For the dark roast coffee drinker with discerning taste, I submit for your approval...Read More »
Question: There is a certain taste and smell that “cheap” coffee has once it’s brewed. Diner coffee has it, for example, or anywhere that sells lower-end coffee. However, sometimes, I will buy a bag of premium coffee beans i’ve never tried, and it has THE EXACT SAME TASTE! how is this possible?? personally, i always buy premium coffee and have a couple favorites. but sometimes, out of laziness, i will go to a store that is closer that sells, “premium coffee” for say, $12/lb and it tastes no better than the cheap stuff. as soon as i brew it, that smell wafts from the pot and i’m disappointed! do you know what i mean?
Thanks for the email, and I know what you mean all too well. There are so many factors that can contribute to that stale coffee flavor, and you’ve touched on some. Let’s look at three of them.
- Diners: I doubt most diners spend a lot for their coffee or the gear or the process they use to brew coffee. In this case, it could be cheap coffee, a cheap brewer, or the water they use. I’m not sure if diners ever served good coffee. A diner is a place that I would expect would advertise how cheap their coffee is – that’s a good sign not to expect much. I don’t want a cheap steak, and I don’t want cheap coffee.
- “Premium” coffee: Unfortunately, there is no regulation on use of the word “premium”. It could be anything, and might even be stale before you buy it. This is a tangent, but you’ll often see “Kona blend” coffee, capitalizing on the popularity (and expense) of coffee from Kona on Hawaii’s Big Island. But the “Kona blend” only needs to have a small amount of Kona coffee, and the rest of the blend is anybody’s guess. I bring that up, because “premium coffee” means even less. If the package doesn’t explain what “premium” means, then it probably doesn’t mean anything.
- The gear and water: Based on the information you’ve provided, this is my guess for where you could make big improvements in the coffee you make at home. You mention trying different coffees but getting a familiar stale aroma. You can make the most of even that cheap coffee by using the cleanest water you can. I’ve noticed hotel room coffee go from undrinkable to “not bad” just by using bottled water instead of tap water. Also, the coffee machine you use could be the problem. It might not be sufficiently heating up the water, for instance. I use manual coffee brewers like a french press or a chemex (pourover). If you’re using a drip brewer, I’ve always recommended the Cuisinart or for a little less money, a Black and Decker.
I hope that helps!
No, I didn’t have Bruce Buffer in my kitchen, but there was a legitimate bout between two coffee heavyweights.
Earlier this month, the CoffeeCon show for coffee enthusiasts hit Los Angeles.
I was a part of the media team that met for lunch to hear a presentation from KitchenAid representatives on their newest coffee brewer. The KitchenAid Pourover Coffee Brewer is meant to accommodate the growing demand for pourover coffee but in a less manual, more automated way. They presented some data showing increased interest in the pourover brewing method.
Read: What is Pourover Coffee?
It’s important here to set criteria. At no point did KitchenAid claim that their machine would make a better pourover coffee than my Chemex. What they did claim is that they had taken a step towards automating pourover. If they could make a comparable coffee with many less steps, it could net out a win for them in my opinion.
I boil my water for the Chemex on the stove, and you may have a faster way to heat water than I do. It takes me about ten minutes to boil the water I need, and the brewing cycle with the Chemex takes four minutes. So, a total of 14 minutes from yawn to brewed coffee. In terms of how manual the four minutes of brewing is, this is completely subjective. You may enjoy the manual part of the Chemex process, as I do, because it allows you to handcraft your coffee. However, I have had guests over and wished for a more automatic way to make a great coffee for so many people. When it’s just me, I don’t mind the manual part of using the Chemex at all.
The KitchenAid brewer took me four minutes to set up, between grinding the coffee, measuring the water I would need, and rinsing the paper filter of any particles that might be attached to it. Just over five minutes later, my single cup of coffee was brewed. So, a total time of 9 minutes and 15 seconds.
As the coffee was brewing, I attached a Post-It note to the bottom of each mug. On one note, I wrote a “C” for Chemex, and on the other, a “K” for KitchenAid. After the coffee was done brewing, I poured the correct coffee into the correct mug. From there, I did a “shell game” with the mugs and moved them around until I couldn’t remember which was which. With that done, the tasting began. I recorded aroma and flavor notes by the mug, before checking to see which was which.
Aroma and Flavor
For my coffee, I chose an Ethiopian Yirgacheffe, roasted by Counter Culture, one of the exhibitors at CoffeeCon. I wanted a freshly roasted coffee for the most flavor, expecting these two brewing methods would produce slightly different tasting coffee. I went with a Yirgacheffe because it has a very distinct flavor, with floral tones in the aroma, and citrus in the flavor. I would look for the citrus in both coffees since Counter Culture emphasized this characteristic in its roasting notes on the coffee bag.
The coffee brewed by KitchenAid had a great floral aroma right out of the gate. Surprisingly, the Chemex seemed to have a much more muted aroma. However, the flavor was not consistent, in that the coffee brewed by KitchenAid had noticeably weaker flavor. The coffee brewed by Chemex was much brighter in flavor, and the aroma did develop as the coffee cooled. The flavor also seemed to develop as the coffee cooled, revealing more than the coffee brewed by KitchenAid.
As a final note, the coffee brewed by Chemex held its heat longer, which was a definite advantage. The KitchenAid brewer has a surprisingly long brewing time, which may be the cause.
We go to the judges’ scorecards for a decision. I award this to the Chemex. It’s manual, but I don’t mind that. The aroma was muted at first but developed well before I was done the coffee. It was more flavorful, and held its heat longer. When I’m only making coffee for myself, or myself and one guest, I will continue using the Chemex.
The KitchenAid brewer made a decent cup of coffee, and will certainly be my preference when making coffee for a large number of guests.
Also worth pointing out, I had to improvise a filter for the Chemex because I’ve run out. The Chemex uses a unique paper filter that you won’t find for any other purpose. The KitchenAid uses the standard #4 size filter. I always have those on hand, so that is certainly a point in KitchenAid‘s favor.
This past Saturday, the CoffeeCon show for coffee enthusiasts hit Los Angeles.
The media team met for lunch to hear a presentation from KitchenAid representatives on their newest coffee brewer. The KitchenAid Pourover Coffee Brewer is meant to accommodate the growing demand for pourover coffee but in a less manual, more automated way. They presented some data showing increased interest in the pourover brewing method. For those that are not familiar with pourover coffee, a couple of the more popular brands are Chemex and Melitta. You may recognize the Chemex as a glass pitcher designed with a cone at the top for the filter and ground coffee. The Melitta that I’ve used is a plastic cone with a base that sits on your coffee mug and makes one cup at a time – the filter and ground coffee go in the cone.
I’m traveling next week, but the following week, I’ll be setting up a blind taste test in my kitchen to compare the new KitchenAid brewer to the Chemex. My Chemex is the most used coffee gear in my kitchen after my grinder. It’s what I use to make most of the coffee that I drink. I want to put the new KitchenAid brewer to the test, and what better way than against one of the main companies raising awareness and interest in pourover coffee.
There are other factors that will go into my evaluation of the KitchenAid brewer. Right out of the gate, I don’t expect it to beat my Chemex in terms of flavor in the cup. I’m confident that my Chemex will win, but that bias won’t affect the all-blind taste test. Specifically besides flavor, I’ll be evaluating:
- Time to brew.
- Temperature of coffee. This will be to personal taste. I don’t like to wait long for my first sip.
Ease of use will be a slam dunk for the KitchenAid brewer. It’s an automated brewer, where the Chemex is intentionally manual. I feel as though the manual process of using a Chemex is part of its charm – however, if the KitchenAid brewer makes comparable coffee, it will be tough not to use it more. Especially since it makes eight cups, twice as much as my Chemex makes.
Stay tuned! We’ll find out how well KitchenAid’s new pourover brewer performs against one of the stables of pourover coffee. KitchenAid vs. Chemex. Check out KitchenAid’s official site to learn more about the new brewer.
Southern California coffee drinkers! CoffeeCon makes its first ever stop in Los Angeles, taking place this Saturday, November 8th at Mack Sennett Studios on 1215 Bates Ave. It is open from 9 AM to 4 PM.
I’m excited to attend yet another CoffeeCon event, having attended the inaugural event in Chicago last year, and the event in San Francisco this year. CoffeeCon is THE event for coffee drinkers. Not a coffee industry trade show. This is an event of workshops, presentations, and coffee tasting that is geared specifically for the coffee lover. If you live in Southern California and you love coffee, be there!
Below is the schedule for the Los Angeles event. As was the case with the previous two CoffeeCon events that I attended, it’s impossible to be everywhere at once, and the key is to decide in advance what to experience. Here’s what I’m going with…
My focus in going over this schedule is different in this case than in the previous two. I will be purchasing a six-pound coffee roaster, and roasting coffee here in San Diego. More to come on that, but in the meantime, I want my class selections to be helpful to my future coffee roasting.
Even with that focus in mind, it still isn’t easy! At 10 AM, I’m looking at Introduction to 8 Basic Flavor Descriptors. To help develop my skill as a coffee roaster/taster, I have become very interested in the flavors and descriptors of coffee. This workshop will certainly help attendees understand the wide world of coffee flavor. A shame that it’s at the expense of seeing Kenneth Davids‘ panel on the Future of Coffee.
At 11 AM, I’ll attend Butter Coffee. I wasn’t originally interested in seeing this, but I am curious only because of the current fad of putting butter in coffee to help with digestion – I don’t know if it’s hooey yet. I’ll learn more.
George Howell‘s presentation For the Love of Coffee Tasting runs for half the day, and is a staple at the CoffeeCon events. I attended his entire presentation the first time, and only caught part of it the last time. This time, it’s been moved from the morning to the afternoon, but otherwise the same decision as in the previous two CoffeeCon events – do I spend the second half of the day in George’s presentation (which I know is incredibly informative on all aspects of coffee)? Or, do I attend three other workshops in its place? After much thought, I’ve decided to attend three workshops that are new to me, rather than attend George’s presentation, that was amazing, but that I’ve already seen.
At 1 PM, I will attend the Chemex Lab. I own a Chemex and understand the directions pretty well, but I’ve never had formal training like this. I still remember visiting my first coffee roasters that would only serve a cup of coffee by pourover. Planet Bean in Guelph, Canada, and Coava Coffee in Portland, Oregon both come to mind.
At 2 PM, the workshop on Championship Winning Coffee sounds very interesting, and a great fit for my plans to roast coffee. It is hosted by Klatch Roasting.
Finally at 3 PM, Building a Direct Trade also sounds very interesting. I have been on coffee origin trips to Guatemala, Honduras, and Hawaii, and I’m very interested in learning more about direct trade coffee, that is coffee sourced through a direct relationship with the farmer.
Wow, that’s a big day, and a lot of notes. Stay tuned because as always, what I learn there, you’ll learn about here!
I was honored to once again attend CoffeeCon as a Media representative, this time in San Francisco, one of my favorite cities anywhere, on July 26th, 2014.
CoffeeCon is THE show tailored not necessarily to the coffee industry, but rather to the coffee drinker. For those who love coffee, there is a full day of brewing and home-roasting workshops, interaction with local roasters, and presentations for the coffee drinker by industry giants. I had my work cut out for me, looking at the schedule and having to finalize which workshops and presentations I wanted to see.
Read: CoffeeCon 2014 San Francisco (planning)
My first presentation of the day was by Kenneth Davids, author of three books on coffee, and founder of Coffee Review, the leading coffee evaluation website and report.
I was so pumped to see this presentation on the method behind how Kenneth evaluates coffee. I own the three books that Kenneth has written, and I follow his Coffee Review closely in order to run out and buy coffees in my area to which he has given a 90% rating or higher.
In an afternoon session, I was able to meet Alan Adler, inventor of the AeroPress coffee brewing system. I use the AeroPress at home, and for some coffee lovers, it is the only acceptable way to brew coffee.
Alan led a wall-to-wall packed session on how to properly use the AeroPress and get the most out of it. It was very cool to learn by the inventor himself.
Throughout the day, there were similar workshops given on how to properly use the Chemex and iced pourover methods of making coffee, as well as presentations on the science of coffee and importance of grinding. Keynote speaker George Howell gave the day’s longest and most in-depth presentation, as he did when I attended in Chicago last year.
Finally, one of the coolest things about CoffeeCon is the people you meet, or see again. Everybody there loves coffee, no matter where they are in the chain. To the left, I met Wilford Lamastus, a coffee farmer from Boquete, Panama. We were introduced by Jason Griest, owner of Sacramento’s Old Soul Coffee. I am visiting Panama in the early part of next year, and Wilford had great advice for planning my trip, and visiting his farm while I’m there.
And now, the big news…CoffeeCon has one more stop in 2014. Los Angeles on November 8th. Go to the official CoffeeCon site for information on how to follow them over social media, and stay updated. I’ll be there at the Los Angeles show, and if you’re in the area and love coffee, you should be too!
”You’ll likely scoff as soon as I mention the idea of single-instant coffee such as Keurig and Tassimo but in a world where fast and convenient reigns champion they aren’t going away. Where do you see this market going over the next 1, 3, 5 years? Keurig is also promising a locked-down machine with the claim it will ensure the highest quality by only using their cups but customers will definitely see this as a move to limit using cheaper alternatives or re-usable options — are they shooting themselves in the foot?
Our culture thrives on entitlements and convenience – just look at the explosion of Keurig and Tassimo. The next logical step in this market is the increase of single press brewing and I’m curious if you have plans to review any (notably AeroPress).”
- M. Millar
Mr. Millar, no scoffing here. These are great observations and questions, and in order to do them justice, I’ll answer in the following order. I’ll let you know what I think of the single-serve pod coffee makers. I’ll speculate where the market is going. And finally, I’ll let you know what I think of Keurig‘s decision to launch the Keurig 2.0 incompatible with unlicensed K-Cups.
Pod, or single-serve, coffee was at one point the largest growing segment of the coffee gear market. I assume as I type that, that it is still the case. You hit the nail on the head in terms of why – convenience. Check out my blog post with initial reactions to the pod coffee system: The Skinny on Pod Single-Serve Coffee. Since I wrote that, there is one other advantage that I have to give these systems, and that is consistency. The system produces the same cup of coffee every time because each step is automated. Now, the cons. First of all, the coffee in the pod, even if airtight, cannot be as fresh as the whole beans that I keep in airtight cannisters and grind only as needed to brew. Second, the method by which the pod system works makes a good cup of coffee every time. When I recommend brewing methods such as Pourover, French Press, or the AeroPress, these methods are designed to be more manual, but for all the right reasons. These methods make a great cup of coffee, and only require a little skill and repetition.
I speculate that in the years to come, the single-serve coffee system will gradually replace the drip brewer that has been in kitchens for decades. Just as the drip brewer replaced the percolator used by generations before us. Both the pod coffee maker and the drip brewer are convenient, make decent coffee, and are consistent from one brew to the next. Except in the case of the pod coffee maker, it is better in all three respects over the drip brewer. The drip brewer has one advantage, in that it makes a lot of coffee at once, which is why I still use it when making coffee for a lot of people. However, the people I know with pod brewers make a cup of coffee in a few minutes and I’m not seeing them carrying a drip brewer as well – in those homes, the substitution has already taken place.
Keurig’s decision to launch the 2.0 and make it incompatible with unlicensed pods? – meh! The worst part about it is that it is probably a great business decision, but limits the choices of coffee lovers. If my speculation on the pod coffee market above ends up being accurate, and Keurig is the most recognized brand in the category, they will reap much benefit from this exclusivity. So, good for them. Bad for a coffee lover like me, that can make literally ANY kind of coffee I want with my chosen brewing methods. If I replaced all my coffee gear with a Keurig 2.0, I’m limited to what they license. Today, there is no limit to what I can brew for myself, or for you when you’re a guest in my home.
I sum it all up by saying that when a system is fully automated, it’s likely more efficient for the greater part of the system. However, a small part of the system that can greatly impact the final product cannot be automated because it requires a human touch. A machine cannot pourover like I do. A machine cannot work the AeroPress like I do. For this reason, the pod coffee maker will always make a good cup of coffee, likely good enough for many people. With the inexpensive gear I have, I’ll always make a great cup of coffee. If you drank the two side by side, I promise you could tell the difference.
According to the Lumosity “brain games” app on my phone, my memory isn’t great. Combine that with the fact that I brew by more than one method at home, and that my burr grinder has 18 different settings, it’s a wonder I can make good coffee at all. Many coffee lovers struggle with what grind setting to use. If you only brew your coffee one way, I have good news. You’ll only need to remember one of the settings below. Set your burr grinder to that setting, and never change it.
If you brew by more than one method and have a memory like mine, I’ll give you a quick explanation of the science of grind settings that hopefully helps you remember the right setting for your brewing method intuitively.
If you have a propeller grinder rather than a burr grinder, I strongly suggest making the small investment in a burr grinder. Check back in a few days, where I’ll have a separate post written that I hope helps you realize the great benefits that proper grinding has on the flavor in your cup.
An Easy Guide
- Espresso maker or Aeropress: Use the Fine grind. I don’t suggest messing with degrees of Fine. Move the dial all the way to fine.
- Drip brewer or pourover (Melitta or Chemex): Use the middle grind. When you buy pre-ground coffee at the grocery store, this is usually the default way in which it was ground for you.
- Press pot (French Press or Bodum): Use the Coarse grind. Same advice as with Fine – just move the dial all the way to coarse.
Since I have every brewing method mentioned above available to me, it can get confusing. To help you understand why settings differ by brewing method, here’s a primer. The longer the brewing method, or longer the water is going to be in contact with coffee, the coarser a grind you need. If you used a fine grine in your French Press, you would “overextract”, or draw too many solids from the coffee and have a drink more like sludge.
Conversely, if you used a coarse ground coffee in your espresso maker, the water is not in contact with the coffee long enough to draw enough solids from the coffee, making you a weak coffee. Imagine in this example, the coffee at a microscopic level. It is ground coarse, so each piece is bigger. The water extracts solids from the surface area of the piece, but isn’t exposed to it long enough to get at the solids deeper than the surface.
Drip brewed and pourover coffee falls in the middle, and calls for a medium grind.
Mind your grind! It’s important to the flavor in your cup.
We recently visited the Hawaiian island of Maui, and our first stop even before checking into our condo, was at the MauiGrown Coffee Store.
Read: Maui Origin Trip Report
We let store vice president Jeff Ferguson know where we’d be staying while on the island, and he was happy to let us know that MauiGrown supplied the coffee that we would find in our condo when we got there. The good news is that when we arrived, our welcome basket did indeed contain some ground MauiGrown coffee. The not-so-good news is the “coffee maker” in the kitchen was not even a drip brewer, but rather what you see in the picture above: a percolator.
I hadn’t even seen a percolator since I was a child. In fact, it occurred to me that I had never made coffee in one before. I understood the concept, that it would release boiling water onto the ground coffee, which is the reason most people don’t use these anymore: boiled coffee is spoiled coffee.
The MauiGrown Coffee store to the rescue! Not even 24 hours after having last been there, we returned for something that was inexpensive, mobile, and that would give our MauiGrown coffee its just brewing.
Me: “Jeff, you were right, there is MauiGrown coffee in the room. But, the coffee maker is a percolator.”
Jeff: “I’m sorry to hear that.”
Me: “What can I buy today that will make coffee right?”
Jeff: “We sell the Melitta pourover.”
Me: “I’ll take it. But I have to admit, I used the percolator this morning because I had no choice”
Jeff: “That’s what a junkie has to do.”
I’ve written alot about the quality of coffee made by pour-over, but mainly in reference to the glass pitcher designed by Chemex. The Melitta product offers what I needed for this trip – something inexpensive, something I could take home after the trip, and something that would make great coffee while I was there and on future trips away from home.
Essentially, where the drip brewer was an improvement on the percolator that boiled coffee, the pour-over techniques offered by Melitta and Chemex allow you to control the drip of hot water onto ground coffee in steps rather than in a continuous stream as the drip brewer does. The result? A better cup of coffee, and only a little more work to make it. And definitely, far superior flavor over the percolator, which by the way didn’t get used again by us on this trip.
I recently met Jeremy Adams, the owner of Cellar Door Coffee, yet another amazing local coffee roaster in Portland, Oregon. While I was there, Jeremy showed me how the Aeropress coffee maker works.
I finally decided to give it a shot at home. The first picture that you see at the top are of all of its parts. Right away, you need to make sure you aren’t intimidated my many parts and a few extra steps. Naturally, nothing is more convenient than the pod coffee makers that are popping up in everybody’s kitchens these days. But if you want to make great coffee, it usually takes a few extra steps.
Jeremy let me know that there are people who swear by the Aeropress as the only way to properly brew coffee. Let’s go through how it works.
Step 1: Preparation
Start boiling your water on the stove. While that’s happening, insert one of the circular paper filters into the filter holder, and twist it into the bottom of the cylinder coffee chamber.
Step 2: Coffee
The Aeropress comes with a coffee scoop. Grind two scoopfulls of coffee to a fine grind, and put this coffee into the coffee chamber. Your coffee is now sitting on top of the paper filter. The bottom of the chamber has a wide base so that it can now rest right on top of your sturdy coffee mug.
Step 3: Brewing
After your water is boiling, remove it from heat. Let it cool for a few seconds since you don’t want to pour boiling water onto coffee. Remember, “boiled coffee is spoiled coffee” (by the way, that rule goes for any method of brewing coffee – that’s why we don’t use percolators anymore). Pour hot water into the chamber so that it mixes with the ground coffee. Grab the flat stirrer that comes with the Aeropress and stir the water/coffee mixture for around 10 seconds.
Step 4: Plunging
Insert the plunger into the coffee chamber. You’ll feel immediately that the rubber bottom of the plunger forms an airtight seal in the chamber. Slowly push the plunger down, and the pressure will force the hot water through the ground coffee and filter. You’ll hear the brewed coffee dripping from the coffee chamber into your mug. When you can hear air being pushed out of the chamber instead of brewed coffee, your plunging is done. This method is ideal for brewing small amounts of espresso, so if you’re making a coffee, fill the rest of the mug with remaining hot water from the kettle.
It takes a little extra work to attain quality in anything, and brewing coffee is no different. The pod coffee maker and drip brewer are the next most common methods of brewing coffee at home. These are both very convenient. However, if you want to experience even more of what makes any coffee unique, it takes extra steps, whether that’s by press pot, by pourover, or by Aeropress.
I am excited to have this new coffee maker in my coffee bar, and excited to continue experimenting with it. It makes a quality of coffee that you cannot get from a pod coffee maker or drip brewer.
This past Christmas, my cousins Jeff and Robin bought me the pint-sized Chemex that you see pictured here. The Chemex was invented in the 40s as an alternative and superior way to make coffee. How does it work?
Put a paper filter in the top conical section of the pitcher. Put your ground coffee in the filter. Slowly and to instruction that comes with the Chemex, pour hot water over the ground coffee. The brewed coffee drips through the filter and into the base section. When you’re done, throw away the filter of ground coffee, and pour directly from the pitcher. The wooden collar keeps you from burning yourself on the now-hot glass.
Just like the drip brewer was an improvement on the percolator that actually sapped flavor by boiling the coffee itself, the Chemex is an improvement on the drip brewer. It allows you to systematically drip hot water onto the coffee in stages rather than the drip brewer’s constant stream.
The Chemex comes in four sizes. Robin and Jeff bought me the pint-size model that you see above. My usual coffee mug (featuring the Incredible Hulk, btw) is also pint-sized so this Chemex is perfect for making a single large coffee when I don’t want to make two or more at once.
Fun trivia: Paul Newman uses a Chemex to make himself coffee in the 1966 movie Harper.
Read: Better Ways to Brew Coffee (further information on the Chemex)
Read: Indian Coffee (I was able to use the Chemex to experiment with a coffee/chicory combination)
Read: Pour-over Brewing Method – the Chemex (must-read if you’re considering buying one for yourself)