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Java Queen International
Coffee and Tea Academy



 



 Brewing Coffee
From "Coffee Basics"
Pages 102-119
Kevin Knox and Julie Sheldon Huffaker
1997 John Wiley and Sons, Inc.



INDEX

Introduction: Why are you reading this?
Drip Brewing
Our Manual Drip Method
Manual Drip Brewing Details
Coffees suitable for drip method
Manual vs Automatic Drip
On Filters
Coffee Press Method
Coffee Press Method Details
Coffees suitable for Press method


Vacuum Pot Method
Vacuum Pot Method Details
Coffees suitable for Vacuum Pot Method
Miscellaneous Methods
Flip-Drip or "Neopolitan"
Cold Water Concentrate
Middle Eastern Coffee
Benchmarking Coffee By The Cup
Adjusting Brew Strength

INTRODUCTION

The goal of this document is to steer people through the obstacle course that is brewing a great cup of coffee. We understand full well what it is like when the alarm goes off at 6:00 AM and you have to hit the road at 6:35, but you want a good, hot cup of coffee in your hand when you do.

Chances are, you could be brewing coffee in a way that delivers flavors far superior to what you are getting now... in the same amount of time or less. To decide which brewing method or methods best match your needs, start by asking yourself these questions:

  1. On what occasions do I normally drink coffee? What is the relative importance of taste and convenience? (You may have more than one answer: for workday mornings vs. leisurely entertaining, for example.)
  2. How much money am I willing to spend on brewing equipment? On coffee?
  3. Can this brewing method brew great-tasting coffee?

For most coffee drinkers, the biggest hurdle to overcome as you begin getting serious about coffee is the fact that you own an electric drip coffeemaker, and the vast majority of electric drip brewers sacrifice taste for convenience. What we humbly suggest, if good taste is your goal, is an investment of attention rather than dollars. Grinding fresh and measuring coffee precisely becomes second nature after a week. If you are going to the trouble of sourcing fresh, optimally roasted beans, brew to capture every precious nuance of flavor and aroma you're paying for.

We define great brewing methods as those that meet all the criteria, the "essential elements, " we have just discussed for brewing a great cup. (Remember that your familiarity with the essential elements of great coffee gives you the tools to evaluate any brewing method, too.) There are several great methods that, while a bit more "hands-on" than automatic methods, brew monumentally better coffee in considerably less time. These manual brewers are also simple, easy to use and maintain, and inexpensive.

We will focus on three brewing methods that offer the highest possible cup quality: the manual drip coffee maker, the coffee press or plunger pot, and the vacuum pot. [back to index]

Drip Brewing

Great drip coffee combines the essential brewing elements in a very specific way. You need a filter that contains a heaping measure of fresh grounds for each 6 ounces of brewer capacity, and water heated to 195-205 F. The water should saturate the grounds thoroughly and gently; the total brew cycle, start to finish, must take 4-6 minutes. If it takes more than 8 minutes, the coffee will be over-extracted.

This sounds relatively simple, and is-as long as you are brewing coffee by hand, in a manual drip maker. (It is also relatively easy to accomplish if your kitchen is equipped with a $1,000, plumbed-in commercial brewer, but that's a different story.) It is all but impossible to brew drip coffee that meets the above criteria using typical home electric brewers, and herein lies the source of the frustration so many coffee lovers encounter when they try to duplicate good coffee-bar coffee at home.

"Automatic drip" brewers are exactly what their name suggests: an attempt to automate something that was originally done by hand. By taking a detailed look at the process you are trying to automate, it becomes much easier to understand why most home electric brewers make such poor coffee. For this run-through, we will use the specific manual drip setup we rate as the best. However, similar effects can be achieved with other brands and components. [back to index]

Our Manual Drip Method

To brew manual drip coffee, we start by bringing a quart of fresh, cold water to a boil. The easiest way to do this is to use an electric kettle, which heats water much faster than a burner or microwave. The inexpensive Rival brand kettle we use happens to have a 1-quart capacity which matches the container we brew into precisely; many other brands have similarly convenient markings. While the water heats, we assemble the brewer and grind our beans. We brew directly into a quart-size Nissan thermos using a matching filter cone (made by the same company). This thermos is made entirely of stainless steel and insulates with a vacuum layer, so there's no fragile glass liner. The filter cone is made to use a #4 size paper filter, but we cheat a bit and upgrade to a #6. This provides a little extra height for the grounds to expand as the water first moistens them. The additional room is invaluable when brewing recently roasted or especially low-density coffees, which froth and swell significantly during brewing. The entire cone/thermos combination costs about $45.

Grinding and measuring are also made easy by choosing this particular size. Our very typical blade grinder contains about 2 ounces of coffee when filled to capacity-perfect for the 1-quart "pot" were preparing. Because the coffee brews in about 4 minutes, we grind our beans for 25 seconds and dump them in the filter cone. When the water has reached a boil, the kettle whistles. We pause for a beat to achieve the just-off-boil temperature range, then wet the grounds with water. They quickly rise to form a cap. After a few seconds, the cap settles, and we pour more water over the grounds. Each time the water level in the filter lowers, we pour more-until our kettle is completely empty. Sure enough, the pouring process lasts about 4 minutes. Our fragrant, steaming, and delicious pot of coffee is done. [back to index]

Manual vs. Automatic Drip

In our extensive testing of home automatic brewers, no model under $150 came close to producing coffee of the quality we brewed with our manual method. Even the best commercial units do no better. Why is this so?

Using the manual method, we bring all the water to the correct temperature before brewing. The physics of heating with residential wattage make this all but impossible for most home electric coffeemakers-especially when a large part of the available juice is dedicated to heating the burners that are supposed to keep brewed coffee hot. Most units can't get water above the mid-180F range, which is nowhere near hot enough for optimum flavor extraction.

Next, our open-top cone and oversized filter let us use the proper amount of coffee. Virtually no home electric brewer holds close to the correct amount. Even upscale models cater to mass-market preferences: a weak pot, with stale coffee (so no degassing is expected). To obtain decent results, you have to "short" the pot-use less water-or start cleaning when the messy grounds overflow.

Finally, our brewing process takes 4 minutes. A typical electric unit takes 11 or 12 minutes. When the grounds and water stay in contact for more than 8 minutes, the result is over-extraction; as you know, the coffee will be bitter. Commercial drip brewers meet the critical 195-205F temperature and 4-6 minute brew cycle requirements, but home electrics don't. This, in a nutshell, is why you can't make "professional" coffee using one of these machines.

With all the bells and whistles coffeemakers boast, why are the fundamentals so poorly attended to? We asked this question of a designer responsible for many of the best selling home electric models.

"This is a volume business," he replied, "we sell thousands and thousands of each design. The criteria are simple: They have to sell-profitably-for $49.95 or less. We build them to be thrown out within eighteen months of purchase, because that's what lots of people do; they throw these out rather than giving them a good cleaning.

"Besides, the machines work just fine according to Consumer Reports. But don't ask me. I don't drink coffee."

If you love great drip coffee (as we do), the biggest favor you can do yourself is to unplug your electric model and brew by hand. At present, there is just one alternative: the Dutch-made Technivorm, which is the only home electric that brews to professional standards. These makers start at about $150. They aren't cheap, but when you weigh their ability to brew excellent coffee over decades against replacing a less expensive brewer every few years and suffering through mediocre coffee all the while, you may conclude that the investment is worthwhile.

For those who are really willing to compromise~ we will relent slightly and mention two other models. The Rowenta thermos brewer (about $75) is capable of brewing a decent cup, providing the roast is relatively light (darker roasts and super-fresh light ones will overflow the brew basket). The brew temperature is only a few degrees short of ideal, and the glass-lined carafe does a good job of retaining heat and aroma. Brew time is over 8 minutes, so adjust by using a medium- rather than fine-cone filter grind.

The Bunn Home Brewer, which is widely available through discount retailers for just under $50, comes closer to duplicating commercial machine performance than any of the upscale department store brands. Its brew cycle is actually too short (3-1/2 minutes) and it won't hold a full dose of fresh coffee. But if you cut the water to a quart and use a rather fine drip grind, you end up with decent drip coffee. Because the Bunn brews into a glass pot on a burner, you need to drink the finished coffee right after brewing. [back to index]

On Filters

The advantage of using paper filters is the complete clarity of the finished brew. Its body is relatively light, and the coffee remains palatable longer than that of any other method. We recommend the "oxygen-whitened" (non-chlorine-bleached) variety; bleaching is an environmental no-no, while brown, unbleached filters can impart a woody taste to the brew. You can reduce the paper taste of any filter by rinsing it with a little good water before you fill it with ground coffee.

Gold-washed filters have the great advantage of lasting for months, even years, if gently hand-washed. These filters are made of fine mesh lightly coated with gold, which prevents coffee oils from clinging better than any other metal. Gold-washed filters leave a higher concentration of sediment and flavorful oils in the finished brew; the coffee is slightly more intense, the pot life somewhat shorter. We find these trade-offs worthwhile-besides, the grounds easily emptied from these filters make great compost. [back to index]

THE COFFEE PRESS

Many people have seen a coffee press, but it's astonishing how few have actually used one-and how impressed coffee lovers are, once they try the coffee pouring out, with its taste. The coffee press, or plunger pot, is simple, elegant, and hands-down the easiest way to make good coffee. Pour fresh boiled water over medium to coarsely ground coffee, then allow it to infuse for about four minutes. Press the plunger's stainless steel filter down through the infusion, and you get a very thickly textured cup that is full of natural coffee oils.

The sediment produced with the coffee press is an acquired taste for some. The modest pressure you use to plunge at the tail end of brewing accentuates the perceived acidity of a coffee, making this an especially good choice for low-acid Indonesians and darker blends. Pressing, incidentally, is the most flavorful way to brew decaf. Once you try it, you will never go back.

Coffee-press coffee should be consumed within 20 minutes of preparation. Because the oils and particles in the finished brew continue to extract even after plunging, decanting the contents of a coffee press into a thermos for longer storage is not recommended. [back to index]

THE VACUUM POT

Few people these days have even seen, let alone used, a vacuum pot. Vacuum-pot brewing represents the ideal for which drip brewing is a convenience-oriented compromise. The setup looks a bit unwieldy and quite fragile, but it was the method of choice in diners and restaurants across the country through the early 1950s. Today, vacuum pots are found mainly in high-end Japanese coffee houses and at home with in-the-know coffee connoisseurs.

The brewer looks something like an hourglass. Water comes to a boil in the bottom bowl, while the grounds sit in the top. The boiling action pushes the water upstairs to mix with the grounds, where it infuses at just-below-boiling temperatures for three minutes. You must then move the whole thing away from the heat, at which point a vacuum develops in the lower bowl as a result of its slight cooling.

This vacuum draws the brewed coffee down. Once it's all there, get ready to enjoy it. Like drip coffee, the finished brew is almost perfectly clear-but with absolutely no influence from paper filters. It also pours out piping hot, more so than coffee made by any other method. The entire process takes about six minutes after the water is hot, and once underway needs no tending beyond a watchful eye.

In the words of food expert Corby Kummer, the vacuum pot is truly "the CD player of coffeemakers: all you taste is the coffee." Because of its fragility and seemingly cumbersome nature, the vacuum pot is probably destined to occasional or weekend use, at least by all but the most hardcore consumers. But if you cherish coffees that are bright or aromatically complex, or never can seem to get your coffee hot enough, you may find a vacuum brewer to be a very rewarding investment. [back to index]

MISCELLANEOUS METHODS

Flip-Drip or Neapolitan

This oddly shaped brewer is made up of two little pots joined in the middle by a two-sided strainer. You heat water in one side of the pot, then flip the whole apparatus over- whereupon the coffee drips through the strainer into the empty side. These are fun little jobs, but most are made of aluminum, which is not desirable for coffeemakers (coffee oils eat away at the metal-not particularly good for your health or the brewer's). The cup style is similar to, but invariably cooler than, manual drip brewed with a gold-washed filter right into a thermos.

Cold-Water Concentrate

This brewing method is offered by two manufacturers, Filtron and Toddy. To brew cold-water coffee, you use the coffee maker to steep a pound of coffee overnight, then filter the result through nylon mesh disks. The resulting concentrate must be stored in the refrigerator, and keeps well for a week or two. Hot coffee is made by mixing small amounts of the concentrate with hot water, cold coffee by mixing with cold water.

Cold-water brewers are marketed as being ideal for those in search of "low-acid" coffee, and they do remove some of the slight acidity coffee possesses. Since all coffee is low in acidity, however, "low-acid" in this case seems to be used as the equivalent of "mild."

Because cold water doesn't extract much flavor from coffee, the best way to get a flavorful extract is to use a blend with more kick than you might seek otherwise. One ferocious-sounding favorite is half Sumatra and half French roast; out of a cold-water brewer, this tastes pretty middle-of-the-road. Another good choice is a straight Ethiopian Harrar or, if you're feeling flush, Yemen Mocha; their fruity high notes come through surprisingly well. Relative to the instant coffee that comes from a jar, "instant" cold water coffee is manna from heaven. Compared to great coffee brewed with hot water, however, it's just instant coffee. [back to index]

Middle Eastern Coffee

Aficionados of this ancient brewing method are probably the only coffee drinkers who would characterize straight espresso as being a bit too mild or lacking in body! To make it properly, you need the right tools: a conical copper or brass pot known as an ibrik, a special grinder that looks like-and is occasionally sold as-a pepper mill, and the smallest demitasse cups you can find.

The coffee must be freshly ground and needs to be powder fine. Blade grinders won't do the job, and neither will most commercial units. Use the pepper mill type, or a mortar, pestle, and lots of elbow grease..

The ibrik should be filled less than half full in order to allow enough room for the coffee to froth and expand. Figure proportions by measuring 2 teaspoons of grounds and 1 of sugar per demitasse of water; you can adjust the amount of sugar to taste over time. Since this method involves boiling and drinking the grounds, a substantial amount of sugar is used to keep bitterness in check. Cardamom is often added as well, ground with the coffee at a casual ratio of one seed (seed, not pod) per demitasse.

Bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat, then reduce the heat to low and watch the coffee carefully as it boils. When the foam reaches the top of the ibrik's narrow neck and overflow seems imminent, turn off the heat and fill each demitasse halfway with coffee. Then return to each and top off with foam. The end result, once you get the hang of it, is a thimbleful of supremely flavorful elixir. [back to index]

TRADE SECRETS FOR SUPERLATIVE COFFEE

BENCHMARKING COFFEE BY THE CUP

Walk into any specialty coffee store that you know pays knowledgeable and consistent attention to its brewing, and taste the coffee. It's good, and that is no accident. The very costly machinery is capable of brewing at the recommended temperatures and runs an accurate, 4-minute brewing cycle. The shop uses a seemingly large amount of coffee relative to the size of the filter, so paper tastes are diffused..

With the taste you experience fixed firmly on your palate, go home and experiment with some of the techniques we outline in this chapter.

ADJUSTING BREW STRENGTH

If you want a milder cup of coffee than the formula yields, don't get to it by skimping on coffee. Chances are, you will end up with an underextracted brew, which may be milder but will not represent a balanced, pleasing range of coffee flavors. Instead, brew at full strength and then dilute the resulting coffee with fresh, hot water. This way, you will be using the formula that brings you the best flavor, then moderating its concentration in the way you find satisfying.

MATCHING COFFEES WITH BREWING METHODS

Each of the preferred brewing methods results in a dramatically different finished cup style, highlighting some aspects of a given coffee's character while pushing others into the background. Just as there is a strong and unequivocal relationship between the brewing method you use and the roast style you enjoy, so there is a relationship between your brewing method and the kinds of coffee you like best. Matching coffee type and degree of roast to brewing method may sound rather esoteric, but it is really a lot of fun. We promise: Your guests will be amazed. Here are a few generalizations to get you started.

Manual Drip

The drip method is like a muted version of vacuum-pot coffee; the muting comes mostly from the paper filter, which absorbs and retains some aromatic compounds. This method yields a cup that is light in body, and well suited for early in the day. A coffee that tastes a bit too acidic and light in a plunger pot will "resolve" as perfectly brewed drip. Classic experiences: Costa Rican Dota or La Minita, Guatemalan Antigua, Kenya, Ethiopian Yergacheffe, and other coffees that possess subtle flavors.

Coffee Press

The coffee press highlights body over aroma and varietal nuance. Because of the slight pressure exerted on the coffee during brewing, the perceived acidity of a given coffee increases slightly. This method is a beautiful match for medium-roasted Latin American and East African coffees and is perfect above all for brewing the Indonesians, whose lush body and relatively low acidity seem to exist precisely for this purpose. Classic experiences: Sumatra, Sulawesi, Yemen Mocha, Ethiopian Harrar, darker roasts of any of the great Latin American or East Africans, and any good decaffeinated coffee. [back to index]

Vacuum Pot

The vacuum pot highlights aroma, acidity, and country--oforigin flavors, while keeping body relatively light. It is ideal for light to medium-roasted Latin American and East African coffees. Classic experiences: Costa Rican Dota or La Minita, Guatemalan Antigua, Kenya, Ethiopian Yergacheffe, and other coffees that possess subtle flavors. [back to index]

Manual Drip Brewing

This method is the original version of what electric home brewers have long sought to imitate. Ground coffee is measured into a filter placed atop an insulated container, and water is poured over the coffee so that the brew "drips" right into the thermos..

Amount of Coffee: For a 1-quart thermos, use 1 quart of freshly boiled water and 2 dry-weight ounces (.12 on a digital scale) of beans. A good volumetric approximation for this amount is a 12-ounce paper cup filled 3/4-full, or a blade grinder's worth.

Grind: Medium; about 20-25 seconds in a blade grinder.

Steps for Brewing:

  1. Put a kettle's worth of good, fresh water on the stove to boil (or, if the kettle is electric, plug it in).
  2. If using a paper filter, rinse and place it in the filter holder atop the thermos. (Hint: Use a paper filter one size larger than the holder calls for.)
  3. Grind the coffee and place it in the paper (or gold-washed) filter.
  4. Once your water has reached the boiling point, remove it from heat. Pause for a moment, then pour it to wet the grounds. Fill the filter with water each time the level drops, continuing until all of the water has been poured through the grounds.
  5. Remove the filter, pour yourself a cup of hot coffee, and cap the thermos-but only until you find yourself ready for another cup.

[Back To Index]

 

Brewing Coffee in a Coffee Press

This simple elegant brewer is the easiest way to make good coffee. Freshly boiled water is poured over coarsely ground coffee, then allowed to infuse for about four minutes. The plunger's stainless steel filter is then pressed down through the infusion, resulting in a very thickly textured cup rich in natural coffee oils..

Amount of Coffee: Bodum, the principal manufacturer of these and many other brewers, defines a "cup" as 4 ounces. The 1-cup scoop which comes with their products is sized accordingly, holding 7 grams of medium-roasted coffee. For the most popular 1-liter ("8-cup") size, use 2 dry weight ounces of beans (.12 on a digital scale). A convenient volumetric approximation for this amount is a 12-ounce paper cup filled 3/4-full, or a blade grinder's worth.

Grind: Coarse, about 12 seconds in a blade grinder.

Steps for Brewing:

  1. Make sure the brewer is clean. If it has been sitting unused for any length of time, residual oils in the filter screen assembly may be rancid and will spoil anything you brew. To avoid this common problem, disassemble the screen, scrub it thoroughly by hand with dish soap, clean, and reassemble. Always store your plunger pot with a couple of inches of water covering the screens; coffee oils only turn rancid when they dry.
  2. Measure your ground coffee into the press pot, and bring a liter of fresh water to boil in a kettle.
  3. Remove your kettle from the heat, wait a moment to achieve the just-off-boil temperature, and pour half the water over the grounds. Give them a quick stir, add the rest of the water and place the filter assembly loosely on top. (This traps the aroma.)
  4. Enter 4 minutes on your countdown timer and press start, or keep a close eye on your watch.
  5. When the 4 minutes are up, gently press the plunger through the grounds and serve. If you encounter much resistance when you start to plunge, pull up gently on the plunger and then continue pressing down. Always press straight down, not at an angle, to avoid breaking the glass.

[Back To Index]

 

Preparing Iced Coffee

To brew iced coffee::

  1. Grind and measure twice the amount of coffee used for coffee served hot .
  2. Follow steps 2-5 above. As the coffee brews, fill serving cups or a pitcher full to the top with ice (made from good water, of course). You may encounter extra resistance when plunging.
  3. Pour the double-strength coffee over the ice. Enjoy!

The best coffees to serve iced fall into two camps:

those with strong floral or fruity tastes, such as Kenya, and those with milder characteristics. Here's an unusual must-try: half Sumatra, half French. Mind-bogglingly strong when hot, this combination has great presence and persistence when diluted over ice.

[Back To Index]

 

Brewing Coffee in a Vacuum Pot

 

Invented in 1840 by Scottish engineer Robert Napier, this brewer is one way to reach the subtler flavors of truly fine coffee. It has two glass or metal globes that fit together to make a seal. A plug, often attached to a spring, seats in the upper globe. Before assembling, make sure both globes are clean and free from coffee oils or debris.

 

Amount of Coffee: The Bodum Santos is the preferred model-affordably priced and high-quality-and it holds 1 liter. Use 2 dry-weight ounces of beans (.12 on a digital scale). An easy approximation for this amount is a 12-ounce paper cup filled 3/4-full, or a blade grinder's worth.

 

Grind: Fine, 20-25 seconds in a blade grinder. The grind for a vacuum pot is the same as for drip coffee.

Steps for Brewing:

  1. Fill the lower chamber 3/4-full with fresh water.
  2. Install the filter, plug, or spring device in the top globe. Measure the proper amount of coffee into the top globe and fit it to the bottom globe so a seal is made between the two.
  3. Place the assembled pot over medium-high heat.
  4. When the water heats to brew temperature, it will ascend into the upper chamber. Stir the hot water into the coffee and lower the heat.
  5. When almost all of the water is in the upper globe, begin timing. Any water remaining in the lower globe will bubble slightly, keeping the liquid in the top globe. At the end of 3 minutes, remove the pot from the heat or turn off the flame.
  6. When the heat source is removed, a vacuum will develop in the lower globe as it cools. Brewed coffee will flow into the lower chamber, leaving spent grounds in the top.
  7. When all coffee has descended into the lower globe, the coffee will gurgle slightly. Remove the top globe and serve.

[Back To Index]

 

 

 

Now you can select the roast that is perfect for you.

 

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