How to Brew
THE ORIGIN OF COFFEE
Legend has it that coffee was discovered in the hills of Ethiopia, when a goat herder noticed that his normally obedient goats would not respond to the whistle blast with which he would usually summon them. Curious, he sought them out, only to find them frolicking and playing with great energy and abandon. The goat herder saw that they had been eating leaves and reddish berries from a particular plant. Encouraged by their vivacity, and given that they didn’t die overnight, he partook as well and felt the stimulating and invigorating effects of caffeine that we enjoy today. From this point on, coffee consumption began. While a quaint story, the veracity remains dubious. However, several points remain true: goats will eat anything, Ethiopia is acknowledged as the birthplace of coffee, and now an estimated 2.25 billion cups of coffee are consumed per day. Awesome.
If you’ve ever been to an Ethiopian restaurant and ordered a coffee, it will have been very sweet, thick and black. Traditional services also include frankincense, which mingles with the aroma of the coffee. Of course, this isn’t the way that the average North American has their cup of joe. Over the long years different methods of extraction have been invented. Each can highlight different aspects of a coffee and its roast, and it truly becomes a matter of individual taste. Whatever method you settle upon, several things remain constant: - use clean equipment - use freshly roasted coffee (wink wink) - use the right grind - we recommend 2 tbsp of grounds per 6 oz. of water but adjust according to your taste - drink immediately and do NOT reheat
TURKISH – A bit of a misnomer, due to its popularity throughout the Middle East and Mediterranean. This method entails the use of a small, specially shaped pot with a long handle (called an IBRIK or CEZVE), the finest grind of coffee available, and sometimes the addition of spices such as cardamom. The pulverized coffee is boiled in sugared water until it foams, at which point it is removed from the heat, stirred, then placed back on the heat. This process is repeated several times, then the thick, sweet drink is decanted into small cups. The grinds are allowed to settle before drinking. Sounds like the original energy drink.
PERCOLATOR – If there is one method of coffee that belongs with poodle skirts and saddle shoes, it’s the percolator. Water in the lower part of the pot is heated, and the steam pressure causes it to shoot up to the top of the pot through a pipe. The hot water then trickles down through a basket of coffee that rings the pipe and heads back to the bottom of the pot, where it is heated and shot up once more. Unfortunately, this recycling of coffee tends to produce a bitter brew.
FRENCH PRESS – Considered by many to be the best method of coffee brewing, the French press (ironically called the Italian press in France) produces a stronger bodied, better balanced and more earthy brew than other methods. The water is mixed directly with coarse grounds, which are sieved away to the bottom of the pot by a metal mesh, but the extracted oils and tiny solids aren’t filtered away before consumption. This brew is a bit brawnier than that made by other methods but delivers a great coffee experience, and is our preferred method.
POUR OVER – probably the easiest method in this terrestrial realm (and beyond). Medium-fine coffee is scooped into a cone filter that rests in (basically) a funnel. Hot water is ‘poured over’ the grounds and allowed to drip through to a vessel underneath. Some improvements to this methodology includes grooves in the funnel that distribute the water through the grounds more evenly, and better filter weaves (such as for the Chemex filter) that optimizes the brew time.
AUTO DRIP – the most pervasive and used method of coffee brewing. The auto drip pumps heated water over coffee grounds sitting in a paper or metal filter, and gravity causes the water and extracted goods to drip down into a receptacle. One of its biggest problems, however, is an autodrip’s inability to heat water to the correct brewing temperature. This is often overlooked in light of its convenience – automatic timers, quick clean up, large capacity – making it a standard household appliance and staple of university student dorms.
VACUUM POT – it looks like an illegal drug production apparatus, but has a performance to match its wow factor. In the same way that a percolator forces water into an upper chamber, so does a vacuum pot. But instead of the coffee trickling back down to be reheated and shot up again, the heated water mixes with grounds in the upper chamber. When removed from the heat source, the cooled bottom creates a vacuum, drawing the coffee through a filter, leaving the grounds in the top and the drinkable coffee in the bottom. Purportedly delivers an extremely clean cup of coffee. Good for dinner party conversation as well.
ESPRESSO – assumed by many to be a bean type or level of roast, espresso is actually a brewing technique. Espresso literally means express, as in giddyup, since it is to be generated and served quickly. Espresso is the essence of coffee: fine grounds have pressurized, heated water forced through them to extract the oils and solids that make up coffee, but concentrated into a very small volume. This can be done with a stove-top espresso pot, or a $25,000 machine. In the end, espresso can take nuances in a coffee and turn them into prominent notes. For this reason, some coffees may not be typically pleasing when brewed in this manner.
Espresso is both the bane and the pride of the barista because it can be so difficult to make the perfect shot. Pressurized, heated water is forced through very finely ground coffee, and the resulting syrupy emulsion is collected. Sounds easy, but temperature, grind setting, how tightly the grinds are packed, pressure and length of extraction time must all be tightly controlled. A large part is played by the machine, and the rest is the person drawing the shot. When done correctly, it is truly a thing of beauty. The shot is syrupy, intense and coated with a rust colored thick foamy crema. As mentioned, espresso is a very concentrated form of coffee that can accentuate certain tones and flavors. For this reason, it has become the base of a number of coffee beverages, and is often served with skilfully poured milk, the prestigious ‘latte art’.