So you bought great coffee beans. Now what?
“The great thing about coffee is, you just add water.” So says Michael Pollack, the Director of Coffee at Brooklyn Roasting Company. We laugh. It’s true – but it’s not quite that easy.
I recently caught up with Pollack for an expert opinion on brewing the ultimate cup. Buying great, freshly roasted beans is half the battle of brewing a memorable cup of coffee. It turns out that with a few key steps after you receive your freshly roasted bag of beans, maybe even from Brooklyn Roasters, you can make your brews consistently great.
Develop a ritual. No matter how fast or slow your bleary eyes and weary fingers can fumble, add method to the morning madness of scrambling for the first steamy cup. You’ll taste the satisfying effects of a consistent coffee-brewing routine.
Choose the right brewing method. If you like a thicker, stronger cup of coffee, I recommend using a gold filter with your drip maker or brewing with a French press. If you prefer a smoother, brighter cup, choose a paper filter for the drip maker or use the pour-over method or a Chemex. A paper filter will absorb the oils and fine particles which tend to dampen the acidity, so that the resulting coffee is lighter and brighter. Of course, there are other methods too – these are just some of many options.
Buy a burr grinder. On a basic level, there are two types of electric grinders available: burr or blade. Using a blade grinder on your coffee is like using a helicopter to trim a hedge: inaccurate at best, with unappealing results. Blade grinders have two flaws: inconsistency and heat. They chop coffee beans into different sized particles, where smaller pieces produce an over-extracted, bitter cup and larger particles result in lighter cups. Mixing them makes a hodgepodge every time, with no consistency from cup to cup. The blades also create friction, heating up the beans and burning them. Do you like the smell of burnt toast? Burnt coffee isn’t much better. And imagine what it tastes like. A burr grinder brings control to an otherwise chaotic bean-chopping, bean-burning scenario. Within a burr, two rotating plates break up the beans into even-sized particles, with little friction. It’s practical coffee-bean paradise.
Use the burr grinder every time you brew. If you’re going to invest in a good burr grinder, grind the beans right before you brew coffee. Beans have over 1,000 aromatic compounds (even more than wine!), and grinding them releases these compounds immediately. Once exposed to oxygen, they start to break down, just the way a wine oxidizes over time once the bottle is uncorked. Capture those compounds! Brew your coffee right after cracking open the beans.
Put the burr grinder on the right setting. Once you decide on your brewing method, set yourself up for success: The level of grind should match the method you select. Espresso grinds are the finest, followed by a slightly coarser grind for a paper filter, and an even coarser grind for a gold filter or French press. This grind affects the taste. If you like weaker coffee, you’ll want to grind beans coarser as less surface area will be exposed to water, reducing the amount of extraction of flavor from the bean. For a stronger, thicker cup, grind much finer.
Store your beans properly. Beans go bad quickly once they’re exposed to air, so seal bags as tightly as possible and use them within within two weeks once you’ve opened them. Don’t store them in the freezer – the last thing you want to do is cool and then heat the oils in the beans.
And the best advice? Troubleshoot when you’re not happy. Find the problem! Bitter cup of coffee? Your grind may be too fine. Thin, acidic cup of coffee? Move to a French Press. Too thick cup of coffee? Add a little water (or if you fancy, cream and sugar).
As Michael says, “Who deserves a great cup more than you?”
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