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Alright, this blog post title is kind of a cheat. This is really about three different ways to greatly improve the quality of coffee that you drink at home without spending more money, followed by two ways that will cost you just a little bit of money.
- Use filtered water
More specifically, apply whatever standard you have for drinking water to your coffee water. Coffee is 99% water (not exactly, but you get the idea), so it amazes me what care people put into their drinking water that they don’t apply to the water they use to make coffee. If you use a Brita to filter your drinking water, use that same filtered water to make coffee. If you have a drip brewer, keep in mind that the water never reaches the point of boiling, so many things that would be removed from the water through boiling will remain in your drip brewer, and into your coffee. That affects flavor. I mainly use a Chemex and AeroPress at home to brew coffee. Both methods require that water be boiled first, then cooled. And even though I boil my water, I still put filtered water into the kettle to boil.
Never was this point more clear to me than when I was staying at a hotel, and needed to make myself a coffee in the room. Using tap water, the coffee I made was as bad as you could imagine. I made the next cup with bottled water, and while it still wasn’t a great coffee, there was a very noticeable difference in flavor between the two cups.
- Clean your machine regularly
Vinegar is an excellent mild cleaner. It will help maintain your coffee making system to run the occasional cycle through it of vinegar and water. You can play with the ratios, but I recommend starting with a mix that is somewhere between 1:4 to 1:2 water:vinegar. If you use a drip brewer, take note of what the water looks like after it’s been run through the cycle, to see what difference you’re making. Coffee is oily, sticky, and perishable. That means it wants to stick to parts of your coffee maker, and go stale. That stale coffee ends up in your otherwise fresh cup of coffee if you don’t clean your machine regularly. I suggest running the vinegar cycle monthly.
- Don’t grind until you’re about to brew
Growing up, my parents always ground their morning coffee the night before. They did it for two reasons. One, it then just required a flip of the switch in the morning to get the coffee brewing and two, the grinder wouldn’t wake up anybody the following morning. The latter reason is way more valid, but even still, upsetting my neighbors with the sound of my grinder is the price I pay for fresh coffee! There are two distinct points at which coffee begins going stale…when it has been roasted, and when it has been ground. After it’s been ground, it begins to expire at an even faster rate. If at all possible, grind your coffee only as you’re about to brew it. Otherwise, it is much staler and you will taste the difference in your cup.
And now, a couple ways to improve your coffee by investing only a small amount…
- Upgrade your equipment cheaply
The last tip wouldn’t matter if you don’t own a grinder, and buy your coffee pre-ground. If that’s the case, for heaven’s sake, invest $20-30 in a propeller grinder. A burr grinder offers a more consistent grind, but if you don’t have a grinder at all and aren’t ready to invest in a burr grinder, then buy a propeller grinder and start grinding your coffee only as you’re about to brew it.
If you’re not happy with your coffee maker, take $20 to Target and buy the Black and Decker drip brewer. Black and Decker strips down all the bells and whistles and while by far not the best machine on the market, I believe it is the best value. For $20, you will get a decent of cup of drip brew coffee.
- Buy from a local roaster
I had to say it! The grocery store is full of coffee options, and they’re all stale. The conventional grocery store channel simply cannot purchase and stock fresh coffee. Somebody in your area offers an affordable fresh roasted coffee, or better yet, visit our Online Store and learn about the Colombia Excelso that costs only $12/bag. It’s one of my favorite coffees right now, and comparable in price to what they sell at the grocery store. Buying coffee online means it gets delivered to your door, so you don’t have to make an extra trip for it. And while there are far cheaper coffees at the grocery store, the difference in flavor will be FAR greater than the difference in price.
My father had once crossed at the same border crossing on foot years ago, and had warned me about how people in uniforms will try to fleece you for money, claiming that you need to pay certain “charges” and “premiums”. It’s all a scam, and in the case of actual officials that do this, extortion.
I warned Matt not to make eye contact with anybody as we crossed this border for the first time. Nothing could have prepared us for the procedure that followed…
In Central American countries, you do not simply enter a new country – you must formally exit the country that you were in. The office to leave Costa Rica is about a quarter-mile from the office through which you enter Panama. In between these two offices is bedlam. People moving in all directions, mainly migrant workers and those visiting family on the other side of the border.
Panama customs officer: “You cannot enter Panama until you exit Costa Rica.”
Costa Rica customs officer: “You must pay to exit Costa Rica at the machine in that room.”
Panama officer: “This receipt that shows you paid to exit Costa Rica is not enough. They must stamp your passport.”
Costa Rica officer: “Don’t wait in this line. Wait in that line.” (30 minutes later)
Fortunately for us, there is only one instance of an official trying to fleece us. As we walked one of the many times to the Panama customs office, I looked up just in time to make eye contact with a man in the uniform. I immediately dropped my eyes and picked up the pace. I could hear him yelling after us about having to give him so many dollars to get by. The irony is that he was just sitting on steps with another person who was not in uniform, before we came along. Despite the uniform, we pushed forward waiting for the giant hand of the law to grab our shoulders. But of course, this was no formal fee and we were under no obligation to pay it, despite all his yelling after us.
After crossing into Panama, we stayed in the city of David and from there, traveled into Boquete and the coffee country that surrounds it. We toured coffee farms, and even had the opportunity to interact with farmers and their employees at work in the fields and in the processing facilities. For the coffee lover, it was a phenomenal experience. We even met locals in David who became fast friends and invited us to their family reunion. It was truly one of the greatest experiences of my life!
When I began sourcing coffees to roast at the Make Good Coffee Co., I was so excited to get my hands on coffee that came from the very same region that my friend and I toured.
Central American coffees are prized for their brightness, and I was excited to perfect a medium roast of this coffee. If it is roasted too dark, much of that brightness is lost, replaced with the smoky flavor that characterizes dark roasts. I roast my Panama Boquete coffee lighter than any other coffee. The result is a strong flavor of berry and other natural fruit flavors, coupled with some chocolate and caramel. The aftertaste is sweet and clean. The body smooth and creamy, and not too heavy.
Of all the coffees that I currently roast, this one is easily one of my favorites. It was an incredible experience to make our way to coffee country in Boquete Panama, without guides or the experience of having done it before. I truly think of this adventure each time I roast this coffee, and I know you will taste the difference that care puts into each cup. This is a coffee drinker’s coffee!
I was excited to make the Holiday Blend because coffee is a big part of the holidays and my family tradition. Every year that I spend the holidays with my parents, the day starts with a coffee. And just as ritually when dinner is done, somebody puts on some coffee. It’s always such a happy time in my life, that the coffee should also be good.
Coffee blending is about bringing different coffees together that create a balanced flavor that none of the individual coffees have on their own.
But it doesn’t stop with deciding what coffees will be in the blend. It’s about experimenting with different ratios of those coffees until you’ve produced something unique that meets your goal. My goal was to capture all the qualities I associate with the holidays, and create a coffee blend with those flavors.
After much trial and some error, I finally made the coffee that I dreamed of making…the Holiday Blend!
What can you expect?
First of all, I wanted a coffee that would appeal to a lot of people. A Holiday Blend should be shared with others over the holidays, so I gave careful consideration to what would appeal to more people. For example, I don’t mind a strong acidity but not everybody likes it. I don’t mind a “dirty” aftertaste, but not everybody feels that way. If a characteristic came up that I thought would divide coffee drinkers, then I removed that coffee from consideration and kept blending.
This blend of Central American and East African coffees captures the flavors I wanted, including an overall sweet and rich flavor, a chocolate and caramel aroma and flavor, a short but sweet aftertaste, and full but smooth body. I didn’t stop blending until I found it!
The Holiday Blend from the Make Good Coffee Co. is ready for you to share with your fellow coffee lovers over the holidays, or to give as a gift to the coffee lover in your life. I ship with the US Post Flat Rate Envelope, so for a flat rate $5.70, two bags of coffee will fit in the envelope. Buy two bags of the Holiday Blend, or mix and match the Holiday Blend with another coffee from our line-up. The coffee is not delivered with any visible pricing, so you can give it as a gift to that special coffee lover.
Happy holidays from the Make Good Coffee Co. to you and your family!
Check out the Online Store here.
If you’ve been visiting the site these past several months, you know it’s been an ongoing adventure to get the coffee roaster installed and operational in San Diego, California. Last month, the roaster went live, and I’ve spent the last several weeks perfecting the first three coffees that I’ll be selling.
This year, we went on a coffee origin trip through Costa Rica and Panama, taking us into Panama’s green mountain highlands. We toured coffee farms, and met with the farmers and field workers. Going to coffee origin is an incredible experience that helps you appreciate the beverage we all love.
My Panama Boquete coffee is roasted medium to take advantage of the natural brightness of a Central American coffee. When a coffee is roasted too dark, it loses some of the uniqueness. To maintain this coffee’s natural acidity, I roast it to a medium color. You can expect flavor notes of berry and other fruit, and some milk chocolate flavor.
Malawi AA – Dark Roast
Dark roasted coffee has a nice smoky taste that so many coffee lovers like in their cup.
We are excited that our Dark Roast Coffee is a Malawi AA coffee. The east African country of Malawi has a long coffee tradition, dating back to when the British planted coffee seeds in its green northern provinces in the late 19th century. To ensure a strict standard of quality, the “AA” means that it meets the highest standard before it’s exported.
You can expect a medium acidity and good sweetness in this coffee, with notes of citrus, berry, and some chocolate.
Marc’s Premium Coffee – Sumatra Toba Peaberry
I’m excited about all three of these coffees, but I’m the most excited about this premium Sumatra Toba Peaberry coffee.
Sumatra is the largest island entirely in Indonesia, and this coffee is grown alongside Lake Toba. Toba is the site of the world’s largest volcanic activity in the last 25 million years, and it is the world’s largest volcanic lake. Volcanic soil contains some of the best nutrients to grow coffee, and it’s reflected in the coffee’s flavor. Peaberry coffee is a special type of coffee bean where there is only one oval shaped bean in each cherry, rather than two joined beans.
Long story short: it’s a very special coffee. I’ve spent weeks perfecting how to roast it for an optimum flavor experience. I roast it to a medium-dark roast, to mute some of the strong acidity that is natural to this coffee, while developing strong berry and spicy flavor, and a nice body. Did I mention that this is a very special coffee?!
Shipping from the Make Good Coffee. Co. Online Store to US addresses is a flat 5.70, using the US Postal Service Flat Rate Padded Envelope. I’m not trying to make money from shipping, so I’m passing on the exact USPS cost. I encourage you to buy two pounds at a time, in order to split this flat rate shipping cost, over the cost of the two pounds of coffee. While two pounds of coffee is more than I would normally suggest you buy at one time, this coffee will have been roasted days before you order it, so it will be as fresh as you can find coffee. Also, it gives you two varieties of coffee to have in the kitchen, which I always like having for variety in my own home.
Check out the Make Good Coffee Co. Online Store. This website has always grown from the feedback of people who visit, so always feel free to let me know what you think of the coffees that I’m offering, or what you would like to see.
I’m so happy to finally announce that the Make Good Coffee Co. roastery is now open, and the online store will go live on November 9th, shipping throughout North America.
After blogging about coffee, traveling to coffee growing countries, and meeting and interviewing coffee roasters for almost ten years, I’m so excited to finally open my own roastery based out of San Diego, California.
There are two things I want to accomplish with this roastery, and both of them are behind the word Good in Make Good Coffee.
“Good” should mean a quality cup of coffee that you look forward to making for yourself. I go to bed thinking about how good the coffee is going to be when I wake up. My goal is to know coffee roasting as well as it can be known. I want to make the best coffee I can make, and never stop pursuing that goal.
“Good” should also mean that we can do good when we buy coffee. In the coffee supply chain, there is nobody that works harder or makes the least for themselves than coffee farmers. Many are dedicated to providing the best coffee, and if we help them remain sustainable by providing them with a fair price, then we help families and communities. And in return, we continue getting the best coffee from them. In my coffee travels, I’ve seen schools and health care facilities built in coffee communities that have been allowed to prosper.
I’ve spent the year roasting coffee, from the Boot Coffee course in San Francisco last December, to home roasting all my own (and friends’) coffee, and reading as much as I can. I can recite the owner’s manual for my roaster. I’ve spent the last several weeks perfecting my first three coffees. They will be:
– Medium Roast Panama coffee
– Dark Roast Malawi AA coffee
– Marc’s Premium: Sumatra Peaberry coffee
Come visit the Make Good Coffee Co. Store on November 9th, shipping throughout North America! Take the Coffee Quiz that asks you a few questions about what you’re looking for, and recommends a coffee based on your choices. And start making good coffee!
It’s been awhile since I’ve written something “back to basics” about improving the coffee you make at home. I’m generally addressing a single topic or answering a particular question, and so I lose sight of the simpler advice.
Many of the questions I receive deal with a specific part of making coffee at home, and I thought the timing was good to summarize a few of the simple ways that you can make better coffee at home.
If you’re already doing these things, congratulations! You didn’t waste your time reading this article – it’s enough to know that you scored an A+. The challenge can be that coffee snobs have all the right information, but at the end of the day – well, they’re snobs. And nobody likes to be told what to do by a snob. In fact, they’re hard to approach.
Here are four simple ways that you can change or invest in how you make coffee at home.
#1: Buy Good Coffee
Seem too simple? I don’t think it is, because the great majority of coffee is still being sold from grocery stores or club stores like Costco. They are very convenient places to buy coffee because you were already there. However, they simply don’t have the attention to freshness outside of their produce section.
When you buy coffee from the grocery store, you are buying coffee that in all likelihood has already gone stale.
When you buy coffee from Costco in a five-pound bag, even if it wasn’t already stale, it will be before you get through that much coffee.
Coffee has the most flavor and the most to enjoy when it is fresh. It is the most fresh when it was just roasted. It begins to expire after it’s been roasted and a few weeks after that, it’s stale. At a minimum, you should know on what exact date the coffee was roasted. You won’t get this from coffee at the grocery store. You won’t get it from the bulk coffee sold at a Starbucks outlet either. You’ll likely only find it from a local coffee roaster in your area, hand-roasting coffee that is fresh and full of flavor when you buy it. Coffee roasters that sell their coffee online are a great option, provided they are telling you when your coffee was roasted.
#2: Don’t Grind It Until You Brew It
Another thing born of convenience is pre-ground coffee. The first point at which coffee starts going stale is when it is roasted. The second point is when it is ground. In fact, ground coffee expires at a faster rate than whole bean coffee. You should only grind your coffee when you are prepared to brew it. Otherwise, it’s likely lost much of its flavor by the time you brew it.
Invest in a grinder. You can go with a propeller grinder very inexpensively, and for the best grind, invest in a burr grinder.
#3: Store It In The Right Place
The enemies of fresh coffee are: air, temperature change, and light.
Keep your whole bean coffee in an airtight container that keeps light out, preferably a canister with a rubber band that provides a seal.
Coffee should be kept at room temperature. Resist the urge to keep the coffee in the fridge or freezer. Coffee absorbs the smells of what’s around it so if you put it in the fridge, it will neutralize the smell of your fridge like baking soda does, but the coffee will pick up those aromas in its flavor. Keeping coffee in the freezer is better than letting it go stale, but understand that the two dramatic changes in temperature (going in and coming out) will sap some of the freshness and flavor from the coffee.
#4: Brew It Right
At a minimum, put your single-serve pod coffee maker back in the box, and invest in a drip brewer for your kitchen. If you don’t mind spending close to a hundred dollars on a machine that you will have for many years, I suggest Cuisinart‘s drip brewer. It’s been my drip brewer of choice for many years. If you don’t need all the bells and whistles, and would like a quality drip brewer at a reasonable price, go with Black and Decker for considerably less cost. It’s a reliable machine that I always have on-hand for backup.
If you’re already familiar with the drip brewer and want to explore other brewing methods, there are plenty. They generally involve a little more manual work than just flipping a switch, but in return, you get a much stronger flavor experience. Just as the drip brewer was an improvement on the percolator before it, there have been many improvements on brewing the drip brewer way. Check out our Brewing Coffee page for an in-depth look at some of the other interesting ways to brew coffee.
I saw that Starbucks recently added cold brew coffee to their menu, to the tune of 4 dollars / cup. I wasn’t surprised at the price. But I was surprised that this was on the menu. What does it mean? It means that cold brew coffee has moved out of fad territory, into trend territory. I hate to say it, but when Starbucks adds it to the menu, it is something that is going to be with us for the long run.
I have traditionally drank my coffee hot. Iced coffee never appealed to me, not even in the summer. It just seemed weird that something would taste like coffee, but be so cold. Cold brew coffee, on the other hand, is not iced coffee and shouldn’t be confused. Cold brew coffee means that it was brewed over an extended period of time with room-temperature or cold water. In fact, it can be served hot. “Cold brew” makes reference to how it was brewed, not how it is served.
Naturally, there is all kinds of gear available for you to make excellent cold brew coffee for yourself at home. It would probably be worth it in the long run, rather than to pay 4 dollars per cup. But, I’ll save you even more money. I’ll explain to you how you can make cold brew coffee for yourself at home with nothing more than your french press and typical way of using it.
1) Clean your french press (press pot).
2) Grind your coffee coarse, just as though you were going to brew it in the french press as you normally would. Also grind as much coffee as you normally would, depending on the size of your french press pot.
3) Empty your coarse-ground coffee into the french press.
4) Add filtered room-temperature or cold water to the french press. Use the same amount of water as you normally would, depending on the size of your french press pot.
5) Without pressing the press down, put the french press (with coffee and water together) in the fridge. Leave it there 12 hours.
6) After 12 hours, remove the french press from the fridge, and press the ground coffee and sediment to the bottom of the pot. What you’re left with above the filter is cold-brewed sediment-free coffee.
7) Empty this coffee into another container. I use a mason jar with a screw-lid. Keep that other container in the fridge.
8) Voila! You have a container of cold brew coffee. Serve it on ice.
There are any variations to what I’ve laid out above. Here are some that I’ve become familiar with:
– You can vary between room-temperature and cold water, for brewing. I’ve used cold water. Regardless, I put it in the fridge so it’s going to get cold eventually. That brings me to the next variation – some people do not brew it in the fridge for 12 hours, rather they leave it on the counter to brew at room temperature.
– Try different coffees. The point of cold brew coffee is to mute a lot of the coffee’s acidity, so that its other characteristics can emerge in the cup. The ideal cold brew coffee would be one rich in flavor “hidden” behind a wall of acidity that not everybody likes. The cold brew process mutes that acidity.
– The 12-hour brew time is very subjective. I’ve heard of it brewed as long as 18-24 hours. Experiment with us to decide what you like best. I’ve observed that the longer the brew time, the lighter the color of the coffee.
The good people at Espresso Works in Perth, Australia sent in this infographic about cold brew coffee.
Check it out to learn about how to make cold brew coffee, how it affects the flavor, and how it differs from iced coffee.
Cold brew coffee is new to me, but I plan to learn more and start experimenting with my own batches. Stay tuned – you’ll be hearing more about it soon!
I was introduced to the similarities between wine and coffee with the Nez du Cafe coffee aroma kit. The kit is to develop a sense of smell for the many different flavor accents that can be found in coffee. It comes with 36 aromas altogether. The creator of the Nez du Cafe kit previously made one for wine called the Nez Du Vin. These translate literally to the “nose” of coffee and wine.
Last week, I visited the J Lohr vineyard in Paso Robles, on California’s Central Coast. J Lohr (The J is short for Jerry) has been a family-run wine maker for around 40 years. My brother raves about their Seven Oaks Cabernet Sauvignon, so I decided since I was in the area that I would visit for myself. It was an opportunity for me to not only gloat about the visit to my brother, but to engage the similarities between tasting coffee and wine.
As I prepare to open the Make Good Coffee Co. in San Diego, California, I’ve been roasting and evaluating many small batches of coffee. The evaluation involves cupping the coffee after it’s been roasted, against a profile evaluation form. I decided I would go into J Lohr using the same evaluation for their wine as I would for coffee. Also, the night before, I watched the movie Sideways, particularly the hilarious scene above. I am not the wine connoisseur that my brother is.
I arrived as the tasting room was opening so I could have my host’s undivided attention, and ask lots of dumb questions. She offered me six complimentary pours from their list of wines. The wines listed were not those available at the local grocery store, but rather exclusive wines available only at the vineyard or over their website.
I chose six red wines, since my brother raves about their Cabernet Sauvignon. I brought a notepad with me to scribble as many notes as I could just as though I was evaluating coffee. For whatever reason, I find the first impressions of smell to be fleeting, so that you get one good shot at picking up what is unique about it. The fragrance doesn’t go away, but I find the sensitivity of smelling it to be powerful just once.
With each of the six pours, I took notes on five attributes that I evaluated separately. The first involves smelling the wine, and the other four involve tasting the wine. This meant being careful to break each of the six pours into four sips or tastes each.
– Aroma/fragrance: I smelled the wine, and probably looked like Miles from Sideways, spinning the wine in the glass and sticking my ample nose into it. I was looking for anything that stood out.
– Flavor: With my first taste of the wine, I was looking for specific accents. Anything that would separate that wine from others. For instance, that it is sweet, spicy, fruity, etc.
– Aftertaste: With a second sip, I would evaluate whether the aftertaste was short or lingering, and what it consisted of in flavor. The aftertaste could offer a different experience than the initial flavor.
– Acidity: An often misunderstood characteristic (at least in coffee), this is the tart or brightness. Was it mild (think of the flavor of a banana) or did it have a “pop” (think of the flavor of a raspberry)?
– Mouthfeel: Finally, an evaluation of the body of the wine. When evaluating mouthfeel in coffee, it can be thin like skim milk or thick like whole milk.
After many scribbled notes, my finalist was their Carol’s Vineyard, a Cabernet Sauvignon, produced from land that J Lohr owns in California’s Napa wine country. I liked the heavy body, fruity flavor, and nice aftertaste. As you can see, my description of wines has room to grow!
As a side note, Carol Lohr for whom this wine is named, was Jerry’s late wife. Proceeds from this wine are donated to breast cancer research. A big wine and a great cause.
For nine years, I’ve been blogging about coffee here on MakeGoodCoffee.com. In fact, I was blogging before I knew what the word meant.
When I started this website, the goal was simple: write about how to make better coffee at home. I love coffee and it’s been a regular part of my life for more years than not. I knew that by writing about coffee, it would put me in touch with people who knew way more about it, and that would make me smarter. By continually sharing what I learned, my coffee game would improve, and hopefully yours would too.
Inevitably, this coffee adventure put me in touch with one of the groups of people who make coffee a reality for us. The people to whom coffee is a craft. The coffee roaster. In all of my travels, I would find the local coffee roaster, set up an interview, learn about him, and learn about what makes great coffee great.
Nine years later, I’m ready to open my own coffee roastery and share my passion for coffee, and all that I’ve learned.
The Make Good Coffee Co. will be based in San Diego, California. I have a lot of work ahead of me, and I can’t wait! The roastery will serve the San Diego coffee market from my retail shop, and I will make all of my coffees available to all of you no matter where you live, right here over the website. Stay tuned!
I have always enjoyed turning an interest into a passion. Coffee roasting will be no exception. In fact, I expect I will devote more of myself to this craft than I have to anything else. My goal is nothing short of being the best roaster in San Diego, and I will stop at nothing to continue learning and improving. I want to know coffee roasting as well as it can be known.
There is lots more news to come. If you’ve been coming to the website in the last nine years, I hopefully don’t need to tell you how exciting this is for me. The next chapter is beginning, and it will be the best one yet!