The path to a perfect cup of coffee
Knowing how to choose the right beans and the proper way to prepare them can make all the difference between a steamy, dreamy cup of coffee and one that’s weak, watery or bitter. Here’s an overview from Consumer Reports.
• Harvesting. The coffee bean is actually a small seed inside a fruit, the coffee cherry. The cherry can be washed off the seed (wet processing) or left whole to dry (natural or dry processing).
• Roasting. During roasting, any remaining moisture in the beans evaporates, the sugars caramelize, the beans begin to brown and swell and their aromas and flavor are developed. Terms such as “medium roast” and “dark roast” can vary by brand.
• Buying. Freshly ground whole beans usually make the best-tasting coffee. Buying loose whole beans, as opposed to bagged ones, lets you buy smaller quantities, so you can sample new varieties without having to buy a whole bag. But Consumer Reports warns that loose beans may not be as fresh as bagged beans, which are often vacuum-sealed.
• Storing. Keep beans in an airtight container – stainless steel, ceramic or opaque glass – out of direct sunlight. Heat and light oxidize the oils in the beans, diminishing freshness. Don’t store beans in the refrigerator or freezer, where they can absorb the flavors of other foods. Leaving them in a kitchen cabinet is fine.
• Grinding. Avoid using the grinding machine at the market: Your coffee can pick up flavors of other beans that have been ground in it that day. Burr grinders are more expensive than blade grinders but are a good investment because they grind beans more evenly, allowing more even extraction of flavors from the coffee. For the best taste, brew grounds right after grinding.
• Selecting the grind. Match the grind size to the type of coffeemaker. If the grind is too fine, too much coffee will be extracted, giving you a bitter brew. If the grind is too coarse, your coffee will be waterytasting. Generally, use medium grind for drip coffeemakers, slightly coarser grind for French press and fine grind for an espresso machine.
• Water filtering. Most tap water is chlorinated, which kills bacteria but also affects the taste of the coffee. Filtering tap water with a simple carbon filter
may reduce chlorine taste and improve the flavor of your coffee, no matter how it’s brewed.
• Water heating. If the water’s not hot enough – 195 degrees Fahrenheit to 205 degrees Fahrenheit – it won’t extract all of the flavors from your coffee and can make a weaker brew. If the water’s too hot, it will extract undesirable flavors such as bitterness.
• Measuring. The ratio of coffee to water is important. Consumer Reports
suggests starting with 15 grams – about a heaping tablespoon – of coffee for every 8 ounces of water, and experiment. (Measure both so that once you’ve found a ratio you like, you’ll be able to do it again.) An inexpensive kitchen scale helps. Drink coffee right away or pour it into an insulated carafe. Coffee will develop harsh, acid flavors if you leave it on a hotplate.