Looking for a nutty and smooth coffee

in Brewing Coffee, Buying Coffee

Question: Marc, I want a coffee that has a nutty flavor without being bitter or acidy.  Every time I try a new coffee, it still seems to have a bitter taste and not smooth and boastful. I use a Proctor Silex (not an expensive machine) I use cold water from the tap. Should I use distilled or water from the frig. Does the filter have something to do with it. Can you suggest anything so that I can enjoy a good cup of coffee.  – Judith

Answer: Hello Judith, if you’re looking for a coffee that is nutty and smooth without being bitter, I suggest starting with the Latin American coffees.  Try a freshly-roasted Costa Rican coffee or my personal favorite, a Guatemalan.  My personal opinion is that a coffee has an initially nutty flavor shortly after it’s been roasted, or at least that’s been my experience roasting my own beans at home.  To get freshly-roasted beans, you will need to visit a local roaster or else try one of the chains like Starbucks.  The problem with the chains is that you don’t always know how recently it was roasted but you can’t do worse than the grocery store, even if they do sell single-source coffees like the two I’ve suggested above.

If a local coffee roaster is not accessible, click here to visit Starbucks Store online, they ship a wider variety of Starbucks coffees than most individual locations carry in the store.

For water, I definitely suggest using filtered water.  I have a Brita pitcher in the fridge and use only that water for brewing.  Coffee is 99% water so you want to make sure you get that ingredient (and of course, the coffee itself) right.  I hope this helps and I’d love to hear back from you.

Rob Zombie launches line of…coffee?!?

in Buying Coffee

Move over Krusty the Klown, there’s a new face in shamelessly attaching your name to whatever you can.  Stealing a page from Gene Simmons’ book of marketing, Rob Zombie, founder and former singer of White Zombie, has announced a new line of coffee called “Rob Zombie Coffee”. 

You can pre-order now for shipment from the Rob Zombie distribution center on December 27th.  Rob is offering two coffees from his kitchen: Rob Zombie Organic French Roast, and Rob Zombie Organic Peru.

I will hand it to Rob, he made the right decision and clearly didn’t write his own product descriptions, and whoever is bagging this coffee for him is bagging Fair Trade coffee. 

But if there was any doubt that he isn’t somehow directly involved in this new product launch, he has clearly named the coffees himself, calling them the Hellbilly Brew and using very scary fonts on the labeling to describe Peru and French Roast.

Think I’m joking?  See for yourself.  And sorry, but no bundling discount if you combine a purchase of coffee with Rob’s line of Total Skull t-shirts, cardboard Halloween masks, or the often-backordered Mummy Pendant.

Melitta vs. French Press…fight!

in Brewing Coffee

Question: What makes a better cup of coffee: the Melitta manual coffee system (aka Chemex) OR the French Press? — Hal

Answer: Hal, this is a great question. I’m going to go with the French Press for two very non-scientific reasons. First, the experts I know swear by the French Press so I believe that’s in a class of its own. Second, my understanding of any pour-over technique like Melitta’s is that it is onerous and requires a steady pour…the French Press on the other hand is very easy to manage (pour the hot water in, let it sit). I feel like the easier method with less margin for error that experts swear by is our winner.

Let me know if you hear differently. It’s a great question.

Learn more about the French Press brewing method.

The Skinny on Pod Single-Serve Coffee

in Brewing Coffee

Robin is a long-time friend of MakeGoodCoffee.com, and recently asked about the very popular single-serve pod coffee makers. It’s no wonder. In the US alone for the 12 months ending in September 2010, single-pod coffee makers and the pods themselves have become the fastest-growing segment of the coffee market, growing 155% to over $200 million in sales.

Keurig probably has the best-known product with their pods sold as “K-Cups”. This month, Mr. Coffee announced that it would step into the ring with a more economical version of the same type of coffee maker. You’ve likely seen the pod coffee maker in people’s homes and in some offices.

But if you love great coffee, is this machine a better option to drip-brewing or the coffee press? I was surprised at how little has been written on this. My best conclusion is that people who love as fresh a cup of coffee as they can get are shying away from the single-serve, while the invention itself has attracted a new slew of coffee drinkers that are attracted to the machine’s convenience and who are still getting a decent cup of coffee. What’s it boil down to?

1. Convenience

    There’s no denying that you will have a hot cup of relatively fresh coffee in your hand with much less work and in a shorter time period if one cup is all you’re making.  You grab a pod, load it into the machine, hit a button, and within 1-2 minutes, you’re good to go.Compared to the separate water-boiling step and saturating the grounds in a French Press, the pod coffee drinker is done his first cup before you’re pouring yours.  Even to make one cup in a drip brewer means measuring the right amount of water and loading grounds into a filter.  Not to mention that the right amount of coffee has already been measured and ground by the pod maker for your convenience.

    Quite simply, it’s more convenient to use a pod maker, so it’s no wonder that people that want to make good coffee at home but do it in the shortest possible time are buying this coffee maker in droves.

2. Freshness

    Here’s what will spark a debate with pod coffee drinkers: it can’t be as fresh as coffee that was ground from fresh whole beans immediately before it was brewed in a quality coffee maker.  I’ve had many pod coffees and I thought they were all good. But it did strike me off the bat that the coffee in the pod is already ground and ground coffee goes stale at a faster rate than whole bean coffee, even though the pod is sealed airtight.  I’ll leave it to personal taste whether you notice the difference in freshness. At some point in the process of filling pods with ground coffee, the ground coffee was exposed to air.

3. Environmental impact

    If you grind your coffee and use a mesh filter, you’re not producing much waste when making coffee. Compare that to the number of pod packages that get thrown out, one for each cup of coffee you make.In a world that’s both greener than ever but where people want everything available faster, there’s a conflict. The pod coffee makes coffee faster, and produces more waste.

There you have it, Robin. If you know anybody with a pod coffee maker, try their coffee and compare it to the freshly-brewed coffee that you make at home. If you notice a difference in freshness and don’t mind the few extra minutes that it takes you to use a drip-brewer or French Press, I’d suggest sticking to the freshest and less wasteful way you’re already using.

“Help Marc, I have made terrible coffee all my life!”

in Brewing Coffee, Buying Coffee, Coffee Maintenance

Question: I need help – I have made terrible coffee all my life. I have tried everything from Melitta to french press to a Capresso auto drip coffee maker and I can count on 2 hands the number of times it has been good in 40 years. I really appreciate a good cup of coffee, not strong but flavorful. Can you help? I have resorted to exact measurements of water and coffee and still it is awful. Please give me some detailed direction on how to make a good cup of coffee. – Sue

Answer: Wow Sue, I feel for you if you’ve had good coffee so few times in 40 years.  It’s probably a great opportunity to take you on a tour of the site, I think we have LOTS of good advice for you.

  • Buying Coffee: Buy fresh coffee only.  This is generally not the grocery store, although some grocery stores will source from local roasters so that particular coffee hasn’t been sitting on their shelves for too long.  Coffee goes stale like anything perishable.  Ground coffee goes stale even faster.  Buy whole bean coffee that’s been recently roasted, and that generally means finding a local roaster.  A chain store that cares about coffee is a good alternative.  The grocery store should be your last option.
  • Storing Coffee: Whole beans kept in an opaque airtight container at room temperature. Although it’s perishable, do not keep your coffee in the fridge or freezer.
  • Grinding Coffee: Don’t grind your coffee beans until you’re ready to brew them.  Some people like to grind their coffee the night before so it’s ready for them in the morning…ground coffee will begin to go stale overnight and your coffee won’t be as good.  Invest in a coffee grinder.  A propeller grinder is less expensive, but a burr grinder ensures a more consistent grind.
  • Brewing Coffee: The drip-brewing and French press methods are both great ways to make coffee.  Coffee is made of water so use fresh, filtered water.  Take coffee water as seriously as you take drinking water.  Also check out our Coffee Maker Report Card before you invest in a new machine…we’ve tried them all and made it easy for you to make sure you buy the right machine.
  • Coffee Maintenance: Keep the whole system clean.  Coffee is oily and any residue left behind is perishable and will go stale.  Clean spoon, clean spoon ladle, clean coffee maker and coffee pot, clean coffee mug, clean everything!

Good coffee is fresh coffee.  The fresher you make it, the better it will taste.  I hope this helps and I invite you to also check out our Golden Rules of Fresh Coffee to learn more.

What’s new at your local coffee roaster?

in Uncategorized

One thing about local roasters is that they’re big on service.  I buy my coffee almost exclusively at the Fire Roasted Coffee Company (FRCC), and to this day, the same gentleman who served me my first pound of unroasted Hawaiian Kona coffee beans still remembers that’s what I bought.

Today, I ran into general manager Patrick Dunham while there and he was excited to show me what great new coffees are on hand.

Blue Krishna Balinese – Organic Coffee

A local roaster’s reputation is very important.  It is more convenient for us to buy our coffee from the grocery store since there are so many and we’re already there.  It’s only slightly less convenient to stop at a megachain location and buy their coffee that was “recently” roasted.

But you need to go a little out of your way to get good fresh coffee from a local roaster, so the coffee has to be good.  This particular coffee is a first to FRCC so it can’t be rushed to the shelf.  Patrick is still trying to figure out how to roast it for best results, or in his words, “still fighting with it”.  I should be disappointed that it’s new and I can’t try it, but happy to know they’re not selling me anything sub-par.  Patrick didn’t even have a sample I could take so I’ll have to go back for it once they’ve perfected it.

Hawaiian Kona Peaberry

At the Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCSS)’s Cup of Excellence competition, this coffee landed in the top 20.  It is Hawaiian Kona coffee, already considered a premium coffee.  But it is also peaberry, meaning instead of being two separate halves when removed from the coffee cherry, the two halves are joined as one and roasted that way.  Many coffee drinkers, including myself, love the peaberry varieties.  I haven’t had a peaberry coffee I didn’t like.  Because it is a natural mutation, it used to be discarded as unsellable – until somebody tried it.

Be warned, any Hawaiian Kona coffee including this one goes for about triple the price of a regular coffee.  This one almost came home with me today, but I just bought a pound of coffee last week and there’s no sense letting a premium coffee sit longer than a couple weeks (maximum).  Patrick will be roasting more in December, and I’ll have a hard time not grabbing a pound of it.

Indonesian Bali Coffee

In a case like this, I don’t mind being a guinea pig.  I’ll be trying this Indonesian coffee from the Island of Bali tomorrow at precisely 8 AM.  Patrick says it is a smooth coffee with a good body and cherry tones.  Looking forward to trying something new to this roaster.

Give onto others…

The reason I was at the roaster for a second week in a row is because I was picking up a gift.  A friend is as much an afficianado of scotch whiskey as I am of coffee, and I owed him for a recent “tasting session”.  For many coffee drinkers, an Ethiopian Sidamo is of great value in quality because while other coffees are more highly-regarded, it becomes hard to justify the premium in price.  This Ethiopian coffee from the province of Sidamo is no more expensive than from most other sources but is full of flavor.

And afterward, I bumped into another friend who loves coffee as much as I do but is new to the area.  I told him about my day and that he should visit FRCC.  He said he would, but that he really liked the one he was already going to at the Western Fair and couldn’t remember their name.  I said, “Yeah, that’s them!”  When you find a quality local roaster, spread the word!

Why use cold water to make coffee?

in Brewing Coffee, Coffee Gear

Question: Marc, Golden Rule # 3 in part is to have water in the fridge in the Brita but does the water HAVE to be chilled? Will the water temp make that much of a difference in a cup of coffee? – Robin

Answer: Robin, that is a great question for a couple reasons.  First, because it comes up all the time.  And second, because I can think of at least three reasons I’ve heard in my life of why you’re supposed to use cold water when making standard drip-brewed coffee.  The reason for cold water that I hear most often is because there is a “perfect” amount of water-extraction of flavor from coffee.

If you don’t extract enough from the coffee, it’s too weak.  But if you like strong coffee, be warned there’s something called overextraction where TOO MUCH solid is extracted from the coffee, making it sludge and not too enjoyable.  It comes down to the brewing cycle and the water’s exposure to the coffee while at the perfect temperature.  The only way to time an electronic drip brewer’s process to do it right is to “set a standard” on the starting temperature of the water.  The machine will run the same heating process no matter what temperature of water so everybody should get a consistent cup as long as everybody starts out with the same starting temperature…cold.  Otherwise, coffees made with water at different starting temperatures would all taste a little differently.  The machine assumes you’re using cold water.

Another reason that I’ve not heard cited as much but that makes sense to me is that the reference to water temperature is under the assumption that most people are using tap water.  And cold tap water is fresher than hot tap water because it hasn’t been sitting in a water heater waiting to be dispensed from the tap.  Better water makes better coffee so this is also very believable.  If this were true and you were using filtered water, it wouldn’t matter what temperature you use.

And finally, I’ve heard that hot tap water has a higher concentration of minerals (unrelated to the water heater) than does cold tap water which absorbs less from the plumbing itself than the hot.  Is that true?  I’m not sure but if it was, it seems the least plausible for affecting the quality of coffee in your cup.

And I hope in not directly answering your question that I have answered your question, Robin!  I personally use cold water, whether tap or filtered because the machine was designed under that assumption.  But I use a filtered water as often as possible.  If that filtered water was not completely chilled, I would use it anyway.

Fear and Latte in Las Vegas

in Buying Coffee

A savage journey to the heart of bad coffee…

I don’t know why coffee is so bad in Las Vegas.  The city doesn’t mind giving you free booze and we all know why.  But since caffeine doesn’t counteract alcohol, you’d think they would want to keep us as caffeinated as they do inebriated so that we make bad gaming decisions but even later into the night.

It starts in your hotel room.  I take it as standard fare that a hotel room has a coffee maker in it.  In Vegas, the hotels mostly all have casino floors so they do everything in their power to make sure you don’t stay in your room.  That includes not providing you with a coffee maker.  This forces you to leave the room sooner, exposing you to the gaming and gift shop sooner.

Like Hunter Thompson’s hero, I was in Vegas to cover a show and habitually late getting there.  So the quickest way to get my fix instead of waiting in lines was to grab a can of Monster Energy and drink it as I walked.  The price: $6.48 / can. Only a tourist like me would pay that.

I ordered coffee with room service a couple times and the equivalent of two cups of coffee cost me $8.  And at best, I would rate it 6/10 coffee.

As I was passing through Treasure Island early in the week, I remembered they had a Starbucks.  I carry around a Starbucks gift card that was bought for me as a present.  So while I knew I’d still overpay, at least it was a gift from somebody who knew how badly I’d need a good coffee one day.

When I walked in, the big sign let me know that Starbucks Cards were not redeemable at this location.  The cashier (sorry, barista) could not explain why they wouldn’t take the Card, only that they were not a “participating location”.  Read: What are you gonna do, tourist? Nothing!

And so, I paid $4.50 cash out of my pocket for this highly-trained barista to dispense already-brewed black coffee into a cup and hand it to me.  I don’t even want to know what the Pumpkin Spice Latte would’ve cost me.

Each of the major hotels has a 24-hour “cafe” with complete menu.  They all offer a coffee of some kind and while the price is definitely better than the room service coffee, it’s still the room service coffee.  They just know I’m into them for a whole meal too.

I wonder if there’s an opportunity for a local roaster to develop a brand among Vegas tourists and sell to these cafes.  The problem could be that Vegas tourist marketing is mass marketing (anybody and everybody from anywhere and everywhere), so the opportunity seems to be with the big established brands.  Meanwhile, Starbucks is more overpriced in Vegas than anywhere and with fast-food restaurant type service to boot.  I didn’t see any of the other big players.  I would have made a trip to visit a Peet’s, or settled for a $3 coffee at Seattle’s Best if I knew where to find one.

And in the end, the only cafe worth mentioning was a place called Coffee Corner in the Las Vegas Hilton.  But don’t go out of your way to find it, it’s only open during select conventions like the one I was at.  The gentleman working the coffee bar was a true barista and I didn’t mind paying him $4 for my straight black coffee.  The company I was with ordered lattes that were professionally made and well received.  If a select convention isn’ t on, your next option is Hilton’s Paradise Cafe where they serve room service coffee at a much lower price.

Just Us Coffee Jungle Blend

in Buying Coffee, Fair Trade and the Environment

On a recent trip to Atlantic Canada, I stumbled upon Canada’s first Fair Trade coffee roaster, Just Us Coffee.  Roasting between 1-2 tonnes of coffee each day, they may also be Canada’s largest roaster.

While there, it just seemed right that I pick up a cup of fresh brewed coffee to go as well as a pound of one of their signature blends.  I like a medium-dark roasted coffee.  There is a certain amount of the natural flavor of coffee (and caffeine) that you lose with excessive roasting, but there’s also a distinct flavor that the roasting process itself adds to the coffee.

So, I settle on a medium-dark roast, not Starbucks dark but not the lighter brown medium roasts either.  In that category, Just Us Coffee had a few selections, including a Mocha Java blend and a couple of their own signature blends.  I went with the one they call their Jungle Blend.

Just Us Coffee’s Jungle Blend is a blend of different Latin American and South American coffees.  As they put it on the package: “A zing of Central America with the sweetness of the Andes.”  The challenge for any good blend is to ensure different flavor characteristics complement each other so that the combination delivers what no single coffee accent can, without certain accents from one part of the blend overpowering others.

The Jungle Blend delivered!  I found it mellow enough but full of flavor that I would recommend it for any coffee drinker.  It has a lot more character than a Mocha Java and it could be because I’m so partial to Latin American coffees that I like it so much.  I would serve this coffee to anybody, whether a casual coffee drinker or afficianado with particular tastes.  It’s a great blend with complementary flavor accents.

Click here to learn more about how to order Just Us Coffee from their website.  You get a pound of Fair Traded coffee at a lower price than you would pay for free-traded coffee from one of the big chains, fresh-roasted too.  I will be making a point of returning to Just Us Coffee the next time that I’m in the area.

Starbucks learns to relax

in Buying Coffee, Coffee News

We might be in for longer waits at Starbucks in the months to come.  According to a report by the Wall Street Journal, Starbucks management is advising baristas at all locations to slow down and not try servicing people so quickly.

The feedback from customers to the Seattle-based company was that they have reduced the fine art of being a barista to a mechanized process that might as well be coffee from a push-button machine.

In response, Starbucks tested changes at pilot locations and after positive feedback, have decided to make the new rules effective for all locations by the month of November.  What are the new rules?…

– Baristas cannot make more than two drinks at once, and can only start making a second drink as they are wrapping up making the first.
– A whole pot of milk cannot be steamed at once anymore to save time in making several froth coffees in a row.  Milk must be steamed individually for each drink.
– The espresso machine can only be used to make one drink at a time.

Starbucks is going for a more “handcrafted” experience, as well as to allow baristas to connect with their customers.  It’s tough to comment on because while it’s a more romantic experience to know that a trained barista is focusing on my drink and my drink only, I don’t know that it will translate to a better drink in the cup.  And as far as attachment with customers, I’m only a sample of one but I don’t need a love connection with my barista.  Just take my $5 and give me my cup of coffee.  That might sound harsh but in a cafe that already has the longest wait time of them all, wait times are about to get longer with these changes.

Older Posts »