Coffee is an Air Freshener

in Buying Coffee, Coffee and You, Coffee Maintenance

yuck     A few years ago, a friend of mine who drives a semi, was telling me about how they used to use coffee as an air freshener when hauling fish.  He said they would literally throw bulk coffee beans into the back of the trailer with the fish, to help with the smell.

Read: Coffee Beans in the Fish Truck

It’s the same reason you don’t want to keep coffee in the fridge or freezer.  Coffee absorbs from the air around it, and the fridge is full of stuff.

I recently moved to the beach outside of San Diego, CA.  Most of the apartments near the beach are, well…beachy.  For instance, my building is at least 40 years old, and it looks it.  Some of the cabinets throughout the apartment have an old smell, and I thought of coffee to do something about it.

I’ve been traveling a lot recently and when I do, I tend to buy more coffee than I need from roasters in the cities I’m visiting.  Long story short, I had way more coffee than I needed.  Instead of throwing out coffee, I’ve been using it as an air freshener in old cabinets.

That’s my MacGyver trick for the week! 🙂

Clean Out Your Coffee Grinder

in Coffee Gear, Coffee Maintenance

cuisinartgrinder     First of all, my sincere apologies for no blog activity for the last many weeks.  I haven’t posted since CoffeeCON, and I still have much to write about that amazing trip and show.

The great news is that my time has been occupied with good reason.  I am about to unveil a new look for, complete with new functionality to help match you with the right coffee for you, and exciting new content.  Stay tuned!  Alot of exciting development coming up.

Part of the relaunch of the site involved some photo shoots of yours truly in the coffee bar doing what I do best, making coffee.  I was fortunate to have a photographer that knew coffee well.  When she asked me to clean my coffee grinder so that she could capture a picture of it, I looked at her dumbfounded and embarrassed. 

I had never cleaned my coffee grinder before.  I use the Cuisinart Burr Grinder that you see pictured above, and I do occasionally clean the second chamber of the grinder that captures the ground coffee.  Ground coffee shoots into that chamber so quickly that some of it collects and cakes up.  Occasionally, I clean that out.

paintbrush     When I asked the photographer what she thought I could use to clean the inside of the grinder, she asked if I had a brush of any kind.  I found a thin, flat unused paint brush – the kind you see pictured to the left.

When I put my face into the grinder to begin to brush it out, I immediately recognized the smell of stale coffee.  Coffee that had remained in the grinder was going stale from not cleaning it.  Some of that stale coffee was certainly ending up in the coffee that I ground.

Find yourself a brush of pretty much any kind.  Every now and then, clean out your grinder.  Good coffee is about fresh coffee, and if you don’t keep the system clean, you’ve got stale coffee in it.

Why are filter baskets hard to clean?

in Brewing Coffee, Coffee Maintenance

Question: “Why do manufacturers put ribs inside the filter baskets? This makes them very hard to clean.” – Ron Varley

Answer: Excellent question, Ron.  Who doesn’t hate trying to clean between the ribs of a drip brewer filter basket. As we go over in the site’s section on Coffee Maintenance, you want to make sure you’ve cleaned all residue from everything that coffee touches.  Coffee is oily and attaches itself to whatever it is left on.  It is also perishable, so that even the residue will go stale in time and affect the flavor of coffee you make later on.

So why the ribs on the inside of the filter baskets?  To figure it out, I found myself looking at all kinds of design patents for filter baskets and then the answer jumped off the page.  It’s not the ribs that are important, but the space between them.  As hot water passes through the coffee and filter, it needs to flow to the center of the basket to drip out into the pot.

If you used a paper filter and those ribs were not built into the basket, then it would take the coffee longer to “canal” its way to the center of the basket and drip through.  Instead, the space between ribs is the area where brewed coffee travels from the filter through to the drip-hole, and into the pot. I’m not an engineer and sometimes lousy at explaining these types of things, so I hope that makes sense.

My advice on cleaning it is to rinse it as soon as possible right after the coffee is brewed.  That way, none of the residue will set.  Otherwise, a dish-cleaning sponge will get into ribs to clean them out better than a cloth. A dish brush is best of all. I confess that since I use a mesh filter instead of paper filters that I don’t clean the filter basket as often as I should.  So it is probably collecting residue from the previous pots I’ve brewed and leaving me with less than optimal coffee flavor.  Something to remember, so thanks again for the question.

Help, there’s a metal taste in my coffee!

in Brewing Coffee, Coffee Maintenance

Question: “My sister’s coffee always smells and tastes like tin. No matter what she does. I have recently started using my daughter’s coffee pot and find the same thing happening to me. Is it the pot or are we doing something wrong?  Thank you very much.” – Donna

Hi Donna,  Thanks for the question.  I’ll try to narrow it down by pointing out three different possibilities and some remedy for each.

The Machine: Give the coffee machine a cycle of one part vinegar, two parts water.  Vinegar has a non-toxic cleaning power that may clean the metallic flavor out of the system.  Then, run a couple water-only cycles to rinse the vinegar out.  You will either notice an improvement or nothing at all.  If you don’t notice a difference, move on to the next steps.  If you do notice an improvement, run one or two more vinegar-water cycles, we’ve isolated the problem.

Read: Vinegar Cleaning the Coffee Machine

Water: More than likely, it’s the water that’s the culprit.  I’ve even heard stories of cities changing some piping, causing the water to have a metallic tinge to it (at least in the short term).  Use filtered water instead of filling the coffee pot from the tap.  There are alot of minerals in tap water that could stand to be filtered out before you drink it, and coffee is 99% water.  I suggest buying a Brita pitcher for your fridge.

Read: Does the Coffee Maker Purify My Water?
Read: Why Water is So Important to Coffee

The Filter: This is the least likely culprit, but worth trying for good measure.  Try using a paper filter, if you haven’t already.  The mesh “perma-filters” will not cause a metallic taste in the coffee, but paper will pick up more from the coffee before it drips into the pot so you may find that it helps.

Read: Paper Versus Mesh Filter…fight!

When I first read your question, it sounded like the coffee pot itself was the constant.  If it’s a steel pot, it’s possibly to blame.  In this case, you may consider buying a universal glass pot.  If your daughter’s pot is glass, then it wouldn’t cause the metallic taste.

Everybody deserves great-tasting coffee, and no food or drink tastes good with something metallic in it.  I hope these suggestions help you get back to drinking great coffee.

“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.

Why Coffee Loses Flavor

in Brewing Coffee, Coffee Maintenance

It’s a travesty.  While I might be anxious to get through this coffee overstock, there was nothing good about what happened this week.  I was excited to finally break open a pound of Kenya AA coffee bought for me by a friend.  He had bought it for me over a month ago so naturally I was concerned about how fresh it would be.  A few weeks ago, I vacuum-sealed it in the hopes that it would hold some freshness.  Coffee are like cigars to me in that way, a slightly stale quality cigar can still be better than a fresh low-grade cigar.  With coffee, flavor comes from freshness.  The more fresh the coffee, the more flavor in the cup.

The travesty is that not only did I have to throw out this pound of coffee, but Kenyan coffee is one of my all-time favorites.  Kenyan coffee is sold at state-run auctions in Kenya, and the AA grade means it’s Kenya’s finest.  It was the worst coffee since I had to drink cafeteria coffee last year.  Don’t let it happen to you.  Let’s look at how you lose flavor in coffee.

Flavor = freshness.  And there are four enemies to coffee freshness: they are oxygen, moisture, heat, and light.  The point is not to allocate blame, but to decide what both the roaster and I might have done wrong that took all the flavor out of what should have been a great coffee.

The most common enemy: air.  Exposure to air is inevitable and very little is truly air-sealed.  I had this coffee a while after it was bought so I have to take responsibility for not getting to it fast enough.  Having said that, the roaster did not indicate on the bag how recently it was roasted and I was surprised how little flavor it had left, even if I sat on it for a month.  Choose a roaster that indicates how recently the beans were roasted so you know how long they’ve been expiring.  Peet’s Coffee and Tea indicates on the bag on what exact date the beans were roasted.

When beans are done roasting, the roaster has to cool them down.  Otherwise, they will continue to roast on their own from the heat in the bean’s interior.  Make sure your roaster does not use a liquid technique to cool down the beans.  This moisture will also sap freshness from the bean.  This is also a concern if you freeze your coffee, which causes moisture once the beans are removed from the freezer and thawed.

Heat and light
I lump these two together as secondary possible causes.  Oxygen exposure is likely the biggest cause by both the roaster who did not package and sell these beans quickly enough after they were roasted, as well as the time they spent on my shelf before I got to them.  Moisture exposure is another possible defect in the roaster’s process.  But heat is more of a concern during the brewing process, and certainly, you don’t want to let your coffee sit on heat for too long before it’s poured and enjoyed.  Light can also take away from coffee bean freshness, so it’s suggested you store your beans in a cupboard, which I had done so this isn’t likely what I did to cause the beans to lose freshness.

It is a very real possibility that the roaster overheated the beans, possibly not cooling them at all after they were roasted, so heat exposure could have been a cause.

Vinegar cleaning the coffee maker

in Coffee Maintenance

Cleaning your coffee maker is as easy as running a cycle.  I guess I’ve been so busy making coffee that I forgot to give my machine its regular cleaning.  It’s this easy.

Run a cycle through the machine that is one part vinegar and two parts water.  White distilled vinegar is a great cleaning agent and a popular household cleanser.  It will kill most mold, bacteria and germs due to its high level of acidity.  It’s a great alternative to harsh chemicals and for that reason, a much more environmentally responsible cleanser.

Does it really work?  That was a rhetorical question, here’s the awful proof…

After vinegar cleaning

That’s how the vinegar-water combination looked after it cycled through the machine.  Remember, I used white vinegar.  It’s a 12-cup carafe, so I filled it up to the 4-cup line with vinegar and topped it off with water.

After running the vinegar-water solution through the machine, run a couple cycles of water only.  Like any cleaning agent, vinegar needs to be rinsed through the machine or you’ll taste it in your coffee.  After two water-only cycles, the smell of vinegar was gone and the water was the same color coming out as it was going in.

How often should you clean your coffee maker this way?  That depends on how often you make coffee.  It needs the cleaning from your usage, so if you make coffee every day, I would suggest at 1-2 times a year.  It’s been well over a year since my last cleaning and I do make a lot of coffee, so I should be cleaning my coffee maker a couple times a year.

This just makes me look forward to a cleaner cup of coffee tomorrow morning!