Well, well, isn’t it a surprise (actually, kind of a shock) when you raise your precious children and teach them (nearly) everything you know, and you feel pretty good about it all when they toddle on down the driveway on their own adventures–one by one–even though you still feel like they are too young for such boldness. Such action. Nevertheless, they will grow up and move away, never mind your personal feelings on the matter, and fashion lives of their own. On their own. And then, when they come back to visit, things are a bit different. Things have changed.
For example, they won’t drink your coffee any longer. They have learned a thing or two about coffee, you see, and so you’re not hurt about it. Not much. Your coffee was always just fine when they still lived at home. Hmm.
Of course it confuses you, just a tad, because you thought they really liked coffee, but no. But this doesn’t hurt you. No, you’re above being hurt. You are the parent, after all, and parents just laugh at such things and exchange meaningful glances full of forbearance and, above all, fondness. Children–even grown-up ones–especially grown-up ones–have their quirks and that’s perfectly okay. You relish these quirks because it means that you did your job of raising them pretty well, thank you.
You love your children more than life, of course. But you do, while cleaning up the kitchen, when the kids are home, push the Folgers container someplace where it is
notvisibletoanybody out of the way, and you allow them to make coffee for you, once. And then again. And then you have a fun coffee-tasting party in the kitchen, and you realize that your coffee bar has been raised to new heights, by your children of all people, and that you will never again be satisfied with your coffee, the old way you used to make it.
Because it sucks. I mean, the old way, and the old coffee, does. And I don’t use that phrase casually. (I mostly just use it when describing my new vacuum to my mom, because it makes her laugh: “My new vacuum, Mom? It’s great! It sucks!”) 🙂
For better or for worse, your coffee-drinking bar has been raised. Forever.
Furthermore, you listen as your children discuss their cool coffee-making discoveries, and you realize that it is not much more trouble, and it takes only a little bit more time and effort, to hold in your hand a truly delicious cup of coffee. Instead of . . . what you’ve made up until this point in life.
You quietly (and inwardly, with just a little sigh) decide that your ground-Folgers-buying days are over. And you’re thankful (overall) that your children are so smart and unafraid to do things their own way (cough).
Our grown-up boys (Matthew, Andrew, and Timothy) have taught us a great deal about coffee. We make coffee every day, always in the early morning, and sometimes in the afternoon, too. I can say honestly that the things that I’ve learned from my sons has revolutionized coffee-drinking for us. Revolutionized, Gentle Reader.
I do not use that word lightly, either.
I’m still not an expert on the matter of making coffee, which is why I asked our son Timothy (who is) to write this guest post. Timothy makes a pretty awesome cup of coffee, and he was happy to share what he has learned with me, and with you, Gentle Readers.
Aren’t you a lucky bunch! Prepare to have your coffee bar raised!
What you MUST Know to Make a Truly Great Cup of Coffee
by Timothy Miller
Coffee has always been a bit of an enigma for me, in more ways than one. I’m pretty sure my first thought, when it came to coffee, was the wonderment of not being allowed to have any: it smelled so good, but Mom and Dad wouldn’t allow me to drink it. I suppose it’s a pretty tough sell for a five year old boy to get his parents to give him even more energy (right Mum?). (You got it, son.)
I remember very little about the day I first tasted coffee. I know that it was sunny and cool, probably in the spring, and we were about to head out to the garden. I didn’t really like gardening, so Mom probably figured the coffee would put me in a slightly better mood.
I insisted, as I figured anyone would, to have my first cup black. I really wanted to fully experience this amazing drink, and I figured cream and sugar would just get in the way.
So Mom took the magical black powder out of the cupboard, dumped a little into the machine, and a few moments later the magical dark nectar came trickling down. It smelled so tantalizing, the five minutes it took to brew felt like an eternity. I carefully filled my mug and took a sip… and I was crushed. Years of waiting, only to discover that, in truth, coffee was bitter and disgusting. I took one more sip, set my cup down, and grabbed the sugar.
Discovering the Truth
How could something that smells so good taste so terrible? I couldn’t understand this strange imbalance in my senses. I was (and still am) pretty convinced that ground coffee was the best smelling thing in the world. Brewed coffee didn’t smell quite so nice, but it still smelled like coffee. The flavor, on the other hand, was something else entirely, and I didn’t like that. It somehow managed to be both bitter and weak at the same time, which left absolutely no room for flavor. It was just an unpleasant cup through and through.
So I lost interest in coffee. I drank a cup every now and again, with cream and sugar naturally, but for the most part abstained. I was content to merely smell it every once in a while, and I turned my attention to tea and hot chocolate instead. At least both of those things tasted like they smelled.
Little did I know that coffee, when created with care and attention, can taste even better than it smells. Not only that, but it has flavor with a depth and variety rivaled by only one other drink on this earth, a liquid prized and renowned for its flavor: wine.
On a Path to Coffee Greatness
It has been about fifteen years since my crushing (and false) realization that coffee tasted terrible. I rediscovered coffee a couple of years ago, and started tinkering with it. It had humble beginnings, with a French press, whole coffee beans, and a blade grinder. I could taste the potential there, but I still had a long way to go. I’d call this the 40% setup—it gets you about 40% of the way to a consistently good cup of coffee. But I wanted more.
From there I just kept adding to my tools and tricks. Today I roast my own coffee, and I have around nine different methods I use for brewing. I measure the temperature of the water before I brew, I weigh the grounds and the water, and I use a burr grinder to ensure a consistent grind.
Here are my stats: I spend between two and four hours per week to make my own coffee, and about $20 a month. Not bad for great quality coffee whenever I want it!
I’d like to think that I’m about 95% of the way to a professionally-made cup of coffee. Every once in a while I produce something that isn’t delicious, but it doesn’t happen often. I have a theory—which hasn’t failed me yet—that you can get 80% of the way to professional coffee with 20% of the effort.
The main thing is to set yourself up for success, because if you know the basic principles, you can go far. So let’s learn about them, okay? It’s simpler than you might imagine.
In other words, you already know how to make a decent cup of coffee, probably. It’s drinkable. But with just a little effort, anybody can make a trulygreat cup of coffee. (Which is far and away better than just merely “drinkable,” right?)
And don’t you want to make a truly great cup of coffee?
Basic Principles for a Great Cup o’ Joe
Here’s the thing about making coffee: you’ve got to find the sweet spot. Underexposed coffee is watery and flavorless, whereas overexposed coffee is bitter and sharp. The trick is to find the spot where the flavor is fully developed, but the bitterness hasn’t leached out yet: the sweet spot.
There are also a half-dozen different factors that lead to either underexposed or overexposed coffee, so balancing all of that is difficult and time consuming. Fortunately with a few good habits on your side you can avoid most of that without too much difficulty. Just follow this recipe:
Step One: Get a Good Grinder
First: if you’re buying pre-ground coffee, stop that immediately. Coffee grounds start losing flavor in as little as 60 seconds. Does that shock you?
Coffee grounds that are a few hours old are good for fertilizing flowers (or your blueberry bushes–Amy) but they might as well be dirt as far as coffee is concerned. They produce a bitter black sludge, not meant to touch human lips. Coffee grounds are fragile, and should be treated as such.
The grind is the first step to getting a good cup of coffee, and this is why you need a good grinder. Ground-up coffee is like thousands of little sponges, and if your sponges are different sizes then they absorb water at different speeds. For coffee that means some of them will over-extract, some will under-extract, and a few will be just right. As you can imagine, the final cup has a very unique flavor, but not a flavor you want to taste.
The important thing is to get a burr grinder, not a blade grinder. You can’t get a super-consistent automatic grinder for under $100, but this Mr. Coffee grinder will get you 90% of the way there for less cost.
Step Two: Buy the Beans
Aside from roasting your own, the best way to find coffee is to buy from a local roaster. I don’t recommend buying coffee from big box stores, because their warehouses are where many good coffees go to die of old age. If you can’t find a local roaster then consider roasting your own: there’s a learning curve, but once you get started it really isn’t that hard! (Note from Amy: next week, I’ll be publishing a post on how to make your own home coffee roaster, so stay posted!)
Step Three: Grind and Brew
Always grind your coffee right before you brew it. The less time between grinding and brewing, the better.
As for brewing, there are lots of ways to do this. As long as you follow the above steps, brew method doesn’t matter as much. French Press, Moka Pot, Aeropress, Mason Jar, and Drippers are all fantastic methods, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. Even a drip machine will taste good as long as you buy good coffee and don’t ground it too soon, so use whatever you have!
…or buy something new, because more coffee options can only make the world a better place.
A few links for further contemplation, shopping, and/or reading:
Also here’s where you can learn about making an excellent “cold-brew” glass of iced coffee.
Here’s a bit more about Timothy:
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