I have been told that I make a damned good cup of coffee. I attribute this less to an actual skill (the coffee maker does most of the work) and more to the coffee I buy (Sinful Delight from Fresh Direct – which may or may not be the same as Sinful Delight from Irving Farm). It must also have a lot to do with the fact that most of my friends and I like the same type of coffee – which is to say strong (3 teaspoons per cup) and about half a step back from bitter (I said ‘strong’ not ‘ulcer inducing’).
But after asking around and checking, it appears that there are a few things I do that aren’t in general practice. So, I offer these coffee-making tips and solicit tips from others.
How to you get your java jumping? Do friends and family love your coffee? Hate it? Have you ever sent a cup of coffee back in a restaurant? Which reminds me – have you noticed that a spectacular meal at a fine dining establishment can be ruined by a foul cup of coffee? I have. I don’t know why but restaurant coffee seems to be on the decline. Not in diners – which seem to have figured coffee out – but in proper, linen-tablecloth, chi-chi places. Fewer and fewer of them can produce a decent cup. Which explains why so often, we all end up back at mine where we know the coffee won’t disappoint.
What was I saying? Oh yes – coffee tips.
Water. Your coffee – regardless of brand, grind or process, your coffee is mostly water so start with water you like and would drink as is. I mean – if it’s not worth drinking as water, it’s not worth drinking with all that other stuff in it either so why bother.
Use with COLD water. I don’t care whether it’s bottled or tap but it should be cold. Bottled? Oh sure. I know some people do it. I used to think it was pretentious, wasteful and silly. Then I came slap up against the reality that ‘tap water’ is not all the same. Not at all. I realize that living in NYC means that I’m spoiled by having tap water that is among the finest in the land. Presumably, if you consider your tap water to be unfit to drink straight, it’s going to be a lousy base for a cup of coffee. This is a personal, local decision that must be made the individual. (Still – wouldn’t it be easier to just slap a filter on the tap? I don’t meant to get all tree-huggy but all those bottles? Come on.)
Keep It Clean. Any coffee maker, regardless of type or brand will work better and produce a better product if it is clean. So clean it. The whole thing – not just the carafe. The whole machine. I don’t know how much coffee you make a week or a month but I make approximately 1 pot a day and I do this once a month. Your mileage may vary. And don’t use dishwashing liquid. Use water and vinegar. Every few months – and never when the vinegar is out – I will scrub the carafe and filter parts with baking soda and rinse well. And unless you want flashback to junior high science class, don’t use the vinegar and baking soda together. On the other hand, if you want to amuse the children and don’t mind looking foolish, go on. Only don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Bothered by bitterness? Using the cold water to start will help a bit but try adding a pinch of salt to the coffee in the filter. A pinch, people. Not a lot. I know it sounds bizarre but it does work. I did it before stumbling across my current coffee which doesn’t need any such additive and believe me, no one is going to notice or get freaked out.
Storage. I know it looks hearty and hale but coffee does have a shelf life. It is perishable. You know how much coffee you get through a month. To ensure a decent level of freshness, try getting it from a coffee purveyor and not a grocery store (who knows how old that grocery store stuff is?) and don’t keep more than a couple of month on hand. It will go stale at some point and you don’t want that point to be on the day you REALLY need a good, solid, happy cup to start your day.
Keep the coffee in an air-tight container and out of the sun. I know some people keep it in the freezer or fridge – and I know people that take issue with this idea. I used to keep mine thusly though I’ve stopped and now keep mine in an opaque container in a cabinet. Either way, it’s out of the sun and that is the key. If I have any issue with the freezer/fridge thing – it is simply that the daily taking out and putting back in messes with the moisture content of the coffee and that can mess with the taste. But then, my father keeps his coffee in the freezer and still produces a very good cup-o-joe every day. So maybe I’m over thinking. I admit to sometimes doing that.
Getting the Right Grind. Listen, I know it sound even more obvious than using decent water but a lot of people get this wrong. Not all coffee makers and coffee making processes need the same grind level. Broadly speaking, if you are using a percolator then you want a coarse grind. Do you have an electric drip/manual drip or do you use a French press? You want a medium grind. Are you using an espresso machine? Get extra fine grind.
The truth is that coffee is subjective and – no pun intended – a matter of taste. What appeals to me may not appeal to you. Don’t feel trapped in a coffee rut. It’s coffee, people. not concrete. Go out and experiment. Get coffee from some place new next week. Get smaller amounts of different ones – flavored or not, mild or strong – and see if any of them “speak” to you. Try a different method. Coffee makers are not commitments. A cheap French press isn’t hard to find. And while you can buy all sorts of cold brew paraphernalia, you don’t actually need any special equipment for cold brew methods (the way I prefer if the end result is to be iced coffee – and iced coffee is a whole different kettle of fish).