I was recently reminded just how much of a difference fresh-ground beans makes. A friend of mine was visiting and poured out a cup of the coffee I’d just ground and brewed. I watched his eyes go wide with surprise as he stated, “Wow, this is great!” … it was a cool compliment.
The fact is that while the price on that bag of beans might look shocking, coffee is one of the most affordable luxuries in life. You can get great coffee for just a few cents per cup, so you might as well get the best quality beans possible. In the long run, it will cost less than visiting the local coffee house, and taste much better than the pre-ground cans you can purchase.
The most important factor of quality in your cup of coffee is freshness. This means coffee beans that were roasted within the last week, and ground just before brewing.
A close second to freshness determining quality is your equipment. A good drip coffee maker will brew at about 200 degrees, and the total time it takes to finish brewing should be under 6 minutes.
Why is all this so important?
Coffee, the beverage, is an extract of the ground bean. Without it being heated at the right temperature, it doesn’t fully extract the essential ingredients that we call “coffee”, and it will usually contain too much acidity.
Step-by-step, here’s how to serve the perfect cup:
1. Start with clean equipment – Never use soap to wash your equipment. Instead, soak removable parts separately in baking soda and give them a thorough cleaning under water. The “insides” of a coffee maker can be cleaned out by brewing regular white vinegar – just make sure to run a few pots of water through after the vinegar.
2. Use purified water – 98% of what we call “coffee” is actually water, so it makes no sense to seek out the best beans only to pour tap water over them. Fresh and pure, filtered water will affect the flavor of your coffee.
3. Grind the beans – Ground coffee stales quickly, so you will need to make sure that you grind only enough for the amount you want to brew. Also be sure you’re getting the right grind. Espresso makers need a very, very fine grind but auto-drip coffee makers work a bit better with thicker, coarse grounds. And the French press requires the coarsest grounds that home grinders will produce.
4. Measure the grounds – The standard measurement for coffee is 6 ounces of fresh water to 2 tablespoons ground coffee. Most coffee lovers will quote a standard “3 tablespoons for 12 cups”. It’s easy to measure out – and will save you the frustration of using up your grounds (and cash) too quickly.
5. Keep it fresh – If you’re using an auto-drip coffee maker, you will need to either drink quick (20 minutes) or remove your brew from the pot. Warm a carafe by running hot water through it, and place your brewed coffee in this. It will stay warm and fresh, and not taste “burned”.
Gourmet Coffee Recipes at Home
Anyone can make a cup of coffee … but how good that cup is depends on more than just taste. What it looks like and smells like is just as important as what it tastes like if you want to make an awe-inspiring impression.
Here are just a few recipes for coffee that go way, way beyond the standard cup with cream and sugar.
Coffee Ice Cream Cooler AKA Affogato
Brew 2 cups of strong coffee (about 2 tablespoons coffee grounds per cup of water). While it’s brewing, mix 1 cup of cold milk and a few drops of french vanilla syrup in a tall glass.
Add the brewed coffee to this once it’s finished, and top with 1 scoop of vanilla ice cream. Garnish, if you like, with shaved chocolate.
Brew 1 cup of dark coffee (4 tablespoons grounds per 8 ounces of water). While brewing, blend 2 cups of vanilla ice cream with 2 cups of cold milk. Add 1 teaspoon cocoa for a mocha variation.
Add brewed coffee immediately and blend again to make it smooth and creamy, and serve. It helps to have a decent blender to make sure things come out smoothly.
Spiced Mexican Coffee (Cafe de Olla)
Mix 2/3 teaspoon ground cinnamon with 4 tablespoons fresh ground coffee and brew with 2 cups water. While brewing, combine 1/3 cup milk, 1 teaspoon light brown sugar, and 1 tablespoon chocolate syrup in a saucepan and heat over low heat until the sugar is dissolved.
Pour into large glasses and stir in brewed coffee. Add 1/3 teaspoon of pure vanilla extract. Top with whipped cream and garnish, if you like, with a sprinkling of cinnamon.
Brew any dark roast coffee. While brewing, juice 1/2 of a medium orange in a large cup and add 2 squares semi-sweet chocolate.
Add the brewed coffee, pouring it over the top of the mixture, and stir well to melt the chocolate. Add ice if desired for a cold drink.
About Mike Quinn
Mike Quinn spent 20 years in the US Army and traveled extensively all over the world. As part of his military service, Mike sampled coffee and tea from all virtually every geographic region, from the beans from the plantation of an El Salvadorian Army Colonel to "Chi" in Iraq to Turkish Coffee in the Turkish Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan. He spent nearly a decade in the Republic of Korea where he was exposed to all forms of traditional teas. Mike formerly owned and operated Cup And Brew, an online espresso and coffee equipment retail operation.