Wednesday, July 20, 2011

In Search Of The Best Cup Of Coffee

The search for the best cup of java is over. It is more than personal taste. It's a science and it is acquired. We love our Tim Hortons and Starbucks. So I was wondering what is it that makes their coffee so good? When you need to watch your budget, going out for coffee gets to be very expensive. So last summer I went on a quest to learn how to make the best cup of coffee right at home.

To start with, I needed a great coffee grinder. My research showed that grinding fresh as you go is the best. The one I got is great because you can choose the type of brew, size of grind and how many cups. Shortly after purchasing it, we went on a camping trip up north to a place called Sambaa Deh with my sister, her husband, my niece and her husband, and my nephew. Since we were only going camping, for convenience I purchased a can of Nabob. I figured it would not matter, the coffee will taste great just because we are out doors by a campfire or in the fresh air.

First morning there, I was too excited to sleep in. I had been waiting for this the whole year, to just sit outdoors with a good book and sip my coffee. I made my pot of coffee and was just settling in to my chair when I saw my niece and her husband stirring. Now, Ken and I paid our dues of sleeping on the ground, we now camp in luxury. My niece is young and they were roughing it in a tent. So I thought I would spoil them and run over with my pot of coffee. They politely refused and proceeded to make their own. That's ok. I figured they were just as anxious to go through that ritual as I was. So we visited and drank our coffee.

It didn't take long when I realized NOBODY wanted to drink my coffee. They would rather have crawled on hands and knees to the next town than drink my cheap store bought coffee.

That, my friends, is when I got serious about making the best cup of coffee. The Martha Stewart in me rose to the surface because I did not want to go down in record as serving crappy coffee.....even when camping.

I used to thoroughly enjoy my coffee until I tasted my niece's, then I could see that there is a huge difference. Once you have a great cup of coffee... there is no going back! So, how do you make a great cup of coffee?

There are many methods for brewing, and no single technique is the right one. Personal taste is the determining factor.

Kinds of coffee makers and how they work:

Automatic Drip: Is by the far the most popular. You fill a chamber with water, load your coffee into a filter basket and flick a switch to heat the water which will then drip through the filter basket into the pot. Some Automatic Drip Makers include a built in grinder where the coffee is ground first.

French Press: Presently our favourite, also called a Coffee Press. A French press requires coarser ground coffee which you pour hot water over, leave to brew for a few minutes, then you press the plunger to trap the coffee grounds at the bottom of the beaker.

Pod: These machines force water through a coffee packet called a pod that fits inside the dispenser. No measuring or spilling, very convenient.

Percolator: This is what we use in our camper. You fill with cold water, put your ground coffee in the basket which sits near the top of the of the pot, water comes to a boil and rises through the straw-like center and through the coffee. There is discussion that the coffee gets bitter because of water passing through it more than once.

Espresso: Traditionally a European beverage, this type uses steam pressure to push hot water through the ground coffee. The coffee must be very fine. Some machines include automatic grinding and then brewing, so no measuring.

Vacuum: Consists of two connectable compartments with a filter in between and the coffee is brewed by vapour pressure and vacuum, producing a clean, crisp, rich,and smooth coffee.

But no matter how you choose to brew your coffee, here are 11 tips you need to follow to get the best cup of coffee possible:

The equipment must be thoroughly cleaned after each use. Make sure that no grounds have been left and no build up of coffee oil. Such residue can impart a bitter, rancid flavour to future cups of coffee.

Purchase coffee as soon as possible after having been roasted. Fresh roasted coffee is essential to the best cup of coffee. Purchasing small amounts is ideal, enough for about 2 weeks.

Grind your beans as close to the brew time as possible. A burr or mill grinder is preferable because all of the coffee will be ground consistently. The size of the grind is so important because, if it is too fine the coffee will be over extracted which will make your cup bitter. If it is under-extracted the coffee will taste flat.

Never reuse your coffee grounds. Once brewed, the coffee flavour has been extracted and only the bitter undesirable flavour is left.

Be sure to use cold filtered or bottled water if your tap water has a strong odour or is high in minerals or chlorine. Do not use distilled or softened water.

Use the proper amount of coffee to water. A general guideline is 1 to 2 tablespoons of ground coffee for every 6 ounces of water. You can adjust this to your individual taste.

The water temperature is important, it should be between 195 to 205°F for optimal extraction. If it is too cold your coffee will be under-extracted and flat, too hot and it burn and lose quality. For French Press, bring your water to a full boil, then let sit one minute before it hits the coffee grounds, that should be the perfect temperature.

The amount of time the water is in contact with the coffee is also important. The drip system should be approximately five minutes. If using a French Press, let sit about 2 to 4 minutes. Espresso is just as the name implies, the brew time is short, only 20 to 30 seconds.

Pour your coffee into a thermos or carafe to keep it hot after it is brewed. It is best if drank within 45 minutes. It should not be left on a burner for longer than 15 minutes, and never reheated.

Never refrigerate or freeze your coffee because contact with moisture causes it to deteriorate. Instead, store it in an air-tight glass or ceramic container in a dark and cool location. If you've purchased coffee in bulk, then wrap in airtight bags, and they can be stored for up to a month in the freezer. Once you have opened them, do not keep in the fridge or freezer but keep airtight, cool and dry!

Use a porcelain mug because it's not porous, it holds the warmth for longer which preserves the flavor, and stainless steel for a travel mug. These mugs are also reusable so they're environmentally friendly too. Wash your mug regularly. Avoid paper, plastic and styrofoam which alters the taste.

My niece's coffee was so good because she bought a dark bold bean, and ground it just before leaving. Their coffee was rich in flavour and aroma. It is too bad for them it was so good, because she was designated to provide Ken and I with our morning coffee for the rest of the trip!

Next camping trip.... I am packing freshly roasted coffee beans AND my coffee grinder because WE have a generator! The Martha Stewart is coming to the surface again!

Elvie Look: Is a "Back To Basics, Step By Step Expert Organizer" who currently is helping people get organized with her tips and suggestions. Her systems help the average person to learn the keys to organizing in simple, easy and manageable steps, as well as maintaining organization even with a busy lifestyle. She is the author of "21 Steps from Chaos to Calm." She provides organizing solutions, tips, and recipes at

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