Now that you’ve procured heavenly smelling coffee beans and are hopefully storing them properly, we can get to the good part: grinding and brewing. You are two steps closer to caffeine nirvana! There are a multitude of ways to both grind and brew your coffee, but since this is Coffee 101 and not Coffee 545: Pilgrimage to Colombia, we’ll discuss the consumer-friendly methods.
Although it seems backwards at this point, we’re going to get started with brewing methods. Why? Because the level of your grind depends on the brew method.
French Press and Manual Drip
The French press and manual drip pots are considered, by coffee purists, to be the most natural and best way to brew your coffee. There’s really no machinery involved. A french press is a double-walled glass vessel. The plunger has a fine mesh bottom to strain, and a larger metal (or plastic depending on the quality of your press) disc on top of the mesh. The plunger is pushed down to the lid after your coffee is done brewing. If your mesh is still in good repair, you will not have any grounds in your poured cup of coffee. To minimize stray grounds, you will want a more coarse grind of coffee.
Onto the brewing process! Fill your tea kettle with fresh cold water (if you have a filtering pitcher of some kind, get your water from there). While you’re waiting for the kettle whistle, grind the proper amount of beans to the correct consistency, take the lid and plunger out of your press, and pour the grounds into the bottom. Depending on the amount and strength of the coffee you’re hoping to brew, you’ll want about 1 rounded tablespoon of coffee grounds per cup. Once the tea kettle whistles, remove it from the heat and wait until it stops boiling. Continue waiting about 10-15 seconds longer. Slowly pour the hot water into the press (in your desired serving amount, of course). You don’t HAVE to do this, but I like to stir the grounds up to ensure proper water coverage. And now, we wait. A good rule of thumb is “one minute per cup.” So, if you are brewing 2-3 cups, wait 2-3 minutes. 4 cups, 4 minutes, and so on. When the appropriate amount of time has passed, put your lid and plunger on the press. Slowly (and I can’t stress this enough) push down your plunger. If you go too fast, you will splash yourself with REALLY HOT LIQUID, and risk having a crunchy cup of coffee. Pour your coffee in a mug, sweeten and/or add cream as desired, and enjoy just about the most perfect cup of coffee ever. Note the tasty foam on top. Can’t get that with a drip machine, baby! Don’t forget that whatever coffee is still sitting in the press will continue to get stronger and/or more bitter while it’s still soaking the coffee grounds. You may want to pour the rest into a thermal carafe or extra coffee mug if you’re not a big fan of strong, bitter coffee.
The manual drip pot looks like the end result of a carafe and an Erlenmeyer flask having a one-night stand. One of the most common manual drip pots is the Chemex. You will want a more coarse grind for this brewing method as well. When you purchase a Chemex, make sure you also purchase the proper thick paper cone filters. These are specially made to filter your coffee at the correct rate, maximizing water-coffee contact time. The same ground coffee/brewed coffee ratio applies here: about 1 rounded tablespoon of coffee grounds per cup.The water temperature for the press is also the same for the Chemex. Pre-wet your Chemex filter and place it in the conical glass above the pot. Pour in your coffee grounds. Slowly (again, can’t stress slowly enough) pour your water onto the grounds. There’s no stirring with this coffee pot, so work your way around the coffee grounds with the stream of water. Intelligentsia suggests pouring in a spiral shape. Once all of the water has gone through the coffee and into the pot below, you can remove your coffee filter and pour out the coffee. Very easy cleanup and no worry about the coffee growing exponentially more strong and bitter. The only worry here is keeping your coffee hot.
Ol’ Faithful: The drip coffee machine
Even if you’re not a big coffee drinker, chances are you have some iteration of the Mr. Coffee line hanging out on your kitchen counter. The automatic drip coffee machine makes it all happen for you. All you have to do is add coffee and water — and if you’ve dropped the coin the coffee machine will even do the grinding for you. There are so many different variations on these things that it’s almost impossible to figure out what you want. I say, keep it simple. You want your water filtered? Use water from a filter pitcher, don’t bother with in-machine filtering. Want a timer? Unless your machine has a grinder, you should be grinding coffee right before you brew anyway, so this is a no-no. Here are the two features you should be looking for: conical brew basket and auto-shut off. Conical brew baskets allow a more uniform water distribution, so more grounds get water and a stronger, more uniform cup of coffee is brewed. Auto-shut off is a no brainer; no one likes a scorched pot of coffee. The auto-shut off will turn off your machine’s hot plate usually within a range of 20 minutes to 2 hours. If you buy a machine with a thermal carafe, you really don’t need to leave that hot plate on after you brew your coffee anyway. Unplug it and save on your electricity bill! Conical drip machines need a bean grind that’s a little finer than the french press/Chemex grind. Don’t give it too fine of a grind, though, because it will be harder for the water to get through the grounds and your basket will overflow. An overflowing basket of wet, finely ground coffee is not an easy mess to clean up, I assure you. After you get your grind nailed, pour your grounds into the filter basket, pour in your fresh cold water, press the button, and you’re good to go. A nice “extra” is a brew basket that will detect when you remove the carafe and stop the brewing process. Yes, many coffee machines cater to the caffiends that can’t wait for the pot to be done.
There are 2 main consumer level grinders, but one is far superior to the other. The first method is a spice grinder. Yes, it is a spice grinder. It may be marketed as a coffee grinder, but you’re no fool. You know the truth. This inferior kitchen appliance will leave you with an uneven grind. Half of your coffee is fine enough for espresso, the other half belongs in a french press. If you MUST use a spice grinder, pulse the grind button, do not hold it down. While you’re grinding, periodically shake it up to distribute the grounds. If you are serious about coffee, though, drop the extra coin on a burr grinder.
The burr grinder has a hopper on top that funnels the beans into a grinder. Often, these hoppers will be air-tight, so you can store a couple days’ worth of beans in there. When you press the magical grind button, the beans are funneled into a grinder where they are ground ONCE and distributed into a container below the grinding mechanism. Most burr grinders will allow you to set the coarseness AND amount of coffee so you have the perfect grind every time. Burr grinders will typically cost $50+, but the investment is worthwhile. The smell of freshly ground coffee in the morning is almost as gratifying as the first sip.
I hope you have enjoyed our time together today. There will be a third episode coming down the pipe sometime soon, but the first two episodes have you more than prepared to make a proper cup of coffee. Go forth, friends, and enjoy the caffeine high.