Brew School: How to Properly Brew a Cup of Coffee

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Brewing Coffee: A How-To

Coffee! Coffee! Coffee!

The battle cry of Lorelei Gilmore and most of us every morning.  I was late to the game, making it through college without a sip of the real stuff (only the worst variety of the sugary-fat-filled-so-called-latte from my friendly neighborhood Reckers).  That is, until I landed myself in NOLA, with their creamy café au laits, made with chicory, full fat milk (or was it cream?), perfectly paired with beignets from Café du Monde, or a sunlit patio on Magazine Street.  Yes, New Orleans coffee would be my downfall, and I grew from the sugary sweet, to the half milk to the almost black through law school, and I’ve never looked back.

As a grown up though on my own, I’ll admit that I’m still of the au lait way every day and have not graduated to black, which is, in my opinion, the true mark of a full-fledged adult. I just…can’t.

I blame this in part to the fact that I just don’t make a good cup of coffee at home. I am loose with the measures, pick whatever coffee is on sale and forever, brewed it on a hand me down coffee pot.  I could never get over the mess of a French Press, nor the bother of an espresso. As such, my daily cup ‘o’ joe enjoyed at my desk with a lake view more often than not tends to be…instant.

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You may all cringe.

The coffee movement seems to have taken off in the way the craft beer movement has, with local roasters becoming more commonplace and their goods being sold not only in their stand-alone shops, but also in the big-name grocers giving us all more options and another reason to drink up the Chicago pride.

Last Saturday, I got invited to a little gathering at the Roastery of Big Shoulders coffee, a local roaster and coffee maker, and there and from its very warm proprietor, learned the secret of making an honest to goodness delicious cup.  Since this seemed to be an art lost on many, I figured it was certainly worth a share.

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So here is how to properly brew a great cup of coffee, courtesy of Tim Coonen.

  1.  Keep your equipment clean.
  2. Use fresh coffee.  Rather than the sell-by date, you should look at the “roast” date. Buy and use it within two weeks of this date for the best coffee possible.
  3. While grind-then-brew is the best way to go, only do this if you have a proper burr grinder (suggestions:  Chemex, Kalita Wave or Clever Dripper). I, like many, have the nice $10 grinder, but the problem with this is that the grinds are uneven. Tim equated that to throwing both crushed and whole garlic cloves into the pan at the same time to make a marinara sauce. We’d all agree that’d be no bueno, so why would we think to do the same thing with coffee?
  4. Use a scale, with a ratio of 1 part coffee to 15 parts water as a starting point, and play with that to your taste.  An example of this is 33 grams coffee/500 grams water.
  5. Make sure your water is heated to the proper temperature.  204F makes for the happiest bath.
  6. If not using an auto-drip, bloom the coffee by pouring just enough to moisten the grounds but not actually brew, allowing the water and coffee to get to know each other and not just have a fleeting romance.  All it one minute to bloom before brewing.
  7. If you are using an auto drip, the rule is 2 TB coffee per cup of coffee.  Don’t under-dose!

And finally, the refrigerator and the freezer are the worst places to store coffee (hear that, Mom?).  However, don’t buy it in bulk, because coffee will go rancid. Small batches are best.

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There you have it! And if you are reading this shaking your head and thinking me a coffee snob, remember that your inability to do this properly at home is probably why you’re willing to walk 4 blocks to Starbucks in the cold, snow and slush to pay $4 for 16 ounces rather than 5 steps to your coffee pot.*

Chew on that.

For ways to flavor up your now perfectly brewed cup of coffee, check this: Spanish style, Island style, Mexican style.

*I’m not holier than though. I stand in line for and buy coffee, too.

Written during, you guessed it, Dancing with the Stars.


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