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Legit Coffee

The quest for enlightenment through coffee.

Category Archives: Education

JaKeEveryone knows that coffee comes from beans. But how many times have you asked yourself where the beans come from? There are crazed coffee wizards who will tell you that beans from different places have distinct flavors and personalities. In fact, we will be discussing that very thing quite soon. Let’s not get too psycho-analytical over the poor coffee beans just yet, though.

(After all, sometimes a “child sized white chocolate mocha frappuccino light blended coffee with an extra shot of espresso, one pump of sugar free raspberry flavoring, and no whipped cream on top” is just a “child sized white chocolate mocha frappuccino light blended coffee with an extra shot of espresso, one pump of sugar free raspberry flavoring, and no whipped cream on top”, Dr. Freud!)

Just like people, the regions coffees come from have a significant impact on how they turn out. What better way to get to know those beans than to study up on where they came from.

The roasters and coffee shamans of Stumptown Coffee have given us a great boon in this endeavor by putting together amazing vignettes about the far off lands where they get their beans and how coffee builds the culture of those areas. So far, they have videos from Kenya and Colombia, with more on the way. Why not take some time and get educated while you enjoy your next cup? It is, afterall, the best way to become a great cupper. (No, that was NOT a Freudian sip!)

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MarcusA while back, I promised some explication on how to get decent espresso at home. Now, the cafe is a wonderful thing, and I do think that what you pay for isn’t the coffee, it’s the place. If you’re going to have some coffee at home over breakfast, or in the car, you can make your own espresso and do quite well.

And, it is pretty hard to beat cuddling your cats, sipping espresso, listening to NPR while the sun streams in on a lazy morning.

I’ll assume you’ll be buying a good quality burr grinder and an espresso machine with a pump capable of reaching at least 10 bar of pressure.

STEP ONE: what do you want to drink?
You need, even before you go buy a serious machine, to decide what you’re going to drink. Straight espresso? Americano? Latte? This decides whether you want a double boiler or not. If you plan on foaming milk a lot, don’t screw around, pony up for a machine with separate boilers for your espresso and your steam. But also see below about foaming… It is not a trivial business.

STEP TWO: your beans matter a little less than you think they do.
While it is true that the start of good coffee is a good roast, there are so many ways to screw up, and so much personality that goes into making espresso, that you will really need to find a bean that works for you, your grinder, and your machine. To give you a sense, we have found at home that the Costco branded Starbucks espresso roast does almost as well as many primo roasts (Zoka Paladino, SCW’s Best, Gimme Leftist). Why? Because you don’t have a $5000 machine, grinder, and the time to get things perfect. That said, you can still get a fine, rich, chocolatey cup every time.

Lesson: experiment! Be brave!

STEP THREE: Figure out your grind.
There is a whole literature out there on how to do this. Common rules are that the pressure should be 9 bar or that a shot should come out in 20 seconds. Forget all that. What you want is to have a medium brown foam flowing into your cup. This depends mostly on your grind and how hard you tamp. Practice tamping: get a bunch of coffee ground, and mass or measure out equal amounts of coffee. Practice tamping until you can get consistent packing, as measured by the height of the puck in your portafilter. Now start playing with both the tamp and the grind until you find chocolate heaven. You can narrow in by trying one tamp with several grinds, then picking the best grind, and adjusting your tamp. Repeat until you perfect it!

Next time: beyond the ristretto! Milk!

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mattbMuch like Batman, Coffee is constantly fighting Mr Freeze thanks to a commonly accepted belief that coffee should be put in the cooler to maintain its freshness.  It works for meat. It works for veggies. Why not coffee?

Think about coffee- more specifically that expensive coffee that you are putting in your freezer (I’m assuming you didn’t put Folgers on ice). The bean itself is incredibly porous, and by putting it into your freezer, you are welcoming it to absorb the pantheon of odors/flavors that permeate your fridge. As delightful as salmon is for dinner, I don’t want my Ethiopian blend tasting like it just came out of a river.

Even if your freezer doesn’t host any aromatic threats to your coffee, you should still be cautious. Moisture alone can prove to be erosive, especially if you thaw and refreeze your coffee multiple times.

In cases of needing to store beans for an excessive amount of time, some have adopted a “one-time-only” freeze practice. As the name implies, you only freeze the beans once, and once they are defrosted, they never return to the icebox. This reduces the amount of damage that the expanding and contracting moisture can cause, and limits the amount of exterior tastes that can be absorbed.
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I have never found myself with enough coffee on-hand to need to resort to this method, so instead, I keep my beans in an airtight container placed in a dry, cool location.
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I love coffeeJaKe and have since I was a wee lad. “Yeah, so?” I can hear you thinking. But I have a terrible confession to make: I did not order a proper coffee drink until my 28th year of existence.

Despite my fervent desire for good coffee, it had always been a complete mystery to me. As a child I survived on the dregs of mass produced church coffee and the occasional cup of Folgers home brew. (What sort of asteroid do they have to mine to find flavor crystals anyway?!) But every once in a while I would stumble upon a cup that would truly tantalize my mind with the coffee possibilities.

After setting off to see the world outside of the small town where I had grown up and learned my adoration for coffee, I found myself in the coffee capital of the world, Seattle. Not wishing to appear to be an ignorant fool or, even worse, a poser, I shied away from the delights of any coffee based drink and really who could blame me? This was something far too important. The ordering of even the most basic of coffee drinks was a thing of reverence spoken in the Not-Quite-Italian Not-Quite-French language of the almighty Barista. For years I toiled in that city watching the coffee priests work their arcane coffee magicks. I watched as legions of my friends fell to the sway of the coffee bean. Some legitimately found coffee knowledge. Far too many others dabbled and became addicted to the source, craving it without the power to really understand why it was such a delicious wonderful thing.

How is one supposed to navigate these treacherous waters when it seems like everyone else has sailed so far ahead?

The best thing to do is to keep in mind that you are not the only person out there who is trying to figure it all out. I have just recently begun working my way through the twisting ins and outs of the coffee world and there are countless others. The goal is to keep things simple and build from the grounds up. For as with all journeys it is the first step that is the most important. Luckily for us, it is also probably the easiest.

Go into a cafe where the wait staff is personable. This attitude is almost always linked with someone who is willing to help you grow in your coffee knowledge. Ask what they have on ‘drip’ (this is a fancy way of saying basic brewed coffee).  If they have multiple choices ask the staff which they would prefer. Asking questions is the basis for gaining knowledge and critical thinking is the basis for gaining wisdom. Order a ‘small’ cup of the coffee they suggest. They might look at you oddly when you call it a ‘small’ but they will almost always follow the look up by telling you what they call the small size. With your newly acquired information in hand, respond confidently with “Yes, one of those, please.” Next, make a note of the name of the coffee and find a space with few distractions. (Caution: If you have followed the delineated steps, you have ordered a hot cup of coffee. It will, unless by some terrible disaster, be hot). Take a small sniff of the steam coming off the cup, then follow this up by inhaling a small bit of steam into your mouth. You can get a good idea of the flavor of the coffee with this tiny little breath. For now let the questions of where the beans are from, what kind of roast it is, or whether you can taste all the underlying tones escape from your mind. Lastly, take a small sip and merely decide whether you like or dislike the flavors. If you don’t enjoy the flavor of this first cup you are not required to finish it. After all, good coffee is about nothing more than enjoyment.

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