By R.L. Fielding
Quality in, quality out. The formula seems elementary but, in the minds of many coffee drinkers, quality is synonymous with higher costs. Coffee lovers are seemingly faced with a trade off between the gourmet taste they crave and the money in their wallets. Many coffee loyalists continue to surrender their cash to the ritzy big-name coffee shops in order to capture the luxury of gourmet brews. Other people opt to buy the cheap stuff, looking for the same buzz and sacrificing the flavorful experience.
However, Gourmet-tasting coffee without the gourmet price tag is not out of reach. With a few wisely chosen ingredients and tools, anyone can brew professional-grade coffee at home. The beverage, at its best, is more than a caffeinated booster; its a full-bodied treat for the five senses. Nothing compares to the color, temperature, flavor, aroma and sound of a perfectly percolating pot of joe. Learn how to get the most from your next cup with the following tips.
Ingredients for Success
If you strip coffee down to the basics, what you are left with is water and ground coffee beans. The higher the quality of these two ingredients, the better your finished product will taste. The key is to start with fresh, cold water. You want to enhance the coffee while letting its desired natural properties shine through. Water that is hot or stale can produce a bitter taste. Depending on the mineral content of your tap water, you may prefer using bottled water for a purer coffee flavor.
Grinding your own coffee beans will provide the freshest, most flavorful coffee. Many people steer clear of this step because they think it takes too much effort or is too time consuming. The truth is, with the aid of a powered grinder, the job can be done in 30-seconds or less. The amount of beans youll want to use for your brew varies by the type of machine youre using and the desired result. For your average pot, use approximately 1-cup of coffee beans per cup of coffee.
Freeze-dried or instant coffee will get the job done but, when you truly want to indulge, go for fresh grounds or whole beans. Many stores prepare the beans daily, or you can check the bottom of the bag for its freshness date. Good beans should appeal to the eye and the nose. Avoid purchasing broken beans because they will stale more quickly. For that gourmet kick, choose beans from the Arabica coffee plant only. Robusta coffee beans are renowned for their high caffeine levels, but they provide a more acidic taste.
To find a flavor you really enjoy, try a few different roasts and brands. Beans with a high acidity level will have a sharper taste. Everyones taste-buds are different. Dont be afraid to go for specialty coffees just because they sound intimidating or look fancy. When trying the new brew, let the drink cool a bit and take the time to swish it around in your mouth before swallowing. This will give your tongue the chance to identify the many layers of flavor in each sip.
Caffeine content should also factor into your decision when picking a coffee, as it affects your overall experience. This stimulant is naturally present in the coffee bean and can have mildly addictive effects if large amounts are consumed. Many coffee drinkers enjoy the increased alertness brought on by the drug, but too much caffeine can cause negative effects such as headaches, insomnia and nervousness. Lighter roasts have higher caffeine content than do darker roasts because less of it is lost during the shorter roasting period. Many coffees offer decaffeinated varieties which can be delicious if you seek to limit your caffeine intake.
Be sure to store your coffee in an air-tight container in a cool, dry place away from any potentially contaminating odors. Freezing beans can damage the oils that give coffee its body and flavor. To really lock in the freshness of whole beans or cut grounds, double bag them. Ground beans can lose flavor within a few hours if exposed to the air. Even well-stored ground coffee begin to stale after only a few days, so its recommended that you dont prepare more beans than you need at the moment. A trick for adding life to pre-ground, stored coffee is to briefly grind it again so new surface area is exposed.
If you choose to use fresh coffee beans, apply the following rule of thumb regarding how finely ground the coffee beans should be: Longer brewing cycles equal coarser grinds. For example, an expresso or cappuccino maker requires beans with a very fine, almost powdery grind because the machines brew in less than a minute. Electric drip brewers with paper filters should utilize coffee grounds with a consistency similar to salt granules. Percolators work best when paired with coarsely ground beans. This may seem like an unimportant detail, but it has a tremendous impact on the strength of your drinks taste and can cause problems for your machine, such as filter clogs.
Tools of the Trade
Coffee making has become an art and where would a good artist be without the proper tools? For the best results, there are a few must-have machines that every coffee enthusiast should have in his or her home.
When working with whole beans, youll want to invest in a coffee grinder. These tools are well worth the money if you enjoy a fresh cup of coffee. Some coffee machines come with built-in grinders to help simplify the brewing process. You can get an easy-to-use stainless steel blade grinder for a reasonable price. The grind-level is controlled by how long you let the blades run. The metal can get hot if youre making a fine ground coffee, which can unfortunately create a burnt taste if you arent careful.
Burr grinders are different from blade grinders in that the coarseness of the ground is controlled by the burrs position. They work by crushing the coffee beans between a moving grinding wheel and a non-moving surface. These are often more expensive and create a more consistent ground than bladed grinders. Wheel burrs are reasonably priced because they operate noisily and with some mess. Conical burrs are the best grinders that money can buy. These tools usually work more quietly, less messily, and are the least likely to clog because they operate at a slower speed.
The demands of your lifestyle will determine the type of coffee brewer you prefer. On-the-go coffee fanatics have made the single-cup coffee maker a popular item in recent years. Most people use a traditional stove-top boiling pot or a paper filtered automatic-drip coffee machine to make their coffee at home. To properly brew using this equipment, be sure to read the directions carefully. The shape and size of a stove-top pot can impact the boiling time and the amount of grounds needed.
The peak temperature for boiling coffee is 195 to 200 degrees and can be attained by letting the water come to a boil for at least a minute before adding the coffee. Measure your water and grounds carefully; otherwise you can end up with a bitter-tasting, weak brew or an overly strong coffee that must be diluted with creamer.
With a filtered brewer, youll use approximately 1-tablespoon of coffee per ground per 6-ounces of water. Choose your filter carefully. A heavier, higher quality filter will not clog as easily as a cheap filter and will prevent coffee mud from getting into the bottom of your drink. Similar to the filtered brewer is the French drip brewer. These pots have a built-in strainer on top that filters the coffee grounds as hot water is poured over them.
Flavorings, such as sugar, may be added to the grounds before they pass through the filter. This provides a more blended taste. To protect the strength of each cups flavor and aroma, serve the coffee immediately after brewing.
Percolators are great for brewing large quantities of coffee and are available in both stove-top and electric models. These brewing devices have declined in popularity in the past decades because they often produce a watery, bitter tasting drink. Two of the trendiest coffee makers available at the moment are the French Press and the expresso coffee machines. To operate a French Press, youll first steep hot water and coffee grounds in a glass beaker. A plunging device is used to push the grounds to the bottom of the beaker, leaving only the dense coffee liquid on top. Espresso makers produce full-bodied drinks by forcing hot water through the grounds and directly into your cup. The brewer is also capable of processing the steamed milk used in lattes or cappuccinos.
No matter what style of brewer you fancy, at the end of each coffee-making session, be sure to promptly remove the coffee pot from its heat source or turn the machine off. Letting a pot sit will allow the coffee to burn and you will be left with an unpleasant taste. If you really want to let your coffee sit on the stove for warmth, try setting the pot on a ring of pennies. The copper will allow some heat to pass to the coffee, but will keep the pot from direct contact with the heat. Be very careful not to spill the hot coffee pot and burn yourself. This trick works well only on electric ranges or stoves that offer a flat surface for the coins to balance on.
Remove the used grounds from your machine after the coffee is finished brewing. If grounds are allowed to continue dripping after the coffee is done, the bean oils will sully the drink and add a bitter flavor. Never run grounds through a coffee machine more than once. Be sure to clean all coffee grinders and equipment after use to avoid tainting the flavor of your next coffee brew. Rinsing your equipment with vinegar every few weeks will prevent the build up of stale coffee residue.
Flavored Coffee vs. Flavored Additions
Some coffee buffs prefer the ease and consistency of coffee thats been flavored before purchase. These flavored coffee beans get much of their gourmet taste from the roasting process, when chemical solvents or natural additives are fused with the beans. Many people choose to have fun doctoring their coffee on their own. From the traditional cream and sugar to more experimental ingredients, youll want to maintain the standard of high quality that was applied to your coffee selection. Each little addition to your drink can enhance the experience or subtract from the ideal taste.
Use your imagination when adding flavor to your coffee. A little experimentation may produce a pleasurable result. Many people melt chocolate or candied mints into their hot coffee. Italian-style flavored syrups come in dozens of flavors, from a mild almond to a tart raspberry, and are perfect for personalizing a cup of coffee.
To give your kaffe a Swedish twist, add egg whites. This is said to give the drink a much smoother flavor. Youll want to include half an egg for two cups of coffee, or one egg per pot. Another popular flavor enhancer from Sweden is vanillin socker. This vanilla powdered sugar adds a great sweetness to coffee with just a touch of the warm vanilla taste.
Coffee is truly a versatile ingredient. You can drink your coffee hot or cold, with natural or artificial sweeteners, or perhaps with a splash of alcohol. The beans can add a unique coffee taste to pies, cakes, ice-creams, or other deserts and even work as a seasoning for steak and fish.
When it comes to life, you get what you give and, when it comes to coffee, you pour what you percolate. These coffee brewing suggestions guarantee a stimulating drink. By taking the extra steps to perk up the quality of your coffee, there will be a marked improvement in taste, eliminating the need to splurge on pricier specialty drinks. Indulge yourself in caffeinated luxury by brewing up the best of both worlds, a small coffee cost with a big coffee taste.