Say you’re new to the whole gourmet coffee thing and in the spirit of discovery you’ve joined your friends for a few trips to the local CafeKiller franchise to see what all the fuss is about. If you’re like most discerning people you’ve come away from that experience wondering if all the world’s gourmet coffee is so acidic (it’s not), whether everyone fails to clean their pots (they don’t) and whether there’s more than just 6 types of coffee beans in the world (there are). Below are our top tips for coffee beginners who want to make the most of their new interest and maybe even brew the perfect cup of coffee in their own kitchen.
About the Bean
With coffee, it’s all about the bean. You can have the most expensive, ultra-deluxe, gold-plated cappuccino machine on earth but if you’re using old, pre-ground beans your coffee won’t make the grade. So forget about pre-ground beans and pick up a decent grinder of your own instead. Then go in search of high-quality beans to grind in it. Here are some things to keep in mind when shopping for those beans.
● Type of Bean – The tropical regions of the world are teeming with every imaginable type of bean from everyone’s favorite Arabica to obscure Vietnamese beans grown in red earth. Keep in mind that each bean has its own characteristics. Beans from the Caribbean basin, for example, are highly aromatic and light bodied. Others from the former Spice Islands of Sumatra and Java tend to be strong and full-bodied with some exhibiting woody characteristics. Brazilian beans tend to be fairly mild and well balanced. Try different types until you find a few you love.
● Where to Buy – Thanks to the corporatization of the cafe industry a lot of high-quality independent coffee shops have been driven out of business. But fear not for brave holdouts continue to keep their doors open in most cities and deserve your patronage. These shops tend to put the love of coffee over the love of market dominance and will have a wider selection of beans to choose from. The Internet is also a good place find a wide variety of beans though it may be difficult to determine the exact roast date in some cases.
● Speaking of Roast Date – The flavor of a particular coffee bean is in the oil. The longer a bean has been sitting around after being roasted the more of its natural oils will evaporate and the more its innate flavor will dissipate. Because of this the “roast date” is important. Not every roaster will include a roast date. But if you can find one that does your efforts to create the perfect cup of coffee will get a huge boost.
● The Grind – Now that you have your grinder and your beans it’s time to get down to business. The most important thing to remember is that different types of coffee machines will call for different grinds. For instance: a French Press will call for a coarse grind. Drip coffee makers with flat bottom filters typically call for a medium grind. While the fine grind is usually reserved for Espresso machines and drip coffee makers with conical filters.
● The Perfect Milk – The milk you choose will impact the flavor as much as the bean itself so your choice of dairy product should be carefully considered. The main types of dairy used in coffee include:
○ Whole milk – With its 4% milk fat it brings a nice balance of body and lightness to your cup. Just make sure not to overdo it.
○ Reduced Fat – This type of milk is usually around 1 or 2% fat and is a wise choice for those who drink a lot of coffee but wish to minimize their intake of milk fat.
○ Skim Milk – Skim milk is virtually fat-free. That’s great if you’re on a diet but it won’t bring much to the flavor table. Be aware too that the makers of skim milk often compensate for the lack of natural flavor by adding sugar.
○ Half and Half – As the name implies it’s half milk and half cream. Half and Half is typically around 12% fat which means it can quickly overwhelm your perfect cup of coffee if you’re not careful. Half and Half should be about as fatty as you want to get with your coffee additive.
Finally, whether you add refined sugar, unrefined sugar or even brown sugar to your coffee (and how much you add) will be entirely up to you but we recommend a modest amount of unrefined sugar to provide the perfect complement to your coffee creation. The world of gourmet coffee is not the exclusive domain of the rich or the corporation. With some practical knowledge and a little trial and error, you can produce the perfect cup right in your own home. Happy brewing!