Coffee Making

Coffee lovers know that there is more to a good cup of coffee than just throwing coffee grounds in the percolator, adding water, and plugging it in. Coffee making is an art and a science. And, like all art and science, the details are what make the difference. With the rise of the coffee house in modern society, many people have gotten used to good coffee. But, how can you make a good cup or two at home? First, we offer a “quick and easy” way to make a good cup of coffee. Then, we delve into the details. Feel free to skip around and read what you want.

Quick and Easy: Coffee Making with Organic Beans and a French Press

When you buy certified organic coffee, you are almost always getting Arabica coffee beans, the highest quality and best tasting ones. Organic coffee is free of many chemicals that may otherwise show up in regular coffee and therefore in your morning cup of java. Unless you already have a coffee grinder, buy ground coffee to start with. If you have a coffee grinder, grind just enough beans for a serving or two. And, use a coarse grind with a French press.

Why French press coffee, you ask. A French press is (typically) a glass coffee pot. A metal rod (passing through a hole in the lid of the pot) is connected to a metal filter. Because this device uses a metal screen instead of a paper or cloth filter, more oils and minute solids remain in the coffee. The result is a deeper and richer taste that many coffee lovers prefer.

  • Put the coffee grounds in the pot, one to two tablespoonsful for each six ounces of water
  • Boil water and let it sit for a minute before adding to the pot
  • Let the coffee and water sit for two to four minutes
  • Push the plunger down and the grounds are pushed to the bottom of the pot
  • Serve the coffee

Use this method of coffee making and you will reliably get a good cup of coffee. Then, if you want to improve your knowledge, your skills, and the coffee that you brew, read on.

Coffee making with a French press coffee maker results in more oils and solids for a richer tasting coffee.

French Press Coffee Maker

Now, here is a detailed breakdown of what you need to know and what you need to do to steadily improve your coffee making results.

Coffee Making

Successful coffee making requires that you use good coffee, clean equipment, clean water, and the correct process. Here is how we broke down the details. Feel free to read the parts that interest you.

  • Equipment
  • Coffee Beans
    • Origin
    • Variety
    • Type of Roast
    • Roast Your Own
    • Grind texture
    • Grind Your Own
    • How Old Are the Beans: Fresh Coffee
  • Water
  • The Brewing Process
    • Ratio of Coffee to Water
    • Temperature of the Water
    • Time to brew
    • Time to extract
  • Brewed Coffee is Best When Fresh
  • Alternative methods

Clean the Coffee Making Equipment

No matter what you use to make coffee, keeping it clean is important. If you grind your own coffee beans, make sure to wipe out the grinder with a dry cloth or paper towel. You should rinse the coffee maker with hot, clear water and then wipe dry with an absorbent towel. Make sure that no coffee grounds or coffee oil remain as they will give the next batch a bitter or rancid taste. And, if you have a single-serve coffee maker like a fourth of us do, clean that too after each use.

(National Coffee Association)

Basic to Complex Equipment to Make Coffee

Percolator Coffee: What You Grew Up With

Many of us grew up in a home with a coffee percolator. Add coffee grounds, add water, plug it in and wait. There are electric percolators that can make 40 cups of coffee and there are stovetop models. In both cases, boiling hot water rises up a metal stem and splashes onto the coffee grounds in a metal basket. The water runs out though tiny holes in the bottom of the basket only to return again and again. This is a “perk and forget” device that can make a lot of coffee for a lot of people.

One downside to using a percolator is that the boiling hot water extracts more coffee chemicals than you want and the coffee is typically bitter. Another is that you really need to clean this device well after each use. And, last but not least in importance, be careful not to open the top when perking for fear of being scaled by the boiling hot water.

Coffee making with this vintage coffee percolator was easy. The coffee was bitter and not always that good.

Vintage Coffee Percolator

For best results, use freshly ground coffee, between one heaping tablespoonsful per every cup of water. The coffee will be best when just brewed. Unfortunately, the last folks to drink percolator coffee from a 40 cup urn are getting caffeine and a bad cup of coffee.

(Talk about Coffee)

Pour Over Coffee

In places where they grow coffee, like the coffee triangle in Colombia, pour over coffee is what they make at home. This consists of a pan or pot to boil the water, a cloth or wire mesh filter filled with ground coffee, and a pot to receive the coffee. Boil the water, let it sit a minute or two, and pour over the coffee grounds. Then, serve the coffee. You should still clean the coffee pot and the filter, but otherwise this simple setup makes great coffee without a lot of fuss.

Pour over coffee is a way of coffee making without a lot of fuss or cleanup.

Pour Over Coffee

This is how folks make coffee in places like the Coffee Triangle in Colombia or in Panama, where this photo was taken.

Espresso Machines

And if you want to make espresso, you will want an espresso machine. This method forces water near the boiling point through a small quantity of finely ground coffee and a filter. The result is thick and concentrated. All coffee house coffee starts with espresso.

Making espresso is coffee making like a coffee shop coffee, first step.

Making Espresso

If you grind your own beans, grind them extra fine to about the size of grains of table salt for espresso.  The grounds go into a cup-with handle device called the portafilter. Put in enough to be rounded over the top of the device. Then tamp down the coffee so that it is packed tight and below the rim of the portafilter. Your espresso machine should come with a tamper.

The portafilter fits onto the bottom of the machine. Fill the water container as directed and make your espresso. Fancier machines have lots and bells and whistles and simple machines simply make the espresso. Most machines have a metal tube that provides steam for frothing milk to go with your espresso.

Ibriks and Large Pots on the Farm

And, you will want a pot called an Ibrik for making Turkish coffee, or a really big coffee pot for making egg coffee like great-grandma did back on the farm.

Coffee Beans

No matter how fancy your coffee making gear is, or how simple, a good cup of coffee starts with good coffee beans.

Varieties

The two main types of coffee beans are Arabica and Robusta. Arabica is the superior coffee for taste and aroma and is what you want to buy for making a really fine cup of coffee. Robusta has more caffeine and if you want more of a jolt in the morning that may be your choice. Gesha coffee is an heirloom varietal. The seed stock has not been cross bred or altered from the original near Gesha, Ethiopia. Gesha has much more of a floral note than Arabica. It can also sell for $100 for a pound of beans or $11 for a cup in a coffee house. Until you get the hang of coffee making, we suggest that you forget about the Gesha or other gourmet coffee brands. Return to these when your coffee making abilities consistently result in a great cup of Arabica!

When you are buying coffee beans, consider the country and region of origin, the variety, the type of roast (assuming that you are not roasting your own), and whether the grind is coarse or fine.

Where Did Your Coffee Come From?

Coffee from the Americas

  • Kona coffee, the only produced in the USA (Hawaii) is aromatic with a medium body.
  • Mexican coffees are good for dark roasts and have impressive aroma and depth of flavor.
  • Coffee from Puerto Rico is known for its fruity aroma and balanced acidity.
  • Guatemala produces medium-bodied coffees that are spicy or chocolatey.
  • Costa Rican coffee is Arabica, medium bodied, and sharply acidic.
  • Colombia produces only high quality Arabica coffee. The highest quality bean, Supremo, has an aromatic sweetness and Excelso, the next best, is slightly more acidic and softer.
  • Brazil produces lots and lots of coffee. The best Brazilian coffee is sweet, low-acid, and medium-bodied.

Coffee from Africa

  • Ethiopia is the birthplace of the coffee plant. Their best coffee is full flavored and full bodied.
  • Kenya is just South of Ethiopia. Its best coffees are full bodied, fruity and acidic, and richly fragrant.
  • The Ivory Coast produces Robusta coffee, strong and slightly aromatic.

Middle East

Yemen was the first stopping point for coffee coming out of Africa. Its coffee is distinctive, deep and rich.

Asia

  • Vietnam just recently edged out Brazil as the leading coffee exporter. Most of their production is Robusta but with good balance and light acidity.
  • Indonesia: If you really want a cup of Java, buy Indonesian coffee from the island of Java! These coffees have mild acidity, rich flavor, and full body.

(National Coffee Association)

How Was the Coffee Roasted?

Coffee undergoes chemical transformations when it is roasted. Light, medium, and dark roasts are carried out at successively higher temperatures.

A light roast is used for mild coffee varieties preserves flavor and aroma that would otherwise be overcome by the effects of roasting.

  • Light City
  • Half City
  • Cinnamon

A medium roast results in a stronger flavor and like with the light roast, the coffee oils do not break the surface of the bean.

  • City
  • American
  • Breakfast

Medium dark roasts leave some oil on the surface of the bean and results in a slightly bitter aftertaste.

Full City

Dark roasts result in a black, shiny bean with an oily surface. A dark roast results in a bitterer but less acidic coffee. With a dark roast the results of roasting largely overcome the original coffee aroma and flavor.

  • High
  • Continental
  • New Orleans
  • European
  • Espresso
  • Viennese
  • Italian
  • French

(National Coffee Association)

A medium roast or medium dark roast is a good choice for anyone new to coffee making at home.

How Coarsely or Finely Is the Coffee Ground?

When you expose coffee to water, the chemicals in the coffee get dissolved and that results in the coffee that you drink. The longer the coffee grounds sit in hot water, the more caffeine and flavor enters the water. The finer the grind, the more surface area is exposed and the more caffeine and flavor come out.

For coffee making with a French press you want coarsely ground coffee because the grounds remain with the coffee. If you are making pour over coffee or using a percolator or drip coffee maker, you will want a finer grind because the hot water just passes through the grounds. If you are making espresso, you want the coffee very finely ground. And, if you are getting out the Ibrik for Turkish coffee, the grounds should be the consistency of powdered sugar!

Fresh Is Best with Coffee

Unlike a fine wine, coffee generally does not get better with age. If the bag of gourmet coffee you bought was on the shelf for a few years, it will have lost significant flavor, aroma, and even health benefits. And the green beans need to be fresh as well. Several years ago, Brazilian coffee growers put significant quantities of green coffee beans in storage because prices were so low. When prices went up, they were only able to sell those green beans for institutional use as the 8-year-old green beans had dried out and lost flavor.

Ordering green coffee directly from the source is an option. Store them in a cool and dry location. Only take out enough to roast for the day. Green coffee beans properly stored can be good for a couple of years!

But, let’s say that you just bought a bag of roasted whole bean organic coffee. How do you keep it fresh?

The flavor and aroma of coffee comes from chemicals called antioxidants. These chemicals combine with oxygen when exposed to the air. The process of “oxidation” speeds up when beans are stored in a warm location, exposed to sunlight, or allowed to become moist. And, ground coffee has more surface exposed to the air so ground coffee loses its freshness a lot faster than whole beans.

Although you want your coffee beans close for coffee making, the shelf next to the stove is a bad place because it is too hot! Pick a cool and dry pantry shelf. Only take out enough beans to grind for the current batch of coffee. When you buy whole bean roasted coffee, buy just enough for a couple of weeks. If you prefer ground coffee, buy weekly.

Some folks like to refrigerate their coffee. The coolness is a good idea. Unfortunately, every time you take the bag out of the fridge, moisture from the warm kitchen air will condense on the cold beans. If you buy a lot of coffee and want to preserve it in the refrigerator, store in several smaller bags.

Air tight containers are a better choice than the bag the coffee comes in because you can properly reseal these containers.

(National Coffee Association)

Coffee Is Mostly Water

You can use tap water to make coffee, providing that the water does not have an odor or too much chlorine. If that is the case, use bottled or filtered water. The water should be cold. And, do not use softened water or distilled water. Start by using one or two tablespoonsful of coffee for each six ounces of water. Then add or subtract coffee according to your taste.

Best Temperature for Making Coffee

The best coffee brewing temperature is between 195 degrees and 205 degrees Fahrenheit. When the temperature is lower, the water does not extract the chemicals that give coffee its aroma and flavor. When the water is closer to boiling at 212 degrees Fahrenheit, extraction is too efficient and your coffee will have excessive bitterness.

Coffee makers typically take care of the temperature for you. When making pour over coffee, bring the water to a boil. Turn off the burner and let the water sit for two or three minutes and then pour over the coffee grounds. Likewise with a French press, let the boiled water cool for a couple of minutes before pouring into the French press pot.

Cold brewed coffee is completely different. Add coffee ground to a pitcher of water, put in the refrigerator, and forget for half a day.

Best Temperature for Drinking Coffee

Most coffee drinkers like their coffee at about 140 degrees Fahrenheit. In fact, drinking hotter coffee in the 185 degree range can cause scalding and burns mouth and throat. (Journal of Burns) And, very hot coffee could increase the risk of cancer of the esophagus. (Chicago Tribune / Lancet) And, we all remember the McDonald’s lawsuit when the lady sued for burns of the skin from spilled near-boiling coffee.

How Long to Brew when Making Coffee

The longer your coffee is in contact with hot water, the more chemicals are extracted. A drip coffee maker has coffee in contact with hot water for about 5 minutes. With pour over coffee, the contact time is less than a minute. Espresso has a contact time of about 20 to 30 seconds. And, if you use a French press, serve the coffee two to four minutes after pouring water into the pot.

How Soon Should You Drink Your Coffee?

The same “oxidation” issues apply to coffee after it is brewed as applied when it was stored. Coffee has the best aroma and flavor right after it is brewed. By the time your coffee has cooled down, some flavor has gone as well. After a few hours your coffee still has the same caffeine content, but the antioxidants have combined with the air and the flavor is pretty much gone.

Coffee Making Across the World

Turkish Coffee

Turkey was once the center of the Ottoman Empire which extended to Yemen, where coffee was first cultivated. When coffee arrived in Istanbul, it was first prepared in the Sultan’s palace. The Turkish coffee method is still used in the countries that were once part of the Ottoman Empire.

Coffee making in the old Ottoman Empire involved an Ibrik, coffee, and lots of sugar!

Ottoman Empire where Turkish Coffee Began

Ottoman Empire around 1300 AD and an Ibrik for Making Turkish Coffee

Here is the short and “sweet” approach to making Turkish coffee.

  • When making coffee Turkish style grind the coffee beans even finer than you would for making espresso.
  • Make Turkish coffee in a small pot with a cup of water
  • A small sauce pan will do although Turks use an Ibrik (see image)
  • Add sugar
    • Plain: no sugar
    • Little sugar: add half a level teaspoon to the coffee
    • Medium: add a level teaspoon to the coffee
    • A lot of sugar: add two level teaspoons to the coffee
  • Bring the water with sugar to a boil and remove from heat
  • Add coffee and stir until coffee sinks
    • Some add a pod of cardamom as well (optional)
  • Heat again slowly until coffee boils and foam appears on the top
    • So not stir as this disturbs the foam
    • Do not boil too long as prolonged boiling gives the coffee a burnt taste
    • Remove from heat briefly and then heat again
    • Repeat one more time
  • Pour coffee directly from the Ibrik or your sauce pan into demitasse cups similar to what you would use for espresso
  • Ideal Turkish coffee has a lot of thick foam (think of Cuban coffee) and the person who gets the cup with the most foam has the best coffee.
Ibrik for coffee making the Turkish way

Ibrik for Turkish Coffee

Café de Olla

When coffee moved across the world to the Americas, so did the ways of making coffee. A now-traditional way of coffee making evolved in Mexico. Coffee was made in a clay pot and was thus called pot coffee (Café de Olla-Café de O Ya as the Spanish letter “ll” is pronounced like the English “y” or also the English “j”) . Unrefined cane sugar, ground cinnamon, and ground coffee are all heated together. The sugar is called piloncillo in Mexico but further into Central and South America it is called panela.

How to Make Café de Olla

To do this correctly you should use a ceramic pot, but for beginners, you will be forgiven for using a sauce pan.

Ingredients

  • 4 cups of water
  • 3 ounces of panela or piloncillo (Gringos may use brown sugar)
  • half a stick of cinnamon, preferably Mexican
  • 4 tablespoonsful of ground coffee

Make your café de olla on the stove top. Grind your coffee first, finely ground is best.

Then add the cinnamon and panela to the water and heat to a simmer to dissolve the sugar. Then turn the heat to high and boil the water. When the water boils, add the coffee and turn off the heat.

Stir the pot briefly and cover the sauce pan for five minutes. Pour the coffee through a filter or strainer into the cups you will use to serve the café de olla.

Café de Olla is an indigenous Mexican way of making coffee in a ceramic pot

Café de Olla

You Are the Best Judge

For all coffee making, remember that you are the best judge of what variety of coffee, what roast, what grind, and what method that you like. The point of making your own coffee is to get the coffee you want with the amount of effort you choose to expend. Experience is the best teacher with any coffee making, so start brewing your coffee and enjoy!




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