Brewing the Perfect Cup
by Timothy James Castle
read part one first
4.THE "HOLDING" FACTOR.
Once brewed, coffee is a reacting amalgam of mineral salts, organic acids and sugars which
are dissolved in the water. In addition, aromatic oils, which do not dissolve in water,
are suspended in the hot coffee in microscopic droplets. This whole mixture is unstable
and changes quickly, even under the best circumstances. For excellent coffee, the best
approach is to brew only what you plan to pour when the brewing is done. Failing that,
don't expect a cup poured fifteen minutes later to taste the same, no matter whether an
insulated pot, or one with a calibrated thermostat is used (although either of these
offers a better alternative than the more unusual standard hotplate).
If the water you use to make coffee tastes bad, coffee won't cover it up, you'll just get
bad tasting coffee. The water you use should be sweet tasting and minerally balanced, not
distilled. One of the best ways to brew coffee is with a plunger pot. Plunger pots are
sometimes referred to as "french presses," or by one of their various brand
names or by the French term for the coffee made in them, "caffe filter." These
pots are tall, cylindrically shaped glass pots and come equipped with stainless steel and
nylon filters which are the same diameter as the inside of the pot. These filters are
attached at the center to a long metal rod which goes through the center of the pot's lid.
When the lid is placed on the pot, the rod is pressed and the close-fitting filter is
forced to the bottom of the pot. To brew caffe filter, the filter is pulled out and the
lid is removed, the desired amount of freshly (and coarsely) ground coffee is added to the
pot and boiling water is poured in. It is best to stir the coffee and water so as to
disrupt any pockets of dry coffee which may hide in the bottom. After four minutes or so
place the thoroughly cleaned lid/plunger on the pot and press the plunger down. The filter
will slowly allow itself to be pressed to the bottom of the pot and thereby take all the
coffee grounds with it. The resulting brew should be poured immediately so as to avoid
letting the grounds overheat, thus making the coffee bitter. Plunger pots make coffee that
is dense and murky. This is because their filters allow more dissolved oils and fine
particulate matter to pass through. The resulting coffee is heavier in body and more
complex in aroma and flavor.
Another good, easy way to make great coffee is with a kettle, a filter cone, matching
paper filter and a pot, either plain glass or insulated. Of critical importance here is to
use the largest filter cone so you can use a generous amount of coffee, and to pour the
water through quickly rather than dribbling it through. If your grind is too fine it will
clog the paper filter and extend the brewing time. Also, some plastic filter cones don't
allow the coffee to pass through quickly enough. Feel free to enlarge the holes slightly
in whatever safe and sensible manner you can devise. (Twelve-inch chef's knives and
firearms of any caliber are NOT recommended.)
Some coffee experts claim that paper filters contribute undesirable tastes to the
coffee. You might try pouring a little boiling water through the filter and cone first,
throwing this rinse water away and then beginning the brewing process. Most people,
however, do not notice when this is done, especially when the coffee is made strong enough
so that it can be tasted. If you strongly object to paper filters you can seek out a
permanent "gold filter." These filters use a fine-plated gold mesh which is made
in the same way the foils for electric razors are produced. The metal mesh is mounted in
plastic and these filters come in various shapes and sizes, allowing them to be used in
most plastic filter cones.
Finally, you could just try "cowboy coffee." Put the desired amount of freshly
ground, freshly roasted coffee in a tall pot. Pour freshly boiled water on top and let
steep for two to three minutes. Stir the grounds which have formed a crust into the brew
and after another minute skim the foam and any grounds from the top with a large spoon.
Slowly and gently pour the coffee into cups or a thermos, being careful not to disturb the
grounds. The coffee at the bottom, close to the grounds, will contribute to the dreaded
over-extracted flavors you want to avoid. There is no filter here and the coffee
tastes rich, clean and pure; the brew is just a little murky when compared to
paper-filtered coffee, but a small price to pay for a great cup.
Sometimes the simple things are the best.
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