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
Silver: Baratza Virtuoso
Bronze: Baratza Encore
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…
This 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
The 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
While 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
This 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
I 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.
I 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
An 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.
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