By Ailbhe Malone (BuzzFeed Staff, UK)
1. Don’t keep your coffee in the fridge.
The notion of keeping your coffee in the fridge or the freezer dates back to the late 1990s, says Jeremy Challender, co-director of Prufrock Coffee, head judge of the UK Barista Championship and authorised Speciality Coffee Association of Europe trainer.
“When I first got into coffee at the end of the ’90s, everyone said to leave your grounds in the fridge. That’s partly because it was far more common to buy ground coffee, rather than whole beans. Whole beans are a bit more immune to oxidation, because there’s so much less surface area. So as long as you can protect your coffee from oxidising, any way of storing it is OK.”
But colder beans mean that it’ll be trickier to reach your desired coffee temperature, Jeremy continues.
“If you store your beans in the fridge or freezer, then you’ve got the problem of your beans being very cold when you start brewing. And so if you have a recipe in mind, and you have a target temperature you want the coffee to reach – and your beans are, say, 4 degrees – then it’s going to be a little bit harder to get them to a hot temperature.”
2. You should keep your beans in the bag that they came in.
There’s no need to be fancy with your storage, Jeremy adds.
“In many ways, the bag that you buy the coffee in is appropriate, as long as you can seal it properly. Because it has a one-way valve in the top, air can’t come in. Inside roasted coffee there’s loads and loads of carbon dioxide, which is quite a good preservative.
“So the bag, with this one-way valve, is filled up with carbon dioxide and has displaced all the oxygen that was in the bag when it was sealed up. So basically, store your coffee in the bag that you bought it.”
3. Always choose beans over ground coffee.
There’s one main reason to choose beans over ground coffee – to retain the aromatics.
“Lots of the stuff that flavours coffee, like sugar and organic acids, is quite stable. So they’re fine. Your coffee can still taste sweet and yummy if it’s pre-ground. BUT, when it comes to coffee’s USP – i.e. how incredibly complex and aromatic it is – you’re going to lose lots and lots of aromatic potential if you’ve pre-ground it”, Jeremy explains.
“As soon as you break those beans open, all the gases that were trapped inside the beans just disappear into the air. So if you want all the aromatics to be dissolved by water, you need to grind as close as possible to the point where you get water on them.”
A good shorthand to remember is: “Aroma is flavour escaping.”
4. Before we break things down further, there are two main species of coffee.
There are over 6,500 species of coffee worldwide, but the two best known species are arabica and robusta.
Here’s Jeremy’s rundown of the difference between the two:
“Arabica equals approximately twice the sugar and half the caffeine. And when I say ‘sugar’, that’s a good thing. So, it’s got a natural sweetness and floral flavour notes. Which is the main reason that it sells for more money, because of the flavour.
“Robusta has twice the caffeine, and caffeine tastes bitter. So its flavour notes are much more like straw, cedar wood, spice, tobacco.
“If you want a buyer’s guide, Ethiopia is a very special producing country, as that’s where arabica coffee is indigenous to. It’s estimated that 96% of the genetics for arabica coffee still resides in Ethiopia, so it’s the heart of speciality coffee. And the coffee that comes from there is always the most complex and intensely aromatic. And maybe that’s because there are all these varieties of coffee that are mixed together. As the coffee industry develops, hopefully we’ll see that you can buy different varieties.”
Want a further breakdown? Here’s a good one.
5. There’s a huge difference between a light roast and a dark roast.
The terms “light” and “dark” roast indicate the flavour profile of the coffee. (A coffeeflavour wheel is helpful here.)
“This flavour wheel is very useful,” Jeremy says. “Do you see how at the top it says ‘enzymatic’ and it’s light-coloured, and it shows the flavours you get in light roasts. So it says ‘flowers, fruits, herbs’. And it breaks it down further into specific flavours like ‘lemon, apple, apricot’. So that’s all the flavours you can get if you roast the coffee light.
“The interesting thing is that the darker you roast, the more this stuff is broken down or transformed into what’s down at the bottom – dry distillation aromas. And that means carbony stuff that will remind you of tobacco, wood smoke, pepper, and so on.”
6. And different places tend to prefer different roasts.
For example, “you’ll notice some of the trendy roasters you see around London, likeSquare Mile etc, those guys they’re on the much lighter side. And most of the chains go for dark roast – like Cafe Nero, Costa, Starbucks.”
There’s a reason for this difference, Jeremy says.
“If you’ve got great coffee it won’t have this kind of defective acidity that might make the coffee taste a bit weird. Let’s say the coffee tastes like vinegar, maybe the beans had been picked before they were ripe.
“If you’ve got this cheaper coffee, because it’s got these defective beans in it, and all this funky acid, then you can evaporate lots of that by dark-roasting it. But if the beans are fantastic quality to start with, then go ahead, roast light, and feature all these really nice fruity acids.”
7. As for terms like French roast and Italian roast – they’re more traditional guidelines.
“French roast is an old roasting term. It’s a traditional guideline on how the coffee’s been roasted. Italian roast is meant to be the darkest one, then French roast, then say Viennese roast and so on,” Jeremy says.
“These days it’s a good deal more sophisticated, so a great roaster uses something like an Agtron reader, so they can assess the colour on a numerical system to help them roast better. And for me, great roasting is just the fullest flavour without any burnt tastes. So I don’t need to know a traditional term, I just don’t want to taste any ashiness in the coffee.”
8. You should always look for the roast date of the coffee you’re buying.
“When I think a bag of coffee looks enticing, it tells me the roast date and the harvest date and these dates are not more than three weeks and one year ago respectively,” Jeremy says.
You should also look out for detailed origin info, and details about the varieties in the bag.
“I get some info on the origin of the coffee and this is more detailed than just country; I need to see the name of the cooperative or estate so I can find the coffee again one day if I love it. Then I’m hoping for some information on how the coffee was processed. Three main ways here: washed, pulped natural, or natural. And finally, and perhaps the most exciting area that I’d like to know about, is what varieties are in the bag. Just like with apples, this has a dramatic impact on the coffee’s flavour.”
9. You should avoid civet coffee.
Not only is civet coffee cruel to animals, it’s also just not very good.
“I’m told that there’s no recorded incidence of civet coffee scoring over 80/100, which is a baseline for speciality coffee. So by our scoring standards, it’s on a similar level to commodity coffee,” Jeremy explains. “And by our standards, it’s highly exploitative of animals. Battery farming and force-feeding is common. So we shun civet coffee.”
10. There are reasons why instant coffee tastes bad.
The first is down to traceability. “One good reason why instant coffee is unpleasant is that you’re only told on the tin ‘100% coffee’. Whilst that might be reassuring that there’s no old rubber boots in there, for example, that doesn’t tell you anything about where the coffee is from, how good it is, whether it’s arabica or robusta. So because there’s no kind of traceable evidence of coffee quality, we can only assume that the coffee quality is quite poor.”
The other is down to the amount of extraction. “I’m told instant coffee makers go for maximum extraction. There are guidelines for how much to extract from the whole coffee bean. Most educators will say about 18-22% of the bean dissolving is optimum. So that’s recommended by the speciality coffee associations around the world, and there are exceptions, but it kind of works. But if you take more the 22%, the coffee starts tasting cardboardy, more bitter, it dries your mouth more, becomes astringent. You’ll see an imbalance towards bitterness. Essentially, maximum extraction doesn’t taste good.”
11. You should always try to grind your own beans.
Even grinding by hand with a cheap grinder is better than buying pre-ground beans, Jeremy says.
“Even grinding by hand, with an inferior grinder, is better than pre-ground [remember our earlier point about aroma escaping]. But we do steer people away from using spice grinders. It’s great that you’re grinding fresh, but you’ll get more uneven extraction of the sugars and the acids in the coffee. Some particles are going to be super fine, like icing sugar. And others will be chips like cocoa nibs.
“In the ideal world, you’d have the particles all around the same size. You can achieve this with a burr grinder. You can pick up an £80 burr grinder, or you can get a hand burr grinder.”
12. Soy milk is chemically predisposed to curdle in coffee.
The reason soy milk goes funny in coffee is due to two factors: the acidity of coffee, and the temperature.
“One of our directors – Gwilym Davies, who is a World Barista Champion – he did a lot of research with Alpro. And they discovered that the curdle point for soy is a pH of 5.5 if I recall. So soy will curdle below that. And pretty much all light-roasted arabica coffee will have a pH below 5.5.”
There are a few ways to stop your soy curdling though.
“At Prufrock, we take cold soy milk and add freshly brewed espresso into the soy milk, and then we steam them together.
“Also, curdling’s less likely to happen in a more diluted beverage, so if you did a big 60g/litre pour-over, the pH will be a bit higher than if it was a super-strong stove-top espresso. So slightly more dilution should help with your coffee at home.
Finally, you can also buy soy milk that’s made for coffee. “And they have pH-corrected soy milk on the market. Alpro does a ‘barista soy’ that has an anti-curdling agent.”
13. Technically, you can use an espresso roast in your Aeropress.
An espresso roast is fine to use, but the roast will have been prepared for making *espresso*. So this will affect the taste when you use it for a filter roast (for example, in your Aeropress).
If you want a fruity and herby taste from your Aeropress coffee, then it’s best to use a filter roast. But if you want a tobacco-y taste, then you can use an espresso roast.
“It’s fine to do that if you prefer slightly more toasty flavours, with less acidity,” says Jeremy. “As that’s generally what a roaster will do with a coffee that they’re selling as an espresso roast.”
14. As for a fool-proof recipe? We’ve got you covered.
The two base coffee methods are immersion brewing and drip brewing.
Immersion brewing is similar to a French press. Prufrock’s standard g/l ratio for a cafetiere is 68g coffee per litre. For a pour-over (drip brewing), they recommend 60g/l. This difference is due to the fact that when you plunge your French press (for example), the sludgey grounds at the bottom are just as good for drinking as what you’ve taken out. This means that your coffee is more diluted, hence they recommend 68g.
Here’s a drip-brewing walk-through
1. Don’t use boiling water. Prufrock recommend somewhere between 92-96°C. But of course this is all trial and error.
2. Inspect your beans. Get rid of any that are pale and yellow. This means they haven’t been picked when they’re ripe.
3.Grind your beans.
4. Weigh out as much coffee as you’d like to brew. Remember, the brew ratio for pour-over is 60g per litre.
5. Take your filter (and a dripper – we’re using a Hario v60) and any jug you like.
6. Rinse the filter.This isn’t essential but will get rid of any papery taste to the water that comes through.
7. Pour the coffee in.
8. Dig a hole in the coffee in order to pre-wet it.
10. Turn on your timer.
11. Add about 3x water to coffee and stir, to allow the coffee to bloom.
12. Pour all the water in.
13. Stir again to make sure nothing sticks to the paper.
14. Let all the water come out and then stir the coffee before you serve. Otherwise the stuff that comes out first will be stronger.
*If you find that your cup isn’t strong enough, you don’t need to add more coffee; just grind your beans finer next time.*
15. And you don’t even need a coffee pot to immersion-brew.
Follow steps 1-4 as above. For this method, Prufrock recommend 17g coffee per 250ml (or 68g/l).
5. Add the coffee to the jug.
6. Start your timer and add all the water in. There’s no need to bloom here, just stir it really well for 10-20 seconds to stop the coffee from floating. You want water to go inside the grinds and to submerge them under the water.
7. Steep for 4-7 minutes – however you like it. The longer you leave it, the more clarified it will become. But remember that it will never be as clear as a drip coffee. As there’s no filter, this will be a bit cloudier.
8. Don’t stir it before you serve it, otherwise you will have some sludge. Use gravity to your advantage, and make sure not to pour out the last bit of the coffee.
16. You don’t need to buy a fancy machine to make good coffee at home.
The best home machine would be the Kees van der Western Speedster, Jeremy says. “It looks like a little hotrod and it’s made by a wonderful man in the Netherlands who makes machines by hand. Most of his engineers used to make Harley-Davidsons. It’s about 5,000 euros.”
But if you want to spend money, you should invest in a grinder ahead of a machine.
“You don’t have to spend crazy amounts of money on your machine though. You can get a better cup with a cheap espresso machine and a really nice grinder. If someone is thinking of making an investment, before you upgrade your machine, you should upgrade the grinder.
“I would choose a commercial grinder and a Gaggia classic over a commercial espresso machine and a little tiny hand grinder. You’ll get a better cup.”
17. Know what flavours you like when you’re shopping for coffee.
First of all, decide whether you prefer a bitter flavour or a toasty flavour.
Jeremy says: “If you don’t like too much bitterness in the coffee and look for fruity floral flavours in your coffee, avoid coffees sold as strength level 5 or with a black oily appearance. These have been roasted hotter or longer and will be much more quinic-tasting with heavy body.
“If you prefer toasty and spicy flavours in your coffee and don’t like much sourness in your coffee, avoid coffees that are sold as filter roast, but also ensure there are no obvious black scorch marks on your beans as this will impart a smoky, carbony note to the coffee.”
And again, read the info on the packet. “If the only info your jar of coffee gives you is that it’s 100% coffee, then avoid this product. You and the farmers deserve to see more reporting on how the coffee was traded, what species of coffee are there, and if the coffee is fresh by harvest and roast date.”
18. And enjoy getting to know new roasters!
“Single-estate coffee only really dates back to the end of the ’90s and during the brief period of speciality coffee’s existence, from a single handful of good roasters”, Jeremy explains.
Originally posted in BuzzFeed