Brewing the Perfect Cup
by Timothy James Castle
If ever a case can be made for the virtues of simplicity it is in the act of brewing a
good cup of coffee. In fact, it takes more effort, time, and, in the case of most home
brewing machines, expense to make a bad cup of coffee. Good coffee is made by mixing
freshly ground coffee with freshly boiled water which has just cooled to 195 degrees F.
for no more than four minutes (o.k., five or maybe six minutes for very coarsely
ground coffee); at this point the liquid (now coffee) and the coffee grounds must be
separated. Issues of grind setting and the amount of coffee used are important out are
chiefly matters of personal taste and the separation method used when brewing is
completed. The things that can go wrong with brewing are basic and easy to avoid.
The simplest brewing methods are the best and they all start with boiling a freshly
drawn kettle of water immediately before brewing. Then the pitfalls start and the
following list covers the big ones:
1.TOO LITTLE COFFEE.
Four ounces of coffee per sixty-four ounces of water was once the food service standard in
the U.S. before lower quality, stronger tasting, robust beans came into use (circa 1960).
Currently, some office coffee suppliers put as little as 3/4 of one ounce of coffee in the
portion packs they claim can be used to brew 64 ounces of coffee. It is perhaps one of the
great injustices of life that the better and more expensive a coffee is, the stronger it
should be brewed to be fully enjoyed.
2.THE WRONG (USUALLY TOO FINE) GRIND
Grind plays a role in concert with the amount of coffee used, and a simple one at that.
Finer grinds extract more quickly than coarser grinds but they almost always increase
brewing time by clogging whatever filtering system is in use. In espresso, a grind of
perfectly calibrated fineness allows the brewing espresso to escape from the machine at
just the right speed. In regular brewing systems, however, a fine grind raises a barrier
to expeditious brewing and filtering, and it's usually not a challenge which betters the
coffee. Again, rather than accepting the recommendations of anyone, the strength at which
coffee is brewed is first and foremost a personal preference.
Most home drip coffeemakers produce a full pot of coffee in ten or more minutes. It takes
them this long because they start with cold water in their reservoirs and the amount of
electricity coming out of a standard wall socket can't heat a pot full of water any
faster. The problem is that by the time the brewing process is over, the grounds are
grossly over-extracted, producing a bitter, woody tasting brew. An inelegant solution to
this problem is to turn off your coffee maker after four or five minutes, remove the
filter cone, dump the coffee and the filter, rinse the cone of any loose grounds, replace
it in the brewer and turn the machine back on, allowing it to finish spurting the water
through its heating element. This extra effort will produce noticeably better coffee.
(Commercial drip or pour-over coffee makers do this automatically with a bypass or a shunt
which directs the water around the grounds after a specified amount of time.) More, read part two..
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