How to Make the Best Coffee

(c) sarahdoow - fotolia.com

(c) sarahdoow – fotolia.com

I already told you about the last day of Intro to Medical Nutrition Therapy, so today I want to fill you in on what was possibly – aside from ice cream day – the best day of Food Science class ever:

Coffee and Tea Day.

It was amazing.  Especially since class started in the wee hours of the morning, getting to sit around sipping coffee and making notes about the taste, right before finals, was the best.

First, some interesting facts.

Rumor is that coffee was first discovered by an Ethiopian goat herder. He lost a few of his goats, and when he found them, they were crazy energetic and happy.  He found that they had been eating these mysterious red berries…and hence, coffee was discovered. (Is anyone else singing this song right now? No, just me?)

Anywho, the berries are picked and partially dried.  The hull is then removed – there are two seeds/beans inside each berry. These are then dried completely.  If there is any moisture left in them, they will not be able to go through the last step, which is roasting.

The beans are roasted at a blistering 900 degrees Fahrenheit! If you’re not a pro, odds are you’ll ruin the beans. When they’re too hot, lots of volatile chemical compounds are released, causing nasty smells and bitter tastes (this is also why if you take too long to make your coffee or use water that’s too hot, it will smell burned and taste bitter. Those same compounds are released). The higher the temperature and the longer the roast, the more intense the flavor. Hence, darker roasts have more flavor, while blonde roasts are more mild.

The reason we grind the beans to make coffee is to increase the amount of surface area, so that the hot water can extract the flavor, color, and aroma. This is why different methods for brewing coffee require different grind sizes – they send the water through the grounds in different ways. Methods that take longer, such as drip and filter coffee, need a finer grind (more surface area), while quick methods, such as instant, need a coarser grind (less surface area).

How to Make the Perfect Cup

If your coffee made at home (assuming you don’t use a pro machine like Keurig) tastes like crap, it’s probably because you’re messing up one of the four key aspects. It’s like any recipe, really – you need to follow certain steps and use certain amounts of ingredients.

The four things that must be correctly controlled are:

  1. water temperature: should be 190-210 degrees Fahrenheit – just before it boils. NEVER use boiling water. You don’t want to over-activate those bitter compounds.
  2. grind size: make sure you have the correct grind for your machine to get maximum flavor.
  3. length of brew time: a machine should take care of this, but if you’re using a French press or something, don’t brew longer or less than 4-5 minutes.
  4. coffee:water ratio: this is the most important and the one most people screw up. The ratio has to be 2 tablespoons of coffee per 6 ounces of water. A lot of people (myself included) use fewer grounds because they think it will make their coffee less caffeinated. This is completely FALSE. Because there are fewer grounds, they have to do more work. Say, for example, you only use 1T of grounds for 6oz.  Now, those 1T worth of grounds have to do double the work they should. They process double the amount of heat and double the amount of water, so they get tired,  sapped of all the good stuff.  Once all the good stuff has been absorbed, guess what they start releasing into the remainder of the water they still have to process? You guessed it – those bitter, nasty compounds (and, ironically, excess caffeine). By using the correct amount of grounds, you are allowing them to do just the amount of work they should have to, and thus the coffee tastes better and has the perfect amount of caffeine.

If you want to see Alton Brown from the Food Network explains these four things, check out this video.  He’s an extreme coffee purist, though, so take his advice with a grain of salt. (this joke will be funnier if you watch the video.)

(c) mihaperosa - fotolia.com

(c) mihaperosa – fotolia.com.

But what about iced coffee?

It’s summer now…while I love my java, I don’t really want hot coffee in the mornings. And while I could buy premade iced coffee (hello, Starbucks), there’s so much sugar in them that it seems like a bad move to drink them regularly (I don’t need diabetes on top of the celiac, you know what I mean?).

And unfortunately, I have a really hard time making iced coffee at home. Blending, making concentrate…it’s a lot of work and requires way too many dishes. And then, much like smoothies, I have trouble getting it right anyway. What’s a girl to do?

The answer, much like with smoothies, came from my new favorite food blog, Chocolate Covered Katie.  Whilst perusing her site, I found this little gem. It truly is the best way to make iced coffee at home. Give it a try!

All the information in this post (except the part about iced coffee) comes from notes I took whilst my food science teacher, Mrs. W, lectured – hence no citations.

One thought on “How to Make the Best Coffee

  1. Pingback: Recipe Roundup: Cinnamon Rolls | HealthyEmily

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