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Old 11-03-2005, 01:18 AM   #1
poison
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Talking Coffee FAQs: The Master Coffee Thread

Amended and revised 2.10.09

OK, since there seems to be a weekly "Help A N00b With Coffee" thread, and I field a lot of questions about which coffee, what grinder, how to brew, etc, I thought I'd put together a master thread that will consolidate all this info and put it at your fingertips (and give my two-finger typing a break ).

To get the most enjoyment and flavor from your coffee, you need four things: good water; fresh, good quality beans; good equipment; and the knowledge to put it all together right and produce a cup of excellence.

WATER ----

The basis of good coffee is of course good, fresh water. Drip coffee is 98% water, so of course good water is essential. Tap water has chlorine and lots of other impurities which affect the flavor of your brew. Distilled water, the most pure form, is not good either: it tastes 'flat', and is lacking minerals instrumental in extracting maximum flavor from your cuppa.

I recommend spring water, the best being Fiji and Ice Age. Arrowhead, Dasani, and similar waters are fine. (Incidentally, the Bay Area has very good water for coffee brewing, straight from the tap- everyone else, don't do it! ).


COFFEE ----

Ah, the coffee! This section could take up pages, but I'll try to keep it simple.

YOU NEED FRESH BEANS!!!

That's more or less it. You can have the best beans in the world, roasted by a master roaster, but if they've sat on the shelf for 2 months, it isn't worth squat. Beans are best from day 2 out of the roaster, through day 10. The longest I'd go is 3 weeks, and that is REALLY pushing it.

They should always be stored as whole beans (never ground- ground beans go stale in hours), in tin-tie coffee bags, or better yet in an air-tight container, away from light and heat. Freezing beans is not ideal, unless you'll have them around for more than 2-3 weeks, in which case freeze away. If you freeze, take 1/4-1/2lb out at at time, so you're not pulling the beans out every day; this allows condensation to form on the beans, which leaches flavor.

I won't make bean recommendations here. It's all a matter of taste. Drink what you like, but know that there IS something better out there. I may add some later, but if you have specific questions, feel free to ask me.

GEAR ----

Grinder -

There are a TON of different methods of brewing coffee, all of which require their own gear. I'll cover the most popular methods. Everyone loves shiny new gear, so I'll definately be recommending stuff, some of which I've personally used and vouch for, others that I have researched and know to be good.

The most important piece of gear a coffee lover can own, and should not skimp on, is the grinder. THe quality of the grinder is almost more important than the quality of the brewer. A poor grind is inconsistent. The particles of ground coffee are different sized; some particles will over-extract when brewed, some will under extract. Neither is good, and you will get sour, bitter, nasty coffee. (Just because your coffee isn't outright nasty doesn't mean you shouldn't buy a good grinder; like I said, your coffee can ALWAYS be better). If all you can afford is a nut-type grinder, do it; the important thing is to grind just before brewing.

If you can spend a bit more, a $90 burr grinder will be a great improvement in your coffee flavor. Cheap burr grinders grind into consistent sized particles; expensive ones actually shave slices off of the beans. Once you dial in the right grind for your machine, all the evenly ground particles will extract evenly, and you'll have better tasting coffee.

Here are my recommendations Edit: I have provided links, however, they may not work. You can find the products via google or Amazon, or feel free to PM me or bump this for um, assistance :

Zassenhaus makes excellent hand grinders. By excellent, I mean the grind quality is great, and they are as reliable as your arm. Do I recommend them? Well, personally, it drives me nuts to crank a pot of grounds out, but if you don't mind, or are some nouveau minimalist, knock yourself out. You can ebay for cheap Zassenhaus hand grinders around $20-30, new for $75 or so:

http://www.sweetmarias.com/prod.zas.shtml

Between a $12 blade grinder and a $90 Baratza Maestro or Capresso Infinity, there really isn't anything worth buying (outside the Zassenhaus, but then we're back to wrangling a wooden box for your morning brew). Both the Baratza Maestro and Capresso Infinity are stellar, they'll even do espresso in a pinch. I highly recommend both for general grinding purposes, and if you REALLY can't afford a real espresso grinder, they'll do.

http://www.wholelattelove.com/Capresso/infinityburr.cfm

http://www.wholelattelove.com/Baratza/maestro.cfm


To the conoisseurs choice, which will be the last grinder you ever buy or need, and will save you money in the long run, while giving you the best grind of the bunch, the Rancilio Rocky, $290:

http://www.wholelattelove.com/Rancil...ydoserless.cfm

You can go up to $800 if you like, but these are good solid choices for most people.


Drip Machines-

I'll recommend two. Both can brew nearly equally well. The difference is in the build quality of the machines. The B&D is plastic, and will likely last as long as your basic Krups or what-have-you (though it will brew much better). The Technivorm is a work of art, handmade, and has a lifetime guarantee, IIRC.

The reason you need one of these two machines, even if you just bought what you thought was a good machine yesterday: drip coffee needs to be brewed at a specific temperature, namely 190-200 degrees. No more, no less. Few drip machines start brewing at that temperature, and other than these two, virtually none keep 195 degrees throughout the brew cycle. Lesser temperature, lesser coffee. (More than 200 degrees will over extract and 'cook' the coffee.) These machines both keep a rock-steady 195 degrees throughout the cycle.

B&D SmartBrew -

http://www.amazon.com/Black-Decker-D.../dp/B0004FLEXS

Technivorm:
http://www.sweetmarias.com/prod.technivorm.shtml

Espresso:

Keep in mind that for espresso, the grinder becomes even more important, and you'll need at least this, which will barely suffice:

http://www.wholelattelove.com/Capresso/infinityburr.cfm

This one is good for most people, as it's easily switchable between drip and espresso:

http://www.wholelattelove.com/Rancil...ydoserless.cfm

But the best combination of cheap and good in a dedicated espresso grinder is the Cinull Tranquillo, it's got 90% of a Mazzer's performance for half the price:

http://sovranastore.com/esgrin.html

The ****:

http://www.wholelattelove.com/Mazzer/electronic.cfm


Machines -

The basic espresso machine. I used a very similar Gaggia for years, and it works very well for the price. Just don't expect to serve 15 lattes at a party: it is very slow for more than 1-2 drinks. I highly recommend this as your first machine:

http://www.wholelattelove.com/Gaggia/espresso_pure.cfm

In between the Gaggia and an Expobar Pulser is a whole latte nothin. Seriously, DO NOT waste your time on anything in that wasteland of broken dreams (ahemRancilioSilviaahem). Really. I know. I've used them. The Pulser is a beauty, and highly capable, as good as machines costing $800 more.

http://www.wholelattelove.com/Expobar/Expobar.cfm

For the serious coffeehead, there's the dual boilers. I'd kill for one of these:

http://www.wholelattelove.com/Expoba..._vibration.cfm

If you are going beyond this point, you better do your own research. I don't want to be responsible for $2500 of your money.



Knowledge ----

You can have great water, awesome beans, and a good grinder and machine, and still get bad coffee. It doesn't brew itself. You need to know what you're doing, and have fun experimenting with it all, to hit the sweet spot.


Drip -

Always grind immediately before brewing. If you're really lazy, or have a timed brewer, you can grind the night before.

The easiest way to gauge your drip grind is to go to Starbucks/Peets, ask to have a small amount of coffee ground for drip, and take it home to compare grinds. Generally they have their grinders dialed in well, and you can see from that how fine you should go.

Alternately, you can start from your burr grinders 'drip' setting. It'll usually be marked.

Either way, brew up a pot, and adjust from there. A common mistake people make is grinding too fine. I always hear people say they grind for espresso (very fine) for their drip, because it's 'stronger' or "Dude, I can use so much less coffee per batch!!11!". Nice idea, but if you want stronger coffee you should add more properly ground coffee; and if you're so cheap that you try to save .05 cents per cup, well.... .

Espresso grounds are fine because espresso brews in 25 seconds or so, and it needs maximum surface area for the water to saturate and extract from. Your drip has 4-10 minutes contact with the water; using a grind that was meant to only have 25 seconds contact for a 6 minute contact means it will WAY over-extract. It will be sour or bitter.

You should be in the ballpark of your Starbucks test sample. Up or down a bit is OK, as long as it tastes good to you.

As a rule of thumb, use two heaping eating TEASPOONS of coffee per cup of water. You'll have to experiment with this too. Spoons vary, as do cups.

Never leave the coffee sitting on the warmer longer than necessary. It will turn sour as the oils in the coffee oxidize and coffee particles continue extracting.



French Press-

Many people prefer the French Press over almost any other method of brewing, and believe it makes a better cup of coffee than other methods. while it does make an excellent cup, I wouldn't call it better. The perception that the FP is better stems from 2 things.

1) as I stated above in the drip section, water temp is essential to good coffee. It must be ~200 degrees. Most drip machines brew at much lower temps, resulting in poor coffee flavor. The FP, on the other hand, allows full control of the brew process, and since it involves boiling water and pouring it over the coffee, it will likely come out better than 95% of the drip machines out there. Most people have tasted the 'poor' drip coffee, and are quickly won over by the FP. The two drip machines listed above will narrow the par.

2) Some people prefer the slightly muddy consistancy of the FP coffee. The fact is that it is a pro AND a con. It does allow lots of flavor oils and particles through the mesh screen which would be filtered out by a paper filter. The con is that those same oils quickly turn sour when exposed to oxygen, and those particles that sit in your cup over-extract, both of which can lower the quality of flavor.

I pretty much love all ways of brewing coffee, including Turkish but excluding percolators , and partake of the FP now and then. I'd say it makes a very flavorful cup! If you like it, you should drink it!

Here's a simple guide to FP brewing:

Boil some good water.

As it's heating, grind your fresh coffee for FP, which is coarser than for drip. Again, have Starbucks grind a bit for you so you can compare with your home grind, or you can experiment by starting with a drip grind (which should choke the screen and stop you from pushing it down) and adjusting it coarser bit by bit until you can depress the plunger.

When it boils, turn off the flame, and pour some boiling water in your FP. Let it sit a second to pre-heat it. Toss the water out of the FP.

By this time, 30 seconds or so should have passed since you turned the flame off, which is about right to lower your water temp from 212 to the optimum 200 degrees. Put 2 teaspoons (eating, not measuring) per cup of coffee in the preheated FP and pour your just-not-quite-boiling water over it. It should bbe between 30-60 seconds after boiling. Look at your watch or clock and take note of the time.

The grounds will bloom, or foam up, and float on top of the water. Take a spoon and stir it in so it fully saturates. Put the plunger in the FP, and depress slightly until the water submerges the plunger screen.

Wait 3-4 minutes, and fully depress the plunger slowly. You can now enjoy your coffee!

If you like it stronger or weaker, you can, of course play with the time you leave it to brew. Too long, and it'll get really nasty, though.


Espresso -

Espresso is the most difficult form of preparing coffee. It is quite an art, with a perfect shot being called a 'godshot', and the preparer of said shot being, well, I won't go there.

Espresso is basically finely ground coffee extracted at a precise temperature under huge pressure in a short 25 second period of time. A perfectly pulled shot will be thick, syrupy, sweet, and with a nice head of 'crema', or brown foam, on it; the flavor will linger for a long time after.

There are so many minutae of espresso preparation, that I'll only give a basic rundown here, enough to help a n00b who is just opening his first espresso machine box prepare a decent shot.

-First, he machine must be thoroughly warmed up. Turn it on, make sure the reservoir is full, insert the portafilter (thing with the handle) into the machine (there may be two portafilters, or portafilter baskets; only use the PF with two spouts, or the larger basket, that's a double espresso. The single's suck). Wait 20-30 minutes.

-Run some water through the portafilter into you espresso/coffee cup by hitting the brew button. This will warm your cup and the machine to its fullest. Let it run until the heat cycle light turns on.

-Grind your beans. Dialing in the correct grind can take a bunch of coffee. You are aiming for 2oz of espresso in around 25 seconds. Too fine, and it'll take far longer. Too course, and the water will run right through without extracting. Set your grinder at its espresso setting, if it has one marked, or put it about 1/4 of the way up from full fine.

-Generally, in a commercial sized portafilter, it takes about 14-18 gr coffee per double espresso. There are lots of sizes of portafilter, so yours may be different. I'd say you should fill it with grounds, mound it over, then with one finger, scrape the top of the mound level with the portafilter so its flat. Then take your tamper, the metal or plastic thing that came with your machine (looks like two discs, one small, one larger, adjoined by a bar), and tamp or depress the coffee in the portafilter with the larger side by setting the portafilter on the counter, holding it level with your off-hand, and pressing straight down with your writing hand. It should be around 30lbs pressure. Tap the edge of the portafilter gently with the tamper, and you'll see some grounds fall from the sides of the PF. Tamp again, and gently spin the portafilter as you release pressure. Too much pressure, and you can stall your machine. The important thing is to be consistant with the pressure from brew to brew. You can put a bathroom scale on the counter, and tamp on that, so you can learn what 30lb feels like. Once tamped, there should be around a quarter inch between the tamped coffee and the top of the portafilter. You can insert the PF into the machine at this point: you should see the beginning of an indentation of the screw (from the middle of the mesh brew surface of your machine) in the coffee. You should NOT see a print of the mesh, that is too much coffee.
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Last edited by poison; 02-10-2009 at 11:35 PM.
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Old 11-03-2005, 01:48 AM   #2
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Quote:
Originally Posted by poison

WATER ----

The basis of good coffee is of course good, fresh coffee.
I concur.

I'll get around to reading your thread when I can drink coffee again.
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Old 11-03-2005, 02:20 AM   #3
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Espresso (continued)-

All this, once practiced, takes under 30 seconds. If, since you're new, it took longer and the machine heating light went back on, wait until 30 seconds after it goes off, or so, then insert the PF into the machine with firm presure, put your warmed cup under the PF, and...

-Hit the brew button while taking note of the second hand of your watch. It should start dripping or flowing within 5-10 seconds.

If it doesn't flow, stop the brew cycle, take the PF out, dump the grounds, adjust your grind a hair coarser, and try again. And again. And again.

If it does flow, quickly, and you have 3 oz in 20 seconds, dump the grounds, adjust the grind finer, and brew again. Repeat.

Taste all shots, whether they are 2 oz in 25 seconds or not; it's a good way to learn to understand how espresso behaves when you **** up, and get really high in the process.

Once you have 2 oz in 25 seconds with a good head of crema, it should taste pretty damn good.

Always take the PF out of the machine ASAP after brewing, knock the grounds out, insert the PF back in the machine, and run some water through to keep the heat from burning coffee essence onto everything.

Here is a well-written guide to espresso-making (with pictures!!!), written by David Schomer, arguably the US' most accomplished and studied coffee professional (or just the most vocal, I haven't decided ):

http://www.lucidcafe.com/cafeforum/factors.html

The article is in three parts, so be sure to click on the link at the bottom of each page.


Frothing Milk-

Since pictures are essential here, I'll link to a guide off the coffeegeek website.

N00bs click here: http://www.coffeegeek.com/guides/fro...ide/steamguide

Pro's click here: http://www.coffeegeek.com/guides/fro.../advancedguide

And here: http://www.coffeegeek.com/guides/fro.../latteartguide

Last edited by poison; 11-05-2005 at 08:01 PM.
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Old 11-03-2005, 02:21 AM   #4
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And this.
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Old 11-03-2005, 02:45 AM   #5
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I think some of your grinder links are t3h borked.
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Old 11-03-2005, 03:16 AM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by taxcider
I think some of your grinder links are t3h borked.
fixed
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Old 11-03-2005, 03:27 AM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by taxcider
I think some of your Amazon links are t3h borked.
fixed
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Old 11-03-2005, 03:29 AM   #8
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Hmm.. I need to get a grinder. I get my beans ground at the local coffee place and freeze them.

I brew using a Braun FlavorSelect.
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Old 11-03-2005, 03:45 AM   #9
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Is it bad that I use Folgers and tap water in my Mr. Coffee that cost $8 at Wal Mart, with one of those mesh "forever coffee filters"?
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Old 11-03-2005, 03:49 AM   #10
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Buy the most expensive one from the list above. If you have questions about a specific grinder, let me know.
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Old 11-03-2005, 04:56 AM   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Unabomber
Is it bad that I use Folgers and tap water in my Mr. Coffee that cost $8 at Wal Mart, with one of those mesh "forever coffee filters"?
Not if you think it tastes good. I assure you if you tried a better setup, you'd never go back.
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Old 11-03-2005, 05:13 AM   #12
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I posted a rant about how ridiculous this coffee thing is, but I deleted it because I love you, poison. And you clearly put a lot of work into explaining it, so continue with your thread, un-eurojax'd.
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Old 11-03-2005, 07:52 AM   #13
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*Smooches* I'm not done either!
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Old 11-03-2005, 12:21 PM   #14
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Anything else you all want covered?
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Old 11-03-2005, 12:23 PM   #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Unabomber
Is it bad that I use Folgers and tap water in my Mr. Coffee that cost $8 at Wal Mart, with one of those mesh "forever coffee filters"?
Thank goodness someone got to the coffee FAQ before you did.
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Old 11-03-2005, 12:31 PM   #16
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The Capresso model #555 is a burr grinder with portion control.



I'm been using this one for a couple of yrs now. Add the beans in the night before. Set it and forget it!!!

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Old 11-03-2005, 12:38 PM   #17
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Waitasec... Were you the guy with the "name my coffee company" thread a while back?
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Old 11-03-2005, 12:39 PM   #18
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Quote:
Originally Posted by poison
OK, since there seems to be a weekly "Help A N00b With Coffee" thread,
You talking about me!!!!

Thanks for the help poison!
<------------- Coffee n00b
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Old 11-03-2005, 12:42 PM   #19
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Your costco grinder link is still bork3d. Good thread, btw! I just got a few holiday gift ideas from this one.

You rock, poison. I may have to order some coffee from you for my folks as a stocking-stuffer.
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Old 11-03-2005, 12:43 PM   #20
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nice write up mang! I didn't click all your links, but did you do any French Press recomendations? Seems kinda stupid to many people, but screen quality, beaker quality, and long-lastingness are important.

Also, you left out water Temp I think (again, maybe I overlooked it, and again this is really only important if you're using a french press, most machines regulate their own temps)
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Old 11-03-2005, 12:44 PM   #21
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Unabomber
Is it bad that I use Folgers and tap water in my Mr. Coffee that cost $8 at Wal Mart, with one of those mesh "forever coffee filters"?
I do that too for my morning coffee. It works for restoring myself to a human state.

After that I drink the good stuff.
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Old 11-03-2005, 12:51 PM   #22
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I bet you named your coffee company:

Upscale Oontz Coffee: for people with enough money to piss away $300 on a ****ing grinder.
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Old 11-03-2005, 01:15 PM   #23
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Percolator!



It may be low-brow, but you can make a damn fine pot of coffee with a percolator.


(poison's head is about to explode )

(this post is a joke for those of you who aren't coffee people... percolating is not the best way to make coffee)

Last edited by Porter; 11-03-2005 at 01:28 PM.
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Old 11-03-2005, 01:16 PM   #24
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Sticky!
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Old 11-03-2005, 01:26 PM   #25
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Balancing Vacuum Siphon Brewing for the win!

http://www.royalcoffeemaker.com/copp...fee-maker.html



Actually, this is supposed to be really cool and make excellent coffee.

Check out the history: http://www.royalcoffeemaker.com/hist...ffeemaker.html

Last edited by Porter; 11-03-2005 at 01:44 PM.
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