Coffee Cup
"Espresso! My Espresso!"
An Ongoing Internet Novelette
by Randy Glass - Copyright 2003 - All rights reserved

Coffee Cup
Coffee Making Methods
- Manual Pour-Over -

      These chapters were originally written for my newspaper as part of an somewhat-monthly coffee column. They were designed to expose the coffee novice as to the various methods of making coffee and act as a starting point for understanding these methods. If you have been making coffee by any of these methods for any length of time then you will probably not find anything in these chapters to enlighten or educate you. Please feel free to E-mail me with anything that you think could be improved in these methods. -ED


      A delicious cup of coffee is a wonderful thing to enjoy at home, and it can be quite easy if you follow a few basic steps. There are so many appliances available to make coffee that many of us lose sight of the basics and end up making sub-standard coffee. Why? Because many of the convenient coffee-making devices go to a lot of trouble to make it easy with disposable filters, electronic timers and stylish exteriors, and generally easy brewing procedures, but unfortunately they don't take as much care designing how they make coffee. In so many cases you pay for style and convenience at the expense of good coffee.

      Coffee is made up of two basic elements: coffee and water. Doesn't get much more basic in cooking than that.

WATER: To start, use good water. Much of our tap water is either too hard and filled with minerals (like our well water up here in the mountains) or tainted with chemicals and the taste of old pipes (like a lot of city water). If you have any doubt about the quality of your coffee, try a gallon or two of drinking water. Don't use distilled. The mineral traces in the drinking water will actually make a better cup of coffee.

COFFEE BEANS: A small percentage of what goes in the cup is actually from the coffee bean, but it makes up all the taste in the cup, so it is important to use quality coffee. Very dark-roasted coffee and/or oily coffee beans should be avoided as it can mean that the coffee has either been over-roasted, is old, or has been stored improperly. When coffee is dark roasted it loses a lot of its taste- oils are burned off, the sugars are carbonized, and much of the special flavors are lost forever.

      Look for beans that have a medium brown color and maybe only a few spots of oil on a few beans. If you can find a local coffee roaster, buy from them as you have a better chance of getting fresh coffee.

BEAN STORAGE: The beans should be fresh. Coffee more than about three weeks old is way too old, and by a month if you haven't used it you should probably throw it out. If you buy so much (or use so little) that it must be stored for long periods, the coffee should be stored in air-tight containers in the freezer. These should be removed and allowed to thaw before opening so that the beans can come to room temperature. Otherwise condensation will form on the beans and that can degrade their flavor. Be aware that there are also chemical changes happening in the coffee that still causes it to age even if frozen.

      It is best to only keep about one, and at the most, two week's worth of coffee on hand. An airtight container kept in a dark, cool place will suffice to keep the coffee fresh for about two weeks.

BEAN VARIETIES: If you like a smooth, naturally sweet coffee, try Sumatran Mandheling. A lighter-roasted Colombian is also good. As with other foods, the variety or blend of coffee you like is a matter of personal taste. Even if you think you like dark roasted coffee, give some of the lighter roasts a chance. I have surprised a number of people with the taste of lighter roasted coffee.

COFFEE GRIND: You need to have device to grind whole beans. For drip coffee, even one of the “whirly bird” grinders with the rapidly spinning blade that looks like a mini food processor is preferred. Why? It is better to purchase whole beans rather than pre-ground coffee. If you can, get one of the inexpensive burr grinders. They tend to make a more consistent grind with less dust. These are available for around $35 to 60 for the economy models and go up from there- way up! Some of the better home grinders sell for around $200-250. Those are necessary for espresso, but a $60 model will do quite well for drip.

      Always grind for your immediate use and leave the beans whole as long as possible. Once ground the coffee will ages very rapidly. For drip, the grind is medium-coarse. This keeps down the dust which can choke the filter medium.

COFFEE DOSE: Two coffee-measures full (a total of two tablespoons), per six ounces of water is the place to start. Once you get the hang of this method you can adjust this to suit your taste. Remember that one of the biggest mistakes that people make is not using enough coffee. If you are using good coffee, a bitter cup generally means it is too WEAK and you need MORE coffee in the brew!

HEAT: The temperature of the water is critical. Too hot and the coffee is over-extracted . Too cold and under-extraction takes place. Both mean a poor tasting cup of coffee. The preferred temperature is about 195-205f.

BEWING: The best, most dependable, and most economical method is a pour-over. This is just a plastic, glass or ceramic cone into which fits a standard coffee filter. The cones come in different sizes. Some small enough to make a single cup which fit right on top of your coffee mug. Larger ones fit over a standard glass carafe, and some are made to fit onto the mouth of a thermos bottle so that you can “brew and go.” Use the smallest size you can for the amount of coffee you are brewing. This will cause the coffee to be deeper in the filter and exposes it to more water for better extraction.

      This method of brewing is preferred because you control the temperature of the water as mentioned above. Many of the economy drip brewing machines available are not dependable when it comes to water temperature. The pour over units are simple as well.

      Inside the cone holder you need to use a filter. The disposable paper filters are convenient, but for the best taste try the metal, gold colored “lifetime” filters. They allow the flavor elements through without absorbing them like the paper filters can.

      The filter and cone holder are quite affordable. A Froogle search for “coffee filter cone” or similar search will get you a number of sources. Most of the filter cones are plastic, but some of the smaller sizes ae available in ceramic.

      The beauty is that there are no mechanical or electrical parts to fail in them and they can be used anywhere you can boil water, even if the electricity is out. Many backpackers carry the one cup pour over and a small hand grinder for good coffee in the field!

Making Coffee

      The actual process is simple. Measure about 6 ounces of water for each cup you wish to make. Put that on to boil. Grind two tablespoons of beans per cup of coffee. Rinse the filter cone, filter, and coffee pot (or whatever you are brewing into) in hot water to preheat them. Assemble the filter cone, filter and vessel and dump the ground coffee into the filter. When the water reaches a boil, take the kettle off the heat source and count about five to fifteen seconds (longer for those nearest sea level, and shorter for those in high altitudes, and a bit longer for the thicker, heavy-bottomed kettles). Boiling water loses energy rapidly when removed from heat, and that time should do the trick. You can also use a thermometer the first few times to find the best waiting period for you. Now pour the water into the filter. Stir the coffee just a bit to be sure it all gets saturated with water. You may have to pour two or three times depending in the grind, filter size, and amount of coffee being made. To further improve the process, use a bottle pump-sprayer, and about a minute before pouring the hot water onto the coffee, spray the coffee grounds to moisten them. This helps extraction and assists in keeping the coffee from floating about.

      That's it! Your done. It probably took longer to read this article than to make a cup of coffee! When the water has completed its journey through the grounds, dump the grounds into the compost, rinse the filter and cone, and enjoy one of the most delicious cups of coffee you have ever had!



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