of stale and lose flavor afterwards.” (But unlike bread, she does not keep it in the freezer.)
Another lesser known fact about coffee is that it is a seasonal product. “Coffee in general is the fruit of a cherry, and those cherries ripen once a year, after the coffee trees flower,” explains Carguilo. “And then it takes a couple of months to harvest all of the coffee cherries and process them and export them to the countries in which they’re roasted. But in general the coffee will taste the best within about six months of making it to the roastery. After six months, it starts to lose its acidity or its fruitiness and freshness, and starts to take on more papery, woody tastes.”
That means that Brazilian coffee, for instance, may not be available year round. To the relief of caffeine and coffee addicts, there will never be a month when in-season coffee is not available. “The nice thing about coffee is that anywhere in the world at some point in time coffee is always being harvested,” says Carguilo. “So we’re never going to run out“It’s less about one particular brewing method being the best for a coffee and more about following basic brewing procedures with any brewing method you use,” says Katie Carguilo, an award-winning barista who is competing in the Northeast Regional Barista Competition and Brewers Cup this weekend. “Different methods will produce different results, and it’s all about what you like the best.” French presses, for instance, make for coffee that is silkier because the metal filter does not capture as much sediment. 

“They don’t get the water hot enough to brew the coffee properly,” said Carguilo (pictured below), who works for Counter Culture Coffee. That results in cups of coffee she describes as tasting “flat.” 

The proper water temperature should be between 195 and 205 degrees F.

“If you’re making a cup of coffee at home, my general rule of thumb is to boil water, shut off the flame or the heating element, let the water settle down, and then brew the coffee with that water,” she said.

Carguilo also adds that it's important to use coffee that’s freshly ground using a burr grinder, rather than a grinder with a whirley blade. That distinction is important enough that she recommends having a barista grind coffee using a burr grinder rather than doing it at home with a blade grinder. The reason? Burr grinders have an adjustable set of teeth that only cut the coffee once for even sizing. Blade grinders chop the coffee many times and result in grounds that are not uniform. That means the coffee loses its flavor more quickly and doesn’t brew as well.  

Another basic principle to making the ideal cup of coffee is to use the correct grounds-to-water ratio. That’s 1.6 to 2 grams of coffee for every ounce of water. A tablespoon is about 5 grams of coffee.

“It’s all about the amount of dissolvable material — so what that water is actually going to be able to dissolve from the coffee grounds,” explained Carguilo. “If you use too much coffee it won’t dissolve enough flavor, and those cups of coffee will taste really sour and very papery. If you don’t use enough coffee, it will dissolve too much flavor and those cups of coffee will end up tasting very bitter.”

As far as storage goes, Carguilo dispelled another myth: Don’t keep coffee in the refrigerator or freezer. Since it is very efficient at taking in moisture, coffee will absorb the smell of food around it.

“I like to think about coffee like I think about fresh bread,” Carguilo said. “I only buy it in small quantities when I need it and try and use it within a couple of days because it really does get kind of stale and loses flavor afterwards.” (But unlike bread, she does not keep it in the freezer.) 

Another lesser known fact about coffee is that it is a seasonal product.

“Coffee in general is the fruit of a cherry, and those cherries ripen once a year, after the coffee trees flower,” she said. “And then it takes a couple of months to harvest all of the coffee cherries and process them and export them to the countries in which they’re roasted. But in general the coffee will taste the best within about six months of making it to the roastery. After six months, it starts to lose its acidity or its fruitiness and freshness, and starts to take on more papery, woody tastes.” (The photo by Fernando Stankuns below shows fresh coffee cherries in Brazil.)

That means that Brazilian coffee, for instance, may not be available year-round. To the relief of caffeine and coffee addicts, there will never be a month when in-season coffee is not available though.

“The nice thing about coffee is that anywhere in the world at some point in time coffee is always being harvested,” said Carguilo. “So we’re never going to run out.”

Fresh coffee cherries

Guests:

Katie Carguilo

Hosted by:

Amy Eddings

Tags:

More in:

Comments [5]

Seth

@Venus There are a lot of issues with the sub $100 grinders, such as using cheap parts to keep the price down. Further, most of the cheap ones have plastic collection bowls which is highly problematic because the grinds stick to it.

I have the Kyocera hand crank. Amazon sells it for $40.

Feb. 25 2012 11:09 AM
Venus from AL

Good information here; thanks for the insight! I especially appreciate the contrast between types of grinders. Best wishes to Ms. Carguilo in the competition!

@ Seth: There are several electric burr grinders on Amazon for < $200, some under $50. I also saw a couple of hand-crank grinders for under $40. What brands of cranks do you like or have experience with? I think I'm about to devote my whirly grinder to other uses :)

@ Dennis: It IS a LOT of coffee! When I first started using the "proper" ratio of coffee to water, I thought I was drinking mud, and I literally thought my heart was going to pound out of my chest. After doing a good bit of researching and experimenting, I've found that - for me, at least - it's better to start with the right-sized grounds (more on that in a minute) and the appropriate ratio (as above), and then add hot water to each cup according to taste. By doing so, the flavor remains intact (not distorted with too many/few grounds, as above), and if it's too strong you just dilute it to your liking. As for the caffeine, my understanding is that MOST coffees contain less than 200mg per 8-ounce cup, so if you stick to 2 cups a day, then you are still keeping it under the recommended 500mg. As for societal risks, I think society is more at risk when I don't get my coffee! ;)

I mentioned the size of the grounds - I read once that the size of the grounds varies by brewing method in that the longer the coffee is in contact with the water, the larger the grind needs to be. For example, the grounds for your French press should be considerably larger than grounds for, say, a drip machine. I've also found this to be true. You probably knew this, but putting it out there just in case.

@ Maud: The "fate of coffee producers in underdeveloped countries whose beans are now considered seasonal" is no worse now than before, because coffee has always been considered seasonal to wherever it's grown, and I imagine that they live much like farmers who grow other seasonal crops. In fact, I believe for many coffee growers (as well as producers of tea and cocoa, for example)it has gotten better over recent decades with the attention to Fair Trade. If you're going to have a social conscience about the coffee/tea/chocolate/etc. that you or the people around you consume, then buy Fair Trade Certified and encourage others to do the same. 'Tis much better to be a positive example than a troll.

Feb. 25 2012 08:14 AM
Maud from NY

Your guest didn't say anything about the fate of coffee producers in underdeveloped countries whose beans are now considered seasonal. What are they supposed to live off for the rest of the year? Or is there some kind of market for 'off-season' coffee beans?

Feb. 24 2012 11:54 PM
Dennis Maloney

I love coffee (and myself), so at the risk of sounding a bit puny, I have to ask: is the 2:1 coffee to water ratio correct? For a 32 ounce french press, that would require about 13 tablespoons! About 4x's what I currently use!

If that is the correct ratio, what are the health and/or societal risks of drinking two cups of that nectar?

Feb. 24 2012 08:54 PM
Seth

On the issue of a burr grinder, if you don't want to spend several hundred dollars on an electric one, hand crank ones offer excellent bang for your buck. And it takes less time to grind the beans then it does to boil the water.

Feb. 24 2012 05:56 PM

Leave a Comment

Email addresses are required but never displayed.

The Morning Brief

Enter your email address and we’ll send you our top 5 stories every day, plus breaking news and weather.

Sponsored

About Last Chance Foods

Last Chance Foods covers produce that’s about to go out of season, gives you a heads up on what’s still available at the farmers market and tells you how to keep it fresh through the winter.

Feeds

Supported by