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Brewing the Perfect Cup
Part 2
by Timothy James Castle
read part one first

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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