Part 1 of the Coffee Series
There was a period in my life that my friends fondly call the “pretentious phase.” It started out innocently enough: realizing that I could make really good coffee out of a French press with actual beans. Before then, the only coffee I’d seen made at home was with the stuff that dissolved in water fairly quickly or came out of a machine. The fully manual method appealed to my craftsy self, and so I bought a French press.
As with most hobbies though, it never ends at one thing. Over the years, I’d learned to accumulate more paraphernalia.
Each of the coffee extraction materials give the cup a certain character, and the use of each varies depending on one’s taste. Because this is the beginning of the series, I’d like to walk you through the basics of brewing a cup of coffee:
- Beans– Beans are the foundation of a good cup of coffee, so it’s important that you choose your beans carefully. Like with wines, you can immediately tell if you’d like a coffee based on how the beans smell. It does take some practice and a lot of coffee to understand what smell would appeal to you. As a broad rule, beans are best immediately after roasting, and should not be made to sit for more than a month. They should be stored in non-porous (read: no plastic!), airtight containers and be kept away from light. As beans age or become damaged by light, you’ll notice them becoming more oily and taking on a more acidic undertone.
- Grinder– There are loads of grinders out in the market now, but it’s best to stick with a burr grinder if you can find one. Mine is hand-cranked because the electric ones are almost inhumanely expensive. The distinction between burr and blade is especially important because burr grinders produce a nice, consistent grind across a batch while blade grinders are less consistent. When you consider that coffee grounds are being “cooked” in hot water, the evenness of grind starts to matter more. A consistent grind quality means the grounds would brew at the same rate, while inconsistent grind means that the finer grounds become over-extracted (read: acidic and bitter) while the bigger bits are under-extracted (watery, and not getting the full flavor profile). A small hand grinder works for me because coffee degrades much quicker after grinding, so it’s best to grind a small batch right before brewing instead of having a large batch pre-ground sitting in wait.
- Water– Coffee experts agree that distilled water is best to let the quality of the coffee shine through, and water that’s about 91 to 96C should be used as opposed to fully boiling to prevent the grounds from over-extracting and taking on a bitter quality. Personally, keeping an eye out for water quality just made the process too involved for me, so this is where I drew the line: drinkable water, around three to five minutes off the boil. Less time off the boil if I’m somewhere cold.
- Extraction method– There are different ways to extract coffee from grounds, but in general all you really need is water and your grounds. The proportions vary as well as the time to soak and the temperature required. The French press produces the most straightforward cup of coffee and gives the most body as well. The mesh strainer is not fine enough to keep sediment out, so most French press drinkers are familiar with the “mud” at the bottom of the cup. From my experience with the materials above, the Aeropress provides the “cleanest” cup. This means that the resulting cup has little sediment (if any at all), and depending on how the coffee is brewed, gives the clearest flavor. Drinking Aeropress-brewed coffee constantly helped me understand the nuances in blend and origin flavor profiles.
I know that it all sounds like a terribly involved process, and while a lot of people would shudder at the thought of getting up fifteen minutes earlier than usual just to make a good cup of coffee, I relished the morning routine. It felt almost meditative and it gave me an excuse to start my morning in blessed silence surrounded by the soothing smell of freshly-ground beans and later on, a fresh cup of coffee.
For the days I knew I would have little time, I did what I called the poor man’s cold brew: stuck a French press with medium-coarsely ground coffee and lukewarm water overnight in the fridge, and extracted as normal the next morning. It does not produce as clean or as concentrated a batch as other extractors in the market, but this method produces a smooth cup of coffee that is not at all acidic and can be easily consumed without adding milk or sweeteners. In other words, incredibly diet-friendly.
If healthy is not your speed though, there are many ways to make a basic cold brew indulgent. For instance: adding a shot of Irish whiskey, some sugar, and a dollop of sweetened cream on top. This, my friends, is what, “Make it Irish,” should mean.