Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Perfect Coffee For $20

I’ve spent a lot of time searching for the perfect cup of coffee - lots of money has gone toward testing high-end (and low-end) electronic percolators, French presses, the vaunted Chemex, and even homemade vacuum contraptions a la Gale Boetticher

What have I learned? Well, I wish someone had just given me the answer 10 years ago; I would’ve saved time, money, and thousands of taste buds. 

More importantly, I learned that for perfect coffee you need 3 things: time, low heat, and non-porous equipment (i.e., not plastic or metal). 

I also learned that perfect coffee can be yours for around $20.

Now, I must insert a caveat: everyone has a different coffee preference. When I say “perfect,” I mean that the coffee has a distinct flavor with a good – not bitter – aftertaste. The perfect cup is fresh, has no nasty grinds at the bottom, and doesn’t leave you over-caffeinated.

So, here’s my prescription for a perfect cup of coffee:

Equipment: For the brew, look no further than a ceramic or porcelain filter cone ($16.25). These surfaces don’t absorb flavors or odors, and don’t impart flavors (I find that metal and plastic do). The cone shape (as proven by the Chemex theory) is optimal for flowing hot water into coffee. The downside is these cones don’t make coffee for more than 1 or 2 people. For bigger jobs, check out the HIC Porcelain Drip Coffee set (also $16.25). You’ll also need to pick up some filters – brown recycled ones are best ($5.95).

HIC Drop Coffee Set

Water: Acidity/mineral content varies depending on where you live. I always add a few drops of vinegar to my water. I don’t know if this changes the PH level for better or worse, it’s just a habit I have. Bring your water to a boil, but let it cool to between 170 and 180 F before pouring it onto the coffee. Any hotter and you’ll burn the coffee.

Ratio: Never paid much attention to this. Cone filters are all roughly same size. I usually fill it up half way or a little less. Most sources out there, though, will tell you to have a ratio of 1 scoop per 6 ounces of water.

Coffee: Your brand is your brand, whether you like vanilla-hazelnut or straight up French roast. One important point you should be aware of is the difference between Robusto and Arabica beans. Robusto beans are generally cheaper, less flavorful, and contain a lot more caffeine. I always spring for the fair trade, shade-grown Arabica beans – more expensive than Folgers, but you’ll be rewarded (your taste buds and your conscience).

Grinding: OK, this is the expensive part. You should buy your own grinder ($77), or grind your beans at the store. Pre-ground coffee just isn’t fresh. If you grind at the store, the freshness of the coffee decreases practically by the hour. Buy a grinder, and you’re guaranteed fresh coffee every time. One last point – don’t put your coffee in the freezer; ice crystals might form on the beans, which damages them.

Simple, right? Use porcelain or ceramic cones, mildly-hot water, and fresh ground beans. Now, if I could just find the perfect way to brew tea …

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