There is nothing better than waking up to the complete list of Emmy nominations (Mad Men! American Horror Story!), a bowl of maple pecan crunch cereal topped with juicy organic raspberries, and a strongly brewed cup of coffee. Oh, and it’s Friday. And it’s raining outside, which is most welcome after the stifling heat we’ve had most of the week here in New York.
Back to the coffee. Mark and I take our coffee pretty seriously. We have no less than FIVE coffee machines (don’t ask – another story for another time) and use most of them with astonishing regularity. It’s a disease. Each serves its own purpose, depending on how quickly we need our coffee, how strong the coffee needs to be, the quantity of coffee required, and the type of coffee drink desired (cappuccino, espresso, plain ol’ cup of joe).
It took me a long time to figure out how to make the perfect cup of coffee. Coffee machines make it unnecessarily confusing. Did you know that most coffee machines measure a cup of coffee as 4 fluid ounces? I almost take personal offense to this. Do I measure the coffee grinds based on the stingy carafe measurements? Do I take out a measuring cup? Why does everything have to be so complicated from the SECOND I wake up? The answer is this – for a strong cup of coffee, you want two level tablespoons of grounds for every 1 cup of water (a real cup, as in 8 fluid ounces). It’s as easy as 2:1.
Grind your own coffee beans, either at home or right in the store (a lot of stores – including Costco, Fairway, Trader Joe’s – have coffee grinders for customer use). The resulting coffee will taste noticeably fresher. Ground coffee loses flavor and aroma faster than whole beans, and it also has a much shorter shelf life. I use this coffee grinder – I’m not necessarily endorsing it, because it has its issues, but it has a large capacity and can grind a whole mess of beans at once with adjustable coarseness levels. Store remaining whole coffee beans in a cool, dark place in an airtight container. Enemies of coffee are oxygen, light, heat and moisture, so if you avoid all four, your coffee will stay fresh a lot longer.
There are a lot of different kinds of coffee available to us. Arabica is one of two main species of coffee grown and makes up for about 75% of the coffee cultivated worldwide. It’s popular because it has a lot of flavor without much bitterness. Robusta is the species that makes up the other 25% of coffee crops, and is generally less desirable because of its tendency to be bitter with less flavor. Robusta contains almost 50% more caffeine than Arabica and has good body.
The degree of roasting has a significant impact on coffee’s flavor and body. Dark roasts are roasted for longer periods of time, resulting in bold, full bodied brews. Light roasts are deceivingly more complex, have slightly higher caffeine levels and may taste stronger than darker roasts. This is because longer roasting times can destroy aromatic oils and acids present in the beans. Generally, the shinier the coffee bean, the more dominant the roasting flavors are. Asleep yet? I’ll wait while you go make some coffee.
Here are the corresponding roast levels to some of the more common varieties of coffee beans you’ll find in the store:
Light Roast: American, New England roast varieties
Medium Roast: City, Full City roast varieties
Dark Roast: French, Italian, Spanish roast varieties
If you’re unsure of what you want, ask a store salesperson or coffee shop barista to steer you in the right direction.
Certain areas of the world are prized for their coffee crops – these coffees will cost you a little extra per pound, but are arguably well worth the price difference. Beware of blends – in the case of premium coffees, you want 100% of the beans to come from that particular area. Splurge on Hawaiian Kona, Jamaican Blue Mountain, and Ethiopian Harar or Yirgacheffe beans.
So to sum it all up - buy your beans whole, grind them right before use, remember the 2:1 ratio, stick to Arabica beans, and choose the roast based on your personal taste preferences!
Listening to right now: Little Secrets by Passion Pit