It’s a caffeine driven society, and more and more people are taking the time to learn how to create stronger brews and get their custom caffeine fix. I, for one, happen to know a thing or two about brewing a strong cup of Joe. In my kitchen I probably have more coffee paraphernalia than cookware. For lazy weekends, the insulated French Press has no equal. A double-double espresso is the only thing that gets me started before the gym. When my mad-scientist mood strikes, let me play with my favorite new toy, a Japanese coffee siphon. And that’s just the equipment. Beans are a whole other fetish: Continental Blend smuggled in my luggage from the UK; fair trade beans from Tanzania; a Kenyan mild roast liberated on safari; shade-grown Mexican decaf; “emergency” packs of Ethiopian Sidamo.
Great coffee’s no secret. Which is one of the reasons why truly bad coffee makes me so angry. With that in mind here are 10 tips for getting the most out of your beans. Now, you’ve no excuse.
Tip 1 – Buy Better Beans: No, I don’t just mean the most expensive bag in the coffee aisle. Fresher beans equal better coffee, so look to smaller, independent coffee shops that stock beans which are roasted on the premises or nearby. Quality establishments will stamp your coffee with its roasting date, so you know you exactly how fresh your coffee is. Coffee taste peaks from 1-3 days after the roast, and if stored properly will last up to two weeks.
Tip 2 – Store Correctly: Contrary to popular belief, you should never store beans in a freezer or a refrigerator. Coffee actually absorbs aromas from surrounding foods, and freezing the coffee will alter oil properties affecting taste. Krups recommends transferring whole bean coffee into an airtight container after opening, and storing in a cool, dry and dark place.
Tip 3 – Do it Yourself: Freshly ground coffee makes a world of difference, as beans start losing flavor immediately upon reaching the grinder. Grind beans yourself right before you brew, and pay attention to the coarseness of the beans, as different filter shapes require different textures. For example, mesh filters require a coarser grind, while paper filters require a finer grind, and espresso requires grinds with a sand-like consistency for optimum flavor.
Tip 4 – One for Good Luck: Measure ground coffee out to equal one tablespoon of grinds per 5 oz of water, plus one heaping scoop at the end for good measure.
Tip 5 – Water Works: The quality of the water being used is extremely important. Use cold, filtered water, especially if your tap water is not of good quality or emits a strong odor or taste. Since coffee is 98% water, the taste of the water will come through in the brew.
Tip 6 – Don’t Hesitate: Brewed coffee should be enjoyed immediately, as it will begin to lose its optimal taste immediately after brewing. If you must use an electric drip, coffee should never be left on a burner plate for longer than 15 minutes, or it will develop a stale, burnt taste. If not serving immediately, pour coffee into an insulated container. As a rule of thumb when using thermal carafes, run a little hot water in the carafe prior to brewing, otherwise it will cool down the liquid much too quickly.
Tip 7 – Become a Coffee Connoisseur: Much like a fine wine, coffee should be enjoyed with all the senses. Take note of acidity, aroma, bitterness, body and nuttiness. For in depth coffee tasting, or “cupping” tips, check out the guide from CoffeeCuppers.
Tip 8 – Quick Sips: For maximum caffeination drink smaller, more frequent servings (about 1/4 cup every hour). Research shows that caffeine works best in small, frequent doses, and a large cup can actually lead to a crash.
Tip 9 – Butt Out: Studies show that caffeine combined with nicotine intake significantly reduces caffeine’s staying power. And while I once lived for the magical liaison of coffee and cigarettes, nicotine actually suppresses the effect of caffeine, cutting some of its stimulating properties in half.
Tip 10 – Cat Nap: Since it takes about 20 minutes to feel the effects of coffee, and sleep is the only solution to really offer a feeling of restfulness, the best way to get that second wind is by drinking a cup, then taking a quick nap while the caffeine sets in. You’ll wake up feeling alert and refreshed – just be sure to close your office door first.