Christmas Post #4: Get Out of my Coffee Bar

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Hosting family at Christmas can sometimes mean getting pre-occupied with all the activity.  Family members know better than to get in my coffee bar when I’m present and able to prepare it for them.  It’s not even that they think they can’t make a cup of coffee as well as me, but that they know I WILL chase them out.  This Christmas, a family member who will remain unnamed became tired of waiting on me to prepare a pot of coffee as requested.  This person helped themselves to my coffee bar until I did indeed chase them out.  And now, here are the things they did wrong.

Tap water.  Coffee is 99% water.  With an entire industry built around purified water, you’d think that same consideration would extend to the water being used to brew coffee.  Water is not boiled in a drip brewer, merely heated to an optimal temperature.  So, the water you use DOES make a difference.  There’s a Brita water purifier in the fridge.  Use it.

Full pot.  This one is more forgivable, but I won’t normally take advantage of the carafe’s full capacity.  In a 12-cup carafe, I still won’t normally brew more than eight cups at a time.  My reasoning for this is that the coffee drip-brewed at the beginning of the cycle is stronger than the coffee at the end of the cycle – which is why I hate the interrupt-brew feature of today’s machines.  When my pot of coffee is ready, I swish it around before I pour from it to ensure a consistent strength of coffee throughout.  When you fill the carafe to capacity, you can’t swish… not to mention it’s more likely you spill.

Coffee to water ratio.  This one is very forgivable, but I like my coffee strong.  I suggest a regular coffee scoop of ground coffee per mug of coffee being brewed.  But there is more empty air between big round beans than there is between small grinds of coffee.  For that reason, my scoop of coffee beans per mug is very generous rather than a level scoop of coffee beans.

Hey it’s Christmas, a time to forgive :).

Christmas Post #3: Kenya Auction Lot Coffee

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In the true spirit of Christmas (well, the Grinch story at least), I stole from my parents and then gave back to them.  Let me explain.  My parents are lucky members of fj104c37w1-LPMTUVRMLNMQNSUNPthe Peets Coffee of the Month Club, courtesy of yours truly as a recurring Christmas gift each year.  I set the frequency of delivery at one pound delivered to their door every four weeks and for the most part, that has been almost perfect timing so that they always have fresh coffee in the house that doesn’t sit too long.  It came to my attention this past November that their coffee stock was building up so as a “favor”, I rerouted their next pound of coffee to my address.  This past December, I “forgot” to let Peets know to return to sending the coffee to my parents’ address, so I ended up with a pound of my second favorite coffee in the world, Kenya Auction Lot.

When Kenya gained independence from Britain, the government developed a sophisticated and systematic process for getting their coffee grown and exported to the world.  Every week, the government of Kenya organizes an auction, and each lot of unroasted green coffee is sold to the highest bidder.  Licensed exporters are allowed to sample the lots in advance, and apparently, there are no inside deals.  There are three designations of coffee set by the government itself: AA, A, and B.  If you’re buying your Kenyan coffee from a grocery store, don’t take anything for granted.  When I buy it from Peets, they don’t even need to tell me it’s AA-coffee I’m getting.  For flavor, Kenyan coffee is generally complex and acidic, featuring wine-toned and fruity notes, a medium body thickness, and a consistent lack of “dirty” tones that you might find in an Ethiopian coffee.  The state-run process definitely contributes to a consistent and flavorful coffee.

Hey, my parents got to enjoy it after all so while I might have stolen this pound from them, I grinded it, brewed it, and served it to them.

Christmas Post #2: The Flavored Cappuccino

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My coffee bar features a total of ten flavors that can be added to any coffee.  The most popular is Hazelnutimage-2683311-10389303.  I also have favorites like Irish Cream, Caramel, and Toasted Walnut.  If it’s a good flavor complement to coffee, I have it.  They are mostly Torani syrups, but there are some Starbucks flavor syrups in there as well.  I don’t normally add these flavors to my coffee so they sit on the counter unused.  They came in handy while family was visiting this Christmas because where a good quality gourmet coffee is best enjoyed on its own, the flavor syrups can really dress up a cappuccino.

I don’t normally make cappuccinos, I will admit they are a lot of work.  When a person earns the title of coffee barista, this isn’t somebody that operates a drip brewer.  The true barista is a wizard with the espresso machine that makes lattes and cappuccinos, and I was scrambling to remember how it’s done right.  My machine is actually a Mr. Coffee espresso maker.  This is a private-labelled machine and I’d love to know who made it for Mr. Coffee because it’s a great machine.  Even though I loved using it years ago, something still felt wrong about using a Mr. Coffee machine to make a classy drink like an espresso or cappuccino.  So, I bought a Delonghi machine from Italy and if you’ve ever heard horror stories about their support and customer service, you heard right.  That machine sits in a box in my basement and I’m back on the Mr. Coffee.

I made a menu for my family because of all the different options.  I listed the ten flavors they could enjoy, as well as sprinkled cocoa, cinnamon, and even a cinnamon stick for stirring – cinnamon sticks do double duty at Christmas time with hot apple cider and whiskey, email me for the recipe.  Hats off to my brother, who like me, took his cappuccino straight up without flavors.  I could have even drank it like an espresso shot but thought I would enjoy my first cappuccino in a long time.

Only one embarrasing thing happened.  From disuse, the machine’s milk frother wasn’t working.  I assume there’s something clogging it and it forced the steam out through breaks in the “airtight” lid since it couldn’t get through the frother.  To keep my machine from blowing up from the pressure, I served these cappuccinos with whipped cream.  It was either that or a very milky espresso mix.

The Five Coffee Blogposts of Christmas

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You can’t imagine how much I struggled to come up with 12 things to tell you about coffee this Christmas…would have sounded alot cooler than 5 things, but oh well, better to keep it concise and with impact.  Hosted family this year so I was busy in the coffee bar of my kitchen serving up some great coffee and cappuccinos.  With that, I have five great things to share and will endeavor to get them up over these next five days.

The first is about Starbucks’ Christmas Blend Coffee.  This limited edition blend is released in late November or early December and I scoop it up every year.  Starbucks has been releasing this special unique blend once a year for 25 years.  It’s a more complex blend, which I like.  It combines spicy notes with a higher than average acidity and nice pop in the flavor from their choice of Latin American beans.  And mellowed with a smooth but consistent-body flavor from their choice of Pacific beans.  The key ingredient is their choice of aged Sumatran beans.  Sumatran coffee on its own is definitely in my list of top ten coffees.  Alot of the spicy tones of the Christmas Blend come from the aged Sumatran beans.  It also has a full consistency without being “thick” and an acidity that doesn’t shock the palate.

There may still be time for you to pick up a pound of the Christmas Blend before you have to wait another year.  I would but as you’ll read in the next four posts, my coffee stock is on the heavy side right now so I have work to do.  I was working through the last of this pound of Christmas Blend as family arrived, so they managed to get a cup or two of it before it was gone.

A Popular Topic

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See post below.  This is an often-asked question.

Question: “What’s the water oz to coffee oz ratio for a cup of coffee?” – Steve King

Answer: In the post below, I spell it out in terms of how many scoops of coffee beans to how many cups you’re making.  One cup of water : two tablespoons of coffee.  If you’d like it in ounces, there is one fluid ounce to two tablespoons, which means one ounce of coffee for each cup you’re brewing.  There are 8 fluid ounces to a metric cup, or 16 oz to a mug of coffee.  Your ratio of coffee to water…16:1.  I can’t wait for people for disagree with me on that…it even seems too diluted to me to say it that way, so I’d rather say one coffee scoop per mug of water or per two metric cups.

The Often-Debated Coffee-Water Ratio

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Question: “I just read the process on making a good cup of coffee,however; I did not see anything about measuring, how much coffee or water to use, that’s my BIG problem.” – Nita

Answer: It is a very common question, Nita.  I get lots of emails from people telling me how many cups of coffee they want to make and asking how much coffee to use.  The first thing is that a mug or glass of coffee to me is made of two metric cups.  When the carafe of your coffee maker says it makes 12 cups, I consider that 6 glasses of coffee.  For each glass of coffee I’m making, I use one even “coffee scoop” of ground coffee or one generous scoop of coffee beans – generous, because of the amount of air in between coffee beans versus in between ground coffee.  How big is the “standard” coffee scoop?  It is equal to two US tablespoons.  That means you using two tablespoons of coffee for each mug you’ll be brewing, or one tablespoon per each metric cup.  If you’re making yourself a couple cups of coffee (or four metric cups), scoop four generous tablespoons of coffee beans to grind (or two coffee scoops).  One cup of coffee = one generous coffee scoop.  One metric cup of coffee = one generous tablespoon.  I love coffee, that’s why I keep saying generous.  I hope that helps.

A new friendly look at

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I’m excited to see the site’s new look and I hope you enjoy it now and as it continues to develop.  All of the information was moved over from the previous format so nothing is lost, but reorganized in a way that was intended to make your navigation of the site easier and more logical.  You’re also looking at a radical change in color scheme and hopefully you find it easier on the eyes than the site’s old black and dark brown scheme.

Keep checking in as we get more and more great content and coffee deals up on the site.  If you’re making better coffee at home, we’re doing our job.

Sometimes bad is good

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When it comes to fully appreciating something like a nice coffee, sometimes it’s worth taking a step back in quality. Then you’re reminded how good you have it. This week in a moment full of panic, I woke up to find I was out of coffee beans. I had to drink my coffee out of a cafeteria that day.

I used to drink cafeteria coffee all the time. I can’t say I ever noticed a difference between the blends they advertised, but it was drinkable with enough cream and sugar. And a Hazelnut flavored coffee should be hard even for a cafeteria to screw up. As time’s gone on, my standards have increased but gradually. Only this year did I stop putting cream and sugar in my coffee. I drink coffee every day several times a day, so it’s easy to take the quality for granted. It wasn’t until I was forced to drink cafeteria coffee that I realized just how good my own coffee is.

There, a silver lining.

Guatemala San Sebastian from Peets

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I feel like a kid on Christmas Eve who has to wait until the next day for the big show. Grown up, I don’t usually wait for anything I want, but tonight, I picked up a fresh pound of coffee and if I crack it now, it will be an all-nighter for me.

I’ve tried Peet’s Coffee before. Based out of California and at it for over 40 years now, they know coffee. Check out the Report Card for more information on Peets. I bought one of their coffee tours for family that simply can’t keep up with the pound of coffee they’re sending every month. So, this month, I had it sent to me instead.

It’s a pound of Guatemalan Antigua coffee. It’s amazing to me how differences in climates in coffee-growing regions produce for the coffee lover a wide range of flavors. Coffee from the province of Antigua in Guatemala is my favorite coffee in the world. San Sebastian is the name of a farm that sells to Peets for consumption across North America. They meet Peets’ standard, so I can’t wait to compare this to the Antigua coffee I normally buy retail from Starbucks.

This is the first time a pound of Peets coffee is delivered to my door so I’m excited for my first cup tomorrow. I picked it up at the post office and probably looked like my lab retriever smelling the box all over. Not because I was so anxious to smell it, but because I wanted to make sure I couldn’t smell anything. If the packaging is airtight, I shouldn’t smell any coffee and that means it’s fresh. The bag is stamped with the Roast Date, or day the green beans imported from Guatemala were roasted to fill my order. I usually buy retail from Starbucks and I have to say you just don’t know when it was roasted although if the coffee wasn’t fresh, I’d know. Until tomorrow. Even I think it’s weird if I end up dreaming about my first cup tonight.

Marc kills the Starbucks VIA challenge

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I like Starbucks.  The coffee is a little more expensive than fair-priced.  The crazy coffee drinks like Triple Espresso Chocolatey Cafe Mocha (not an actual Starbucks product) are even higher priced but I’ve yet to find anybody who does it better.  It’s like Hawaiian Kona coffee…three times more expensive and definitely better, but not three times better.  The frappucino is still one of my favorite drinks at Starbucks.  This weekend, I returned to a Starbucks location in Birch Run, Michigan that I’d been to before.  As I was leaving, an employee stationed at the front door stopped me with a blind taste test.

If you haven’t heard, Starbucks has entered the instant coffee foray with a product called VIA Ready Brew.  At first, it was mind-boggling.  Instant coffee is the worst of all coffees, and Starbucks is the gold standard of good coffee.  Their claim is that the instant coffee prepares…well…instantly, but tastes as good as their brewed coffee.  You can imagine by the title of this posting how the rest of the story plays out.

The blind taste test was to compare a sample of freshly brewed
Pike Place Roast
blend with a sample of the VIA Italian Roast.  Here’s the play by play.  I smelled coffee number one, then took a sip.   I smelled coffee number two, and then let her know which was which even before my sip of the second sample.  She gave me the “are you sure?”, but her face said it all.  How did I do it?

First of all, I have an unfair advantage.  Even among Starbucks customers, I probably drink an above average quality of coffee.  Second, don’t discount the sense of smell when it comes to coffee.  Coffee has an aroma that figures into its flavor and if you’re familiar with coffee cupping, you know that’s purely by sense of smell.  The instant coffee had virtually no smell, especially compared to the Pike Place which is an excellent Starbucks blend.  I didn’t want to hurt her feelings too badly, and let her know it was definitely the best instant coffee I’d ever had.

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