Iam not one to roam around strangers’ kitchens. But on the rare occasion that people let me into their homes, the conversation swings to coffee sooner or later.
In my case it might be because you have just tried unsuccessfully to hide that econo jar of Folgers (I saw it from the front door).
But I am not judging. I too am guilty of the occasional bad coffee indulgence. For me it usually happens at gas stations, where I am compelled to buy a cup, even as my husband states, “You know, you’re not going to like that.”
And he is right. Maybe I just like to remind myself about bad coffee so that I can really enjoy my next cup of superb coffee.
But back to your kitchen, for it is in the kitchen that we all make our first cup of the day.
Many people come by the shop to inquire as to why their coffee sucks. This is a depressing thing to admit, but it’s admirable, too, for asking questions is the first step on the road to recovery.
Let’s start with the basics:
1. You need to purchase some good coffee. Once you have your favourite bean, take it home in the bean form and grind it there. This ensures freshness of cup.
2. However it is that you make coffee — be it percolated, stovetop, paper filter, espresso or whatever — your water needs to come to a boil. So many times I hear people lamenting about their sub-par coffee at home. I hear the pleas: “But I bought really great coffee!” “But I own a fancy home espresso machine!” Yes yes yes, but if your water is not boiled, you will not have a good coffee experience.
Most drip machines you purchase these days do not boil the water. They get the temperature up to almost a boil, and then they falter. Without the water actually boiling, you will under-extract the flavours of the bean. So it won’t matter if you bought 19-bucks-a-pound fair-trade organic shade-grown bird-friendly beans. You didn’t boil the water. You get what you didn’t wait for. Ask any tea drinker worth their salt the trick to good tea, and they will tell you boiled water. Now this doesn’t mean you should be boiling water for 20 minutes and burning your grinds because you threw them into the rolling water; it means just off boil. You boil the water, you turn it off. You make your coffee.
3. Properly ground coffee is key. No, you cannot extract the flavours the same way by pounding the beans with a rock because you forgot to grind them properly before you went camping (I did that once — desperation wins every time). One fella in town used the butt of his gun to grind his beans on a hunting trip. Anyway, you get my point. Grind it right for the right type of machine. And if your friendly coffee proprietress grinds your coffee incorrectly, let her know for next time. Sorry to the dude whose coffee I ground into flour last week. I thought you said “Turkish,” but I am going deaf from the coffee grinders — what you probably said was, “You look quite peakish.”
4. Amount. How much is too much? Why is too little sad and weak? My old pal (the true bean queen) Zola Dore used to come to my house in the a.m., and she enjoyed watching me press coffee for her. According to Miss Dore, I like my coffee how I like my staff: hard, full of attitude and strong as oxen. I free-pour all my coffee grinds held by the tip of the bag into the press, stopping at a liberal inch and a half. Then I stand and stare at the kettle without blinking until it boils. I then wait just a moment before pouring water over the coffee grinds.
And then I wait. I hate waiting. I wait for about two minutes. I hate two minutes.
Finally, I lightly press down, and voila! Ass-kicking, heart-starting, hair-curling black brew.
Miss Dore used to cry a bit at my disgusting lack of manners, presenting to her a cup so strong it felt like a slap to the face, with a small dusting of grinds along the edge of her cup. The extra holds all the love, I used to tell her. Besides, she looked so cute with grinds stuck to her teeth.
“Katya, your coffee is full of grinds again,” she would lament.
“Suck it up, princess,” I’d tell her, “it will put hair on your chest.” But she was right (as usual), for what had I missed? Proper grind plus proper amount equals great coffee.
Under Dore’s tutalage, and with a little patience on my part , I have learned that one heaping tablespoon per cup is a great guideline. Keeping in mind that the average cup is 12 to 14 ounces, try it next time you make coffee.
I think you will be happy with the results, for with all of those steps in mind, you too can make a cup with a nice kick and a mellow but full mouthfeel, combined with a sweet aftertaste that leaves you wanting more!
Ain’t that a peach?