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Dappered, tell me about coffee

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    Dappered, tell me about coffee

    I feel that, like many things in life, I interact with coffee everyday but never give it much thought.

    I know what 'roasts' are (or do I?). I know that cappuccino is a breakfast beverage (though I don't think I've ever had one). And I know that if I don't drink coffee, I will fall asleep at 7 o'clock.

    There are a number of well-respected cafes near me that I would love frequent, but they intimidate me. What do I order? I hate repeatedly demonstrating my ignorance.

    I brew a pot in the morning and take the remainder along to work in a thermos. But then I see others with drip filters and french presses and I think, "what am I missing out on?"

    So I would like to hear your opinions and advice on coffee: good coffees, your preferred method of brewing, what to order when ____, what to avoid, etc. etc. Please help those of us who remain so uncouth.


    I can't really say I'm super knowledgeable about coffee, but I can tell you what I do. I always buy more premium coffee at the grocery store. I stay away from Folger's, Maxwell House, etc. I always look for coffee with 100% Arabica beans. You can get very good coffee at reasonable prices at Costco and Trader Joe's. For brewing, use 1-2 tablespoons coffee for every 6 ounces tap water (not distilled water).



      I really recommend the aeropress. I have a huge french press and use that when I have company over, but I use the aeropress daily. It's basically a french press that uses a paper filter for a cleaner taste (which some may not prefer) and it doesn't require 4-5 minutes of steeping. It makes a small amount, like an espresso shot, and then you just fill your mug/thermos with hot water for what's basically an americano. It's also much easier to clean that a french press.

      I think the part of coffee that I like is the ritual. I wake up, put the kettle on, I grind the beans, I'm the one deciding the strength of the coffee, the temperature, etc. That's why I can't get behind the basic coffee maker, or especially the keurig machines which cost an arm and a leg to run, it's just set it and forget it, might as well have a mountain dew every morning.

      My favorite way to drink coffee is black, and I think it is the healthiest as well, but I'm not sure. Either way, it's a matter of opinion.



        I wish I could drink coffee, but it upsets my stomach. Is there anything I could do?



          @Jessy - Look for low acid coffee. If you have a Trader Joe's near you, they carry a Low Acid French Roast.



            Don't be intimidated by the coffee shop. Basically, everything in the typical cafe is some combination of coffee (usually shots of espresso, not that it matters much), milk, and maybe sweetener/flavoring in varying proportions. A latte is usually a safe place to start. Couple shots of espresso, steamed milk. Not too overbearing. Cappucino is basically the same thing, but with frothier milk (I don't think it is a faux pas to drink them after breakfast. Even if you get something you turn out not to like, you aren't out more than a fiver.

            If you have a more discriminating palate than I do, you can get into all kinds of coffee variables. I personally like a moderately dark roast, and with probably more grounds/cup than the instructions recommend. I'm not super picky. Lately We've been getting either the Archer Farm's Mexican Free Trade from Target, or one of the Caribou blends at the grocery. The Dunkin Donuts stuff isn't bad either. We had a Newman's own last week that my wife didn't like, but it pretty much tasted like coffee to me. Make sure it is fresh, and use it up quickly. Whole bean keeps its flavor a little longer, but if you are buying vacuum sealed ground, it seems OK if you use it within a week or so of opening (remember, I don't have a discriminating palate). It is also more convenient not to have to grind.

            I've got a Cuisinart drip maker that I hate (because it leaks) and a french press. Never noticed a huge taste difference between the two. If your water is gross, use bottled or filtered. If your water is hard, use vinegar every so often to de-lime the pot. That's about it.



              Oh coffee...

              Here's a few things I've learned in my time drinking coffee:

              The roast - The roast of the coffee bean contributes the most to the overall flavor of the coffee. The lighter the roast, the more you'll taste the characteristics of the beans; the darker the roast, the more the characteristics of the roast shine through. People often confuse dark roasted beans like French or Italian with strong tasting coffee, and often say things like "I can't drink French roast, it's too strong". But the strength of the coffee is mostly determined by the strength of the brew.

              The brew - Along with the grind, this determines how strong the cup of coffee will be. The higher the bean to water ratio, the stronger the brew. This takes a bit of experimentation to perfect and differs between brewing methods.

              The grind - This also affects the strength of the brew. There are two main types of grinders: blade and burr. A blade grinder chops up the beans into tiny little uneven pieces, while a burr (or mill) grinder pulverizes the beans into even granules. The more even the grind is the better the extraction of the coffee flavor, which is why people consider burr grinders to be superior. Another benefit of a burr grinder is the ability to adjust the fineness of the grind for use across multiple brewing apparatuses. A drip maker will require a different grind size than will a french press than will an aeropress.

              The water - The coffee oils are extracted best between 200F and 210F, or just below boiling temperature. If boiling water is added to the coffee beans, more bitter oils are extracted than at a lower temperature. Many people complain about the bitterness of coffee; great coffee should have very little bitterness, and a strong bitter taste is the sign of an improper brew.

              The bean - There are two main types of beans, arabica and robusta. Robusta beans generally have more caffeine than arabica, but arabica is superior in flavor and aroma. Always, always, always, buy whole bean coffee and grind your own. Coffee is highly perishable and starts to degrade immediately after roasting. Oxygen is the enemy of coffee, so whole bean coffee stored in an air tight container is your best defense against the elements.



                Coffee will be what you make of it. Some can swallow the Maxwell Houses and Folgers of the world or even venture into the "Instant" coffees.

                Here are some basics and generalities:


                Dark Roasts are roasted longer, have a deeper, earthier flavor but that varies more on the bean than it does on the roast. Since they are roasted longer they have less caffeine than a medium or light roast. Lighter roasts tend to be a little bit more acidic. Flavored coffee beans can vary from naturally flavored to Dunkin' Donuts adding chemicals to their coffee to make it taste like Hazelnut.


                Beans come from all over the world. Arabica is a type of bean that can be harvested from a bunch of different places. It tends to have an earthier, fuller taste but each place creates a unique flavor profile. Check out the wiki page for a decent breakdown


                How you make your coffee can change the flavor. Purists enjoy a French press because it involves fresh ground beans (grinding whole beans yourself in a courser grind). A press allows you to get the natural oils of the coffee bean because the grounds are submerged in the water and then filtered out. This allows more flavor to be imparted. It also allows you to control the type of water you use. Filtered water will taste better than tap because you're not imparting the impurities of the water into the coffee.

                You can also use a percolator but don't do that unless you're camping.

                Very typical is the drip method, which you'll find in every starbucks and most people's homes. Hot water is dripped through grounds and collected in a carafe below. Not much exposure to the grounds so less flavor.

                There are other methods but I don't find them as popular or economical


                That's all I can think of off the top of my head.

                Like in most things, order what you like. Just like a bar, have a flavor in mind and ask the barista for something comparable. Hot/Cold, sweet/bitter, flavored/unflavored.



                  To lionelhutz's point, the Aeropress is my favorite method of making coffee. Along with a burr grinder, it really is the best way to really dial in your preferred cup of coffee. I prefer a medium (or city) roast in a very strong brew. Smooth, full bodied, delicious. I used to buy multiple bags of Jamaican Blue Mountain off of eBay, but I've been exploring the local coffee offerings lately.

                  Look no further than September's Bespoke Post Box


                  The grinder alone will probably run you $40-$50 and the aeropress goes $25 on amazon, leaving the coffee as an awesome added bonus.



                    If ordering lattes from shops, be sure to ask how many shots of espresso are in each size (some places only give one shot for both a small & medium).

                    This stuff looks pretty intense too;



                      Also to answer the OP's question about what to order: When I go to a coffee shop, I like to order whatever their coffee of the day is. It's a great way to try new coffees, and you may find something you really like but never knew of. If they have multiple coffees available, ask the Batista what they like or what they recommend. They should be more than happy to give you a rundown of each of the flavor profiles which should help in making the decision. If all else fails, you can't go wrong with an Americano



                        Coffee is not nearly as complicated as the marketing would have you believe.

                        Find a local, small, independent coffee roaster. There should be a selection of roasters in your area. Buy the coffee freshly roasted, and if you can grind it fresh each day, do so. If grinding it yourself isn't on the program, no problem, just ask the roaster to grind it to order when you buy it, which they will be glad to do.

                        Using coffee as soon after its roasted as possible, and as using it as soon after it's ground as possible, are the two most important concepts for making good coffee. Coffee ground a month ago that's been on the shelf for a week, even if it's a top quality "premium" brand of coffee, can't hold a candle to freshly roasted beans, freshly ground.

                        My roaster's least expensive coffees (which happen to be from Ethiopia and Papua New Guinea lately), purchased the day it's roasted, ground each morning, make far better coffee than anything available at any price in my supermarket, or twice that amount in a local coffee shop that has funny-sounding made up foreign names for everything. I try not to buy more than a week's supply at a time, and I keep it in an airtight jar (nothing fancy, a used jelly jar).

                        If you feel intimidated in a coffee shop, I would suggest finding somewhere where they don't depend on dazzling and intimidating the customer, and impressing the customer with inflated prices. Just ask for a medium (or large, small) coffee, and specify milk/cream/sugar etc. to taste (unless the custom at the shop is for the customers to serve their own milk/cream/sugar). If they try to turn that into a complicated ritual, you might be paying for the floor show rather than a good cup of coffee for a reasonable price.

                        More detailed and complicated coffee procedures can come later. A good solid cup of coffee for a good price is a great place to start, and brewing a good cup at home with a relatively simple method is next. Use freshly roasted coffee, use fresh clear cold water that's good to drink, and keep your brewing utensils clean. Not really that complicated.

                        To use a clothing analogy, a good two-dollar cup of coffee is analogous to a nice light blue dress shirt. Useful in many settings, and a great place to start. It tastes(looks) good, and it doesn't have to be complicated. If you don't have that, there's not much point to a $13.50 double-half-caf-capachoonie-gronday-plonday-with-cinnamon-swirlie-on-the-half-shell from a certified barooster, which might be analagous to a fully bespoke dinner suit.

                        You might also ask around to see one of your friends is a coffee enthusiast, and ask for their advice. If they've fallen for the floor show, I feel sorry for them, but at least they can show you the ropes without your feeling intimidated.



                          Oh yeah, I agree with The Dork about water temperature. When the water boils, let it cool for a minute or two or three; if you make coffee with boiling water, it won't taste right.



                            Can you "over-brew" coffee, like how tea becomes bitter if you steep it too long?



                              @Jessy - drink tea! It's got a better taste and less caffeine. But you can still become a connoisseur if you like, since there's a lot of styles. My favorite is a rice green tea in the late afternoon, or an iced green tea with lemon on hot days.