Like Coffee? : The First Steps Towards Loving Coffee

 
 
Like Coffee?



So, you like coffee?

We learned the difference between “like” and “love” in junior high (at least we thought we did). You walked your sweaty-palmed self to the object of your affection, and s/he proceeded to stomp your guts out. Hopefully, your story ended better than mine. The point being, there are millions of people who “LIKE” coffee, but they don’t love it. They may think it’s love, but really they’re just fooling themselves and it’s puppy love. So how does one develop a deeper understanding of the coffee world? Just like everything else, you can learn through trial and error, or my personal favorite, learn from the mistakes that others have made!

Taking the First Step

If you’re already a specialty coffee connoisseur, then this message isn’t for you, but it may come in handy when you want to point someone to an introduction to better coffee. If, however, you’re currently drinking grocery store coffee, or subjecting yourself to $5 coffee drinks, this message is made especially for you. If you’re the latter, you probably do not realize that you are spending almost $2000/year. If you’re the former, do you realize that you are drinking a rancid beverage? The first step is admitting your need of help. Even if you think you are perfectly happy with your current situation, there is always room to improve upon it.

It’s All in the Grind


Most people don’t know that the coffee grinder is actually the most important element to brewing a perfect cup of coffee. Sure, you must start with great beans, and you need to have a decent brewer, but those things will be all for nothing, if you don’t have a suitable grinder. The popular home coffee grinder is a cylindrical looking appliance, with blender looking blades at the bottom. If you are currently using one of these, then you are needlessly drinking a poorly brewed beverage. All home brewing folks need a reliable, burr grinder. Why? There is only a percentage of the coffee bean that is soluble, and an even smaller percentage that you want in your cup. For this reason, each brewing method requires a specific, uniform coarseness of the coffee grounds. The blades on the cheapo models cannot possibly be made to create a uniform grind. A poorly ground batch of coffee will see many fines (coffee dust), as well as chunks, leading to too much of the fine particles being dissolved, as well as not enough of the chunkier pieces. Conversely, a properly ground batch of coffee for your brewing method, will result in the optimal amount of the coffee being dissolved into the beverage (extraction).

If you are going to brew regular coffee (non-espresso), then the most economical grinder that I can confidently recommend is the Baratza Encore ($129). To most of you, this may seem like a huge price to pay, but there are grinders that cost thousands! You will also realize an overall savings by having a well constructed grinder that lasts for years, allowing you to brew better coffee at home than in most coffee shops. Additionally, you will also be able to save on the brewer, as most people think that the bulk of their budget should be spent on the brewer. This is simply not the case. If you have $150 for your overall coffee equipment budget, I will tell you to get the grinder and recommend a $20 brewer. If you are strapped for cash, but you don’t mind a bit of an arm workout, I can recommend a $40 manual grinder, The Porlex. This grinder is a great choice for non-espresso folks, and its sturdy construction makes it a great travel grinder too.

Choosing the Right Coffee Maker

There are probably hundreds of different ways to make coffee, but most people opt for the automatic drip coffee maker. While not producing the optimal beverage, it is easy to use. The drawbacks to the auto-drip are internal cleaning/descaling, which is vital to maintain the internal parts as well as providing the best possible taste. Also, many of these brewers do not sufficiently heat the water to attain proper extraction. Personally, I stay away from any brewing system that is enclosed. If I can’t see that the parts are clean, then there is always a nagging voice in my head that is telling me that it’s dirty. Another advantage of manual brewing options, is the level of control over the entire process. I know how hot the water is, I know the equipment is properly cleaned, and I know how long the water is in contact with the ground coffee.

Here are a few options of coffee brewers that are perfect for the beginner, not requiring a great amount of learning, while only requiring a small amount of time and effort.

  • The French Press – This brewer has been around for a long, long time, and with good reason. Even the most snobbiest of coffee snobs will brew via French Press. The ease of use, repeatability, and the tasty beverages it produces make it an excellent choice. (CoffeeNate’s French Press Tutorial) The press that I use is stainless steel, but aside from the durability, I really love the single piece filter of this press. Most French Presses use a filter screen, which is held in place between two plates at the bottom of the plunger. The con to this is the tendency for the coffee grounds to get stuck between these plates, often requiring disassembling to properly clean. My press, the Bodum Columbia, costs about $79. That is nearly double the price of a quality glass press pot, but it was well worth the investment to me. The single piece filter makes cleanup a breeze, plus my kids were constantly breaking the glass ones. I spent $79 on the Bodum Columbia, and $200 on the cheaper glass ones. :P
  • Moka Pot – Also known as a ‘stove top espresso maker’, this brewer makes a powerful cup of coffee. If you don’t enjoy the concentrated beverage, simply add hot water to taste. You can also add hot milk. The nice thing about the Moka Pot, is that you don’t need to bother with measuring the amount of coffee you use (although it will help with consistency and reduce waste). You simply fill the chamber that holds the coffee, put it on the stove, and when it’s full, you’re ready to enjoy. (CoffeeNate’s Moka Pot tutorial)
  • Chemex – This method is rather easy to use, but will require a couple of tries before you achieve your desired results. Once you get it down, it will be second nature, and you won’t even think about it. This brewer looks like a glass pitcher with a glass funnel attached to the top. A filter sits inside of the funnel, and you simply pour the hot water onto the coffee. This method typically uses a paper filter, so the resulting brew will be quite a bit smoother than the previous methods mentioned. A brewer that uses a metal filter will allow much more flavor to enter the cup, while the paper will trap it. Which is better? It’s subjective, but I tend to prefer the metal filters. I sue a KONE filter for my Chemex, and I works fabulously. (CoffeeNate’s Chemex tutorial)
  • V60 – This method is another pourover style brewer, and is perfect for brewing single cups of coffee. At about $17, the price is also right. The style is similar to the Chemex, except you only get the funnel portion. You can use the paper cone filters, or use a metal KONE.

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You NEED Good Coffee

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The Coffee Olympics : #Coffee #Sochi2014

 
coffee olympics



The Coffee Olympics

Every time the Olympics are held in a distant country, I find myself staying up all hours of the night to watch “just one more event”. I’m sure I’m not the only one, but when I do this I have to consume twice as much coffee the following day. I guess it’s a win/win. ;)

The Coffee Nate Gold Medalists

In the Olympic spirit, I have awarded medals to the best coffee grinder, brewer, and top piece of home coffee brewing equipment.

Best Coffee Grinder


Capturing gold for “Best Coffee Grinder”, is Baratza. Rather than bestow this medal to a single grinder, I’m giving it to the company. This is because different types of coffee brewing will require a different grinder, and Baratza provides the best of both. From the entry level Encore to the espresso specialist Vario-W, there is something for every serious coffee nerd. Why Baratza? This company’s sole focus is producing quality coffee grinders. They don’t make 100 appliances and happen to also make coffee grinders, they specialize in producing top of the line coffee grinding machines. I’ve said many times, the single most important piece of coffee brewing equipment is the grinder. No other product has the potential to positively impact your coffee, more than the investment in a high caliber coffee grinder. You can have the world’s finest coffee and the most cutting edge coffee brewer, but if you don’t have a decent grinder, you’ll drink a poor cup of coffee.

Gold: Baratza Vario W

baratza vario w coffee grinderThe gold standard for home espresso enthusiasts! The Vario-W is also able to grind for other brewing methods, but it isn’t recommended as you’ll constantly be losing your espresso sweet spot.

 

 

 

Silver: Baratza Virtuoso

baratza virtuoso coffee grinderPerfect for versatility. Capable of producing a suitable grind for espresso, as well as press pot and other brewing methods.

 

 

 

Bronze: Baratza Encore

baratza encore coffee grinderGreat for brewing methods, other than espresso. Excellent entry level burr grinder for maximum results with least investment.

 

 

 

 

Best Coffee Brewer

Here’s where it gets a bit subjective. I prefer different types of brewers for different coffees. On top of that, I also prefer different brewing methods depending on the time of day, the amount of time I have available, as well as what kind of mood I’m in. Here are the winners…

Gold: Bodum Columbia French Press

bodum columbia french pressThis press claimed gold based on the ease of use, the quality of its components, as well as the convenience and repeatability. French Press coffee is enjoyed by many a coffee snob, and it is surprisingly affordable. While the traditional glass versions are more than adequate (if you purchase a quality one), the Columbia is stainless steel, which makes it kid-proof. Also, the plunger of the Columbia is a single piece. Most plungers have a screen filter that fits between two metal plates at the bottom of the plunger. These are horrible to clean, because the coffee grounds get stuck between the screen and the plates. In order to properly clean, you have to take it apart every time. Nobody does this, and you end up with rotten coffee grounds in your fresh brew. Nasty! The Columbia features a single piece filter that is a breeze to clean. It also has a small silicone ring around the outside, providing an excellent seal to keep the coffee grounds out of your drink.

Silver: The AeroPress

AeroPress Coffee MakerThe AeroPress could very well be a gold medal contender, but it does require a bit more involvement, as well as more ways to screw up the beverage. On the other hand, it does create a unique brewing experience, as well as an exceptional cup of coffee. How the makers of a flying disc stumbled upon this device is beyond me, but this product is really quite awesome.

The AeroPress is perfect for people who want to brew a single cup, but don’t want to go the expensive route of the Kcup brewers, which also produce some of the poorest quality coffee known to man. Also, if you like an intensely strong brew, the AeroPress is a must. The final product is a concentrated cup of coffee, which you can add hot water or milk to suit your strength preference. If you don’t mind going through a few steps, the AeroPress is your best bet. At first, you may find it to be a bit labor intensive but, like anything else, practice makes perfect. You will quickly find yourself brewing like a barista, once you go through the steps a few times. It isn’t as intimidating as it appears, and you can follow my step by step video to get you started.

Bronze: The Chemex

Chemex coffee makerWhile I struggled with choosing a third brewer, I went with the Chemex. This brewing method allows you to brew a single cup or as many as 13 cups! I have an 13 cup Chemex, which I use when we are entertaining. I can brew up a large number of cups, rather than kicking out 1 cup at a time, for the entire evening. You can also brew a single cup, without sacrificing the quality of the brew. The construction of the Chemex is quite simple. It is a glass container, with a funnel at the top. Insert the filter into the funnel, add the ground coffee, then slowly add the water. Once you get the grind right, you will find this method very simple, and the finished product is a tasty cup of coffee.

Overall Coffee Brewing Equipment

Gold: Bonavita Variable Temperature Gooseneck Kettle

bonavita variable temp kettleThis was an easy choice, for several reasons. Reason number one, control. The gooseneck design allows for precise, slow pouring, while the function of the kettle also allows you to set the desired temperature of the water. The optimal water temperature for brewing coffee is between 195-205 degrees Fahrenheit. (NOT BOILING) At this temperature range, the perfect amount of the coffee bean is dissolved by the water. If your water isn’t hot enough, it won’t dissolve enough, too hot and your coffee will taste bitter, because too much was allowed to dissolve. This kettle provides two important functions in a single device, saving you time…which is reason number 2.

Silver: Able Filters

able aeropress filterI simply love the metal filters produced by Able Brewing Company. The first is the standard screen, reusable filter for the AeroPress. This metal AeroPress filter allows more of the flavorful oils to enter your cup. Paper filters work perfectly fine, but they make the brew too smooth for my personal taste. If you enjoy a flavor packed cup, then you MUST get the reusable Able filter for the AeroPress.

 

 

able kone filterI always use the Able KONE filter for brewing with my Chemex. For the same reason as with the reusable AeroPress filter, the KONE allows more flavor to enter the cup, while keeping out the sediment found in French Press brewing. Another benefit of using the KONE, you are able to use a finer grind for the Chemex, without clogging the filter. The traditional Chemex paper filters are excellent, but you must use a coarser grind in order to keep the coffee flowing. Again, the paper filter provides a smoother tasting cup, but removes much of the flavor that the KONE allows into the cup. If you’re like me, you’ll prefer the KONE filter.

Bronze: Hario Digital Scale & Timer

hario coffee scaleAn essential element of brewing exceptional coffee is repeatability. If you measure your coffee grounds by the ‘scoop’, you’re not getting it. Measuring coffee by mass offers you the consistency that is crucial to producing a repeatable process with ease. Coffee beans can vary in density and size, but if you always measure your coffee with a scale, you will always use the proper amount. Otherwise, you’re simply guessing. The Hario scale is superior to cheaper models, because it offers a large surface area, easy to read display, and it also has a built in timer. The larger surface area allows for more stability for your brewer. After adding your coffee, you can put your brewer on the scale, tare it, then measure your water by mass as well. If you don’t already do this, it may sound like more work, but it actually creates less work in addition to giving you maximum control and a simple, repeatable brewing process.
 

Here are more products that I love…

 
Find other products that I recommend in the CoffeeNate Shop!

How To Make Coffee With The AeroPress :: Inverted AeroPress Video Tutorial

 
 

Aeropress video tutorial :: How to Aeropress :: Aeropress Coffee

 
 

When I started this blog, the first two videos were How To Brew Coffee With The French Press, and How To Brew Coffee With The AeroPress.  Admittedly, I was not on my game yet.  I have learned much since that time, and I have previously updated the French Press Tutorial, and now it’s time to set the record straight on how to PROPERLY use the AeroPress coffee brewer.  There are several techniques out there, but the one that I employ is easy for any Joe Schmoe to duplicate.  It produces a rich, flavorful cup of coffee, and does not involve any crazy tactics that will discourage you from using it on a daily basis.


When I first tried the AeroPress, I wanted to see what all of the hype was about.  People were, and still are, going crazy over this brewer.  I mean, how good can a coffee maker that is manufactured by Aerobie be?  These guys got famous by inventing a super duper frisbee for crying out loud.  Well, I was kind of disappointed when it was all said and done.  I strongly suggest chucking the included instructions into [Continue reading]

Coffee Deals for Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and Beyond

      Hello there, holiday shoppers! If you're anything like me, you would much rather click the mouse a few times, rather than go to the mall in the middle of the night. Many times, the exact same sale is available online, … [Continue reading]

Nate’s #Coffee Gift Buying Guide!

      As the holiday season draws ever closer, most of us are scrambling to find unique, useful gifts. If you have some coffee lovers on your list, then you've come to the right place! I will give you several coffee related gift … [Continue reading]