How to make coffee like professionals. Let me know if any of this sounds familiar… You like coffee, but you add so much cream and sugar that the liquid in your mug starts to turn a pale white.
That was the kind of coffee that kept me awake for early morning college classes and long hours working retail after college. My coffee was so diluted, that my dad often asked if I wanted any coffee with my cream and sugar. Or maybe your favorite coffee drink is a low fat vanilla latte with two extra pumps of vanilla from the coffee chain on every corner. Yeah, I’ve been there too.
My daily treat was the venti mocha latte. It was delicious, satisfied my sweet tooth and kept me awake. There’s nothing wrong with being either of these coffee drinkers, but today I invite you to learn more about how great coffee can taste. Don’t worry, this isn’t your father’s coffee that was as thick as sludge and tasted about the same. This is coffee full of flavors like blueberries, chocolates and will do more than just keep you awake.
Good coffee is all about slowing down and enjoying the experience. Yes, I called it an experience. Today, I want to show you how can you make world class coffee at home that has flavors that don’t need to be hidden by cream and sugar and doesn’t require a trip to coffee shop down the street.
Gear You’ll Need
It’s easy to spend thousands of dollars on coffee equipment. There’s home espresso machines that cost thousands of dollars themselves. However, you don’t need to be a big spender to brew good coffee at home. To start with, all you’ll need is a decent coffee grinder (better grinder, better coffee) and a French Press.
A Coffee Grinder
A coffee grinder turns the whole beans into ground coffee. You’ll need one because coffee experts aren’t allowed to buy pre-ground coffee and after you finish this article, you’ll be a coffee expert.
The reason that you don’t want to buy pre-ground coffee is that coffee goes stale within fifteen minutes of being ground. It starts to loose it’s flavors and aromas even if it’s kept in a sealed container. Do you know how long that bag was sitting on the grocery store counter? I’m guessing a lot longer than just fifteen minutes.
There are two categories of grinders that you need to worry about – blade or burr grinder. For about twenty dollars you can buy a blade grinder. Some coffee snobs may look down on you for using just a blade grinder, but it’ll get the job done and you won’t have to pay an arm and a leg. It’s perfect if you’re just looking to dip your toe into the water.
There are some drawbacks to a blade grinder though. The resulting grounds can be unevenly sized and some people complain that grounds can taste burnt because of the speed that they were diced up.
If you aren’t afraid to spend the money, look for a burr grinder. Instead of using a blade to chop the coffee beans, the burr grinder crushes them between two revolving abrasive surfaces. This is what most coffee professionals use because the final product is an even grind needed to get optimal flavor extraction.
Also, most burr grinders have settings for different grind levels, which is important because different brewing methods require different grinds. A drip coffee maker needs a medium grind for best results, while a French Press needs a coarse grind.
A French Press
Now that you have your coffee ground, you’re going to need something to brew your coffee in. The drip coffee maker that’s probably already sitting on your kitchen counter is alright, but if you really want to be able to smell and taste your coffee like you never have before, you’ll want to check out a French Press (also known as a coffee press pot).
A French Press is a cylindrical coffee making device, with a glass or metal beaker, a lid and a plunger that fits tightly in the cylinder and has a fine wire filter. The coffee steeps inside beaker until it’s ready, then you just press the filter down, leaving the grounds at the bottom as you pour your coffee. I like French Presses because they’re easy to use, affordable, and create great tasting coffee that extracts flavors that are loss in other brewing methods.
Some people complain that coffee from a French Press is gritty, which is true because the filters do allow some of the grinds through. If it bothers you, check out another manual method of brewing (emphasis on manual). A quick note about coffee maker cup size and something to think about when you’re shopping for your French Press. An eight cup French press will not fill eight coffee mugs. It’s more like three or four actual coffee mugs.
How To Pick The Right Coffee Beans
Picking the right coffee beans, is just as important as picking the right equipment. I’ll only put one requirement, the rest is up to your discretion. I require that you buy whole bean coffee.
I know I already mentioned it, but it’s pretty important and you’ll taste the difference. The rest of the decision making process is up to you, but let’s see if I can make it easier for you. There’s two main types of coffee.
There’s the higher end Arabica and the lower quality one that usually comes in giant plastic tubs at the grocery store Robusta. Avoid the Robusta. Arabica is more expensive because it’s difficult to grow, it’s picked by hand, but it’s worth it. It has a smoother taste and more flavors. Coffee is grown all over the world in countries near the equator and each region has it’s own characteristics.
For now, I’ll give you a few suggestions. Your homework is to find your local coffee roaster and try a variety of their offerings. Or maybe even ask for their help to find the perfect coffee to try.
- If you like a lighter, more flavorful cup of coffee, check out African countries like Ethiopia or Kenya. Their coffees often have a sweet fruit flavor like blueberry or a wine like taste.
- If you’re looking for a middle of the road coffee with maybe just a hint of spices, look for coffees from Central America like Costa Rica or Nicaragua. Traditionally, their coffees have a medium body, with a full flavor, but not so much flavor that it overwhelms your taste buds.
- If you like your coffee a little darker, check out the Indonesian part of the map, specifically coffees from Sumatra and Papa New Guinea. They’re recognized for having thicker, darker coffees that you may love.
A key factor to consider when shopping for coffee is the roast level. There’s a lot of different levels, but for today I’m going to keep it simple with light, medium and dark roasts.
- Light roasts are roasted for the least amount of time and have a light brown shade. They have the most caffeine and the most acidity.
- Medium roasts are in between light and dark roasts and are a balance in taste and flavor between the two. They are generally a medium dark brown color.
- Dark roasts are the most popular roasts overall in the United States and are roasted for the longest time until they are a dark brown color. Roasted right and they have a savory smoky flavor. If they are roasted too long, they can taste burnt and bitter. Watch out for the beans that look black and bags that contain lots of broken beans. Those are warning signs that it’s been over roasted.
Two last terms you might see when you’re shopping for beans. One is single origin and the other is blend. Single origin means that all of the beans come from a specific place, whether it’s a single country, region or farm, that’s debatable. A blend is a mix of beans from different origins.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with blends, it just means the roaster brought together beans from all over the world to make a great coffee. I would suggest starting with single origin so that you can work on identifying what coffee origins you like and going from there.
How To Brew Coffee Like A Professional Barista
There’s a lot of different variations when it comes to brewing with a French Press. I suggest adding one tablespoon of coffee per cup of water. If you have an eight cup French press, try eight scoops. If you like it a little stronger or weaker, don’t be afraid to vary the amount.
Water is the largest ingredient in coffee and I could write a whole blog post about how it affects our coffee, but for our purposes here I’ll keep it simple. If your water is safe to drink, it’s safe to use in your coffee.
If you use a filter for water you drink, don’t skip the filter when you’re making coffee. Bring the water to a boil in a kettle, then let it cool down for 20-30 seconds. That will allow it to cool down to the optimal temperature range of 195-205 degrees Fahrenheit. If you use boiling water, it over extracts the coffee grounds, resulting in a coffee that tastes bitter.
If you use water that is too cold, it won’t extract enough flavor, resulting in a flat, bland tasting cup of coffee. Pour the water into the French Press and let it steep for four minutes. If you want your coffee a little weaker, you can brew it for three minutes. If you want it stronger, you can brew it for five minutes.
Don’t let your coffee sit in the French Press for much longer than that. Even after you push the filter down, the coffee can keep brewing. The resulting cup is over extracted and bitter tasting.
How To Taste Coffee
Stop before you add the cream and sugar! You picked out the perfect bag of whole bean coffee. You went through the work of grinding your beans and brewing in a French Press, take some time to do a little taste testing. You may find you don’t need or want the cream and sugar anymore. (Plus, that cream and sugar will dilute the tastes and aromas in your coffee.)
Smell the coffee before you take the first step. Don’t be afraid to bury your nose into the cup and take a long sniff to get the full aroma. Think about what it smells like. What do those aromas remind you of? There are no right or wrong answers. Take a sip and try to identify the flavors. What does the coffee taste like? Does the flavor remind you of anything?
There are no right or wrong answers here either. Don’t worry if you’re unable to identify what you’re tasting right away. Start taking the time to analyze the taste of your coffee on a regular basis and it won’t be long before you’ll start identifying more and more flavors. As you take the next sip, take a second to think about how it feels on your tongue. Is it smooth or bitter? Does it leave your tongue feeling dusty? Does it feel light like 2% milk or heavier like whole milk?
This is what professional coffee cuppers call the mouth feel. Not something you have to worry about right away, but something to think about. Now, compare your notes with the notes from the description on the packaging or the roaster’s website. They may describe it differently, but don’t worry everyone’s taste buds are a little different.
Either way, if you made it this far, consider yourself a coffee expert. Congrats!