First, grab that bag of ground Dunkin Donuts House Blend in your freezer. Extract one (maybe two) scoops of coffee and drop it in the basket of your drip machine of choice. Fill up your carafe from the kitchen sink faucet and pour that in the machine too. Hit start, wait a few minutes, and, Viola! You’ve got an awful cup of coffee that tastes like day-old dishwater!
Now, I’m not here to say that you’ve been making coffee the wrong way all these years…but you’ve been making coffee the wrong way all these years.
Let’s start with the most important part of the equation, the coffee. Now, despite what some would tell you, you don’t have to buy the most expensive coffee in the world. In fact, this is the part of the equation where you can let frugality reign supreme and just buy what fits your budget. Sure, there is a difference between that bag of Eight O’Clock Coffee and Kopi Luwak Coffee (fermented in the bowels of Indonesian civets…I wish I was making that up), but what really matters is if you get it pre-ground or whole bean. Pre-ground coffee is a ticking time bomb. Once you break a coffee bean down, it starts to oxidize. The oils released during the roasting process are no longer protecting the wee bean and are, instead, mixing with other compounds released during grinding, creating all kinds of bitter nastiness that just gets more intense as time goes on. And this is all happening before it even hits your grocery store shelf.
The solution? Grind your own! It only takes a few seconds and, even if you do nothing else in this series, it will significantly improve the flavor of your coffee. When you hit Target, you’ll be tempted by the $20 blade grinder sitting next to all the drip pots…don’t be. It’s cheap for a reason – it shreds your coffee beans into uneven shards. This doesn’t make a lot of difference when you look at it, but when you’re trying to get the most flavor out of a few tablespoons of powdered beans, it can mean the difference between a smooth cup and a face-puckeringly awful one. Cheap blade grinders are awesome for slicing up spices – relegate them to that task and treat your coffee right.
Remember all that money you saved by not buying civet-shit coffee? Conical burr grinders are where that cash should be invested. Models like this Capresso aren’t inexpensive; but they’re going to do a considerably better job of evenly grinding your coffee so that you’ve got the maximum amount of surface area exposed to the water. There are a lot of bitter compounds that lurk inside your typical bean. Those big (microscopically-speaking) chunks left by the typical blade grinder lock away the flavor compounds that make coffee taste like, well, coffee. Without a conical grinder, you’ll end up with a weak-tasting brew that you’ll either try to brew longer, which will only extract that bitter turpentine taste, or add more grounds to when you brew, which wastes your coffee.
I’m getting ahead of myself, though. We’ll talk about extraction methods tomorrow.
Oh yeah, last thing for today. You know that crinkled up bag you have in the freezer? Toss it. The cold isn’t doing your beans any favors. In fact, it’s introducing ice crystals to the mix every time you take it out. These crystals are only going to break your coffee down faster and speed it towards paint-thinner status. Get a nice airtight glass jar, stick it in the back of your pantry, and fughedaboutit.
See you in part the second (in which we’ll actually get around to brewing something…promise).