The Perfect Coffee
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Greetings Fellow Uncyclopedians! Among my passions and addictions, there are 2 which tower above everything else. The first is the woman I love. The second is the beverage I love, coffee. While detailing the first of these would doubtlessly be interesting, it's just something I won't do on a public forum. The second choice however, I can gladly share on the internet. Herein, dear readers, is everything you want and need to know about coffee.
Class is now in session.
Harkening back to younger days, I was in the 4th grade, or rather, the summer leading into it, when I asked my parents: "Mom, Dad... what does coffee taste like?" What was served to me was essentially milk and sugar, flavored with coffee. It was like liquid candy. Come to think of it, it still is. Thus began a lifelong devotion and nearly unrivalled passion for a beverage. Although I parted ways with caffeine during the entirety of my 17th year of life, it was my addiction to coffee's taste which brought me back to the world of stimulants.
Coffee, when fresh, contains over 900 different, separate, substances which lend flavor to the drink. A good coffee is a rich, complex, and even relatively "sweet" beverage. Bet you didn't know that. You see, if your coffee was roasted longer than 1 week ago, at least half of those essences have evaporated or broken down chemically. Your coffee is bland and tasteless.
"But I think my coffee has a LOT of flavor" I can already hear you say. If so, it's merely because it's what we, as Americans, have always known. Cheap, Mass Produced, low grade coffee has been marketed to us over the years, and casually accepted as "This must be real coffee". Oh how we have been lied to. The fact is that technically, yes, the coffee we most often drink does have flavor, but we are only getting part of the symphony which we should rightfully experience.
What the fuck are you Babbling about?
What qualifies me as a coffee expert, you ask? Why should my opinions be so incredibly valid? Am I little more than an overly-opinionated dilletante "wannabe", a pretend aristocrat? Well, experience should count for something. Passion should as well. I have had the common blends we all have probably heard of.
is pretty good. In fact, it stands as a mile-marker, if you will to which all other coffee can be compared. In any case, one can view any serving of coffee from the standpoint of "How much better or worse is this than Colombian Supremo?"
has a very smooth and comparably sweet flavor.
Jamaican Blue Mountain
was... mediocre. Of course, mine came from a Jamaican friend, and I'm not sure he was terribly dedicated to finding the best sample, but I appreciated the efforts. Don't get me wrong, it was the tied with Russian for the smoothest flavor I've EVER had, and the 2nd "softest" beverage I've ever encountered with great flavor, but it had this overbearing "earthy" aftertaste which detracted quite heavily from the experience. At $50 a pound, I should expect better.
The russian coffee
I had came from a company called Kuppo. I can't read cryllic, so I can't get any more, and I don't know if they deliver, but if anyone ever gets the chance, DO NOT TURN IT DOWN! I don't know what they did, but switching from Kenya AA to this was exquisite!
is my favorite regular coffee, as it can be acquired with relative ease, and I like the flavour better than Colombian, and at $15 a pound, it's only half the cost of Hawaiian.
The coffee I had most frequently while living in Italy was Cafe Oro, or Segafredo. Both acceptable, but the Cafe Oro had a better flavor. I was younger and less knowledgeable then, so I don't know what beans they used.
I'd never had a cappuccino in my life until the age of 19. My small home-town was incapable at the time of supporting the upper class habit, and so the drink was relagated in my mind to the big-city culturally elite, of which I was not. At the tender young age of 19 however, the United States Army saw fit to assign me for 2 years and 3 months to Italy, for which I am eternally grateful. My very first cappuccino in my life was served at an Italian cafe, by an Italian lady, in the country of Italy.
Here I was, in a country which is synonymous with the Rennaissance, and a world center of culture, enjoying a drink which was far too upscale for me to find at any other time in my life... and it cost me about 50¢. I was hooked from that very first sip. It was exquisite.
Turkish coffee is
er... well, it's different. The guys I was with said to actually drink some of the grind... Strong stuff, even if you don't. Not bad, but certainly an eye opener.
I've never had Kopi Luak. At $300 a pound, it's out of my reach. I also don't know if I'd be willing to try it. I've yet to find anyone selling it.
So, at this point in my life, I am 29 years old and I've been drinking coffee since the age of 10. For 19 years, I have loved coffee, and have progressed as far as a consumer reasonably could, without roasting my own beans.
Rules of Coffee
There are rules in a perfect cup of coffee. I shall hit upon them, now.
#1: It's like, lets have a clam-bake!
Fresh roasted coffee only. You can purchase coffee from upscale shops in vacuum sealed foil bags. My ex sent me one while I was deployed. At nearly 3 pounds, it was pretty good, and a welcome change from the chow hall. However, I know now, that was not the best I could have had. As the coffee sat around for more than a week after opening, much was lost. As a rule, your coffee, if it was roasted more than a week ago, is now going stale, and should be discarded. (Or, accept and realise you're starting to drink "crap".)
#2: Mary, Are You Feeling Fresh Today?
Fresh Ground Coffee. Okay, you can go to a grocery store and get pre-ground coffee, you can usually nowadays purchase whole bean, and have it ground there as well. This is only "barely acceptable". The coffee is probably already going stale, and grinding it to let it sit around in your kitchen is only going to make it worse. I'll admit that I'm saving money, and this is how I'm doing it. Soon enough, I'll spring for a nice burr grinder, and then I'll upgrade my supply to a local roaster's product. (Dunn Brothers) Ideally, you want to grind only as much as you are going to use at one time. Enough for one cup, or one pot. Any more than that, you only hasten the process by which your coffee goes stale. Making further cups "crappier".
#3: Grinding on my rod of Pure Love, Baby
Correct grind. This is tantamount to a perfect "cup of joe". For French Press, you need a very coarse grind to match with the long brew time. For drip coffe, you need a medium grind, and since I don't do drip coffee anymore, I can't offer too much more help. You'll just have to experiment on your own. Not all grinders are created with equal tolerances, so use a grinder's "measurements" as a rough starting place, and be prepared to adjust as needed.
The Perfect Cappuccino
Okay. Now I have to change modes, as my specialization means I can't offer any more general advice. If, like me, you want the perfect cappuccino, I commend you. You have chosen the most difficult path, and the best flavor in my opinion.
Gimme some sugar, baby!
Espresso grind needs to be fine, similar to refined sugar. If it reminds you of powdered sugar, it's probably too fine to use. It would be great for Turkish or Greek however. (Just not Italian.) Your machine will certainly vary from this general rule, so you'll need to experiment with what works best with your setup.
On your mark, Get Set, BREW!
However, there is one benchmark to use to guide you to exactly where you want to be. From the moment the expresso begins falling from the brew head to the point where you get about 2.5 ounces of coffee, you should have timed between 22-28 seconds depending on taste. This is based off of a standard "double" dose of coffee, 14 grams, or about two heavy teaspons. At any rate, getting a coffee measuring spoon isn't too hard. It'll run about $3 for cheaper plastics to $10 for metal spoons.
You reach this number with two methods. First, varying the grind of your coffee. Finer grinds take longer, coarser grinds brew more quickly. Second, varying your "tamping pressure".
Smack that Bitch up
To properly create the perfect espresso, you need to "tamp down" the coffee in the brew head to create a coffee "pellet". This should be about 30 pounds of pressure. You want as even a surface as you can get. It should be flat and parallel to the earth. Finish your "tamp" with a twist. I say 180 should be fine, some insist on nothing less than 720 degrees, and insinuate you are some sort of subhuman neanderthallic mutant circusfreak if you don't make a full 720 degree rotation.
If your espresso takes more than 28 seconds to "extract", you have too much pressure. Your grind is too fine, or your tamping is too heavy. Lighten and experiment.
How about some head here
A perfect extraction should also have a somewhat creamy "head" on it, sort of an ugly yellow-brown foam. A decent layer is an indication of a good extraction.
If your doubleshot of espresso takes less than 22 seconds, you are "underextracting". Vital flavors in the coffee are being left behind, and your coffee will taste flat and bland.
If your doubleshot takes longer than 28 seconds, you are "overextracting". Acids are being pulled from the grind, and the flavors are already all gone. Your coffee will taste sour or bitter.
Yay! MATH IS... ... HOLYBEJEEZUSFUCK I HATE MATH!
Finally, cappuccino is a drink of thirds. Properly, you should have one-third espresso, one-third milk, and one-third milk froth. If you want a softer beverage, you are looking for a latte, which is closer to "fifths". Two Fifths milk, two fifths milk froth, and one fifth espresso.
A stronger beverage would be a machiatto, which as it was served to me was a straight espresso with equal milk froth... I'll have to double check to get the actual figures again, suffice it to say that it's stronger than a good cappuccino.
Well, there you go. You now have access to all the essential knowledge I've accidentally acquired over 2 decades. Go get yourself a cup of joe, and make it a good one. Don't bother with Starbucks, they just screw it up... trust me.
Until later friends, See you on the field, or at a good coffee shop.