What is the proper grind setting to make coffee?

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grindsettingsAccording 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.

cuisinartgrinder     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.

Books for the Coffee Lover

in Buying Coffee, Coffee and You, Coffee Gear

      I like coffee and I like to read.  I have seven different books on coffee on my bookshelf.  If you’re book-shopping for the coffee lover or else looking for an interesting book on coffee for yourself, check out the ones I’ve read.

I shop for my music and books on Amazon.com.  They’ve built a Widget tool where I can show you what coffee books I have on my shelf, and some comments about each of them.  Check it out on the site’s Shopping Guide.

The image that you see here is for my all-time favorite book on coffee.  Not only is it a very informative book on the living conditions in different coffee-growing parts of the world, but it is an entertaining and often humorous read that follows one coffee roaster’s travels.  Dean Cycon brings us an incredible appreciation of coffee by understanding life where it is grown, each chapter focused on a different origin trip that Dean has taken to coffee-growing countries.

     A close second on my list of must-have coffee books is Uncommon Grounds: The History of Coffee and How It Transformed Our World. For those of you who have read both this book and Javatrekkers, you may be surprised that I wouldn’t rank this as the world’s most informative book on coffee. The fact is, Uncommon Grounds is the most encyclopedic book I know on the history of coffee from its beginning to present.  It is only because it is so encyclopedic that I don’t recommend it first.  Javatrekker and Uncommon Grounds are both essential reading for the coffee lover, the latter as the definitive source on coffee, and the former as the most interesting read on coffee, in my opinion.

Visit the site’s Shopping Guide, where you’ll see the books I’ve read on the Amazon Widget, my ranking of the book on a scale of 5 based on how important it is to the coffee lover’s bookshelf, and some comments to elaborate on the ranking I gave.  I look forward to hearing from you with your thoughts on these books, and especially those coffee books that I haven’t read yet.


Step into my kitchen (sorry about the mess)

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     I’m so excited to announce a couple of new features that have just gone live on the website.  As the site has developed with new information, it’s made me a smarter coffee drinker.  By that, I mean I’m enjoying coffee better than I ever have, and I owe it to what I’ve learned along the way.

I thought it would be cool to share a couple things with you on an ongoing basis, and I hope you enjoy these two new features. 

Marc’s Coffee Bar: Want to know exactly what gear I use in my kitchen to make great coffee at home?  It’s all right here, along with some suggestions on where you can find these same items.  I give you an honest assessment of how long I’ve had each item, and what I think of it, good or bad.  Click here to visit Marc’s Coffee Bar.

What’s Marc Drinking?: An interactive feature that you’ll see on all pages will tell you what coffee I’m enjoying at home, and a few words about it, in case you’re interested in trying it yourself.  Click here to find out What’s Marc Drinking?.

Will Coffee Save You on Thanksgiving?

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I was watching one of those myth debunking shows, and they were talking about the tryptophan in turkey.  This is the chemical that many blame for how tired we all feel after Thanksgiving dinner.  Coincidentally, at the same time as this show was on, I was on a website warning of the dangers of combining alcohol and coffee.  It made me wonder just how much power that coffee has to save us from the lethargy of Thanksgiving Day!

Here is what truly makes you tired on Thanksgiving Day, and whether coffee has it in its power to save you…

Vacation Day Fatigue: Let’s not kid ourselves.  We all knew we had a vacation day today, so nobody got a reasonable regular Wednesday night sleep last night.  I’m not the only one who fell asleep on the couch in the wee hours watching AMC’s The Walking Dead (am I? anybody?).  Coffee can help.  The caffeine in coffee is a psychoactive with stimulant effects.  It reduces physical fatigue, restores alertness when drowsy, and increases wakefulness.

Alcohol: Many of us will drink more than average today – certainly more than an average Thursday afternoon and evening (and night).  Coffee will not help.  The dangers of mixing alcohol and caffeine refer mainly to the direct combination of the two – energy drinks with alcohol, for instance.  The real question is whether caffeine counterbalances the sedative effects of alcohol, and it does not.  Rather, the two create separate effects.  Remember that before you think a coffee will sober you enough to drive home.

Overeating: The average American will consume 4,500 calories today.  It takes the body alot of energy to process that much.  Coffee will only help a bit.  There are studies on caffeine’s digestive qualities, and it will improve focus.  For many however, it increases heartburn, which will be associated with the big eating of Thanksgiving Day.

Tryptophan: This chemical will cause fatigue, but there are only trace amounts of it in turkey.  It is a myth that the quantity of this chemical in the turkey we eat is the cause of fatigue on Thanksgiving Day.

The Aftermath: Alot of work goes into preparing Thanksgiving dinner, and alot of work goes into cleaning up and returning to normalcy.  Coffee can help.  For all of the stimulant effects mentioned under fatigue, a cup or two of coffee after Thanksgiving dinner will most certainly give you that little more drive and focus that you need to be productive and prepare for a most unproductive evening and night.

Happy Thanksgiving!  Enjoy great coffee today.

The Best Coffee is Made at Home

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I’m happy to have my brother visiting my new home in Portland, Oregon over the weekend. Yesterday, we got the day started at the bright and early hour of 2 PM, and walked a good part of the city so that he could see the sights. Naturally, we needed coffee throughout the day and had a total of five coffees each. At some point at the end of the day, we realized that ironically, the worst coffee we had all day was the one that was served to us in a restaurant.

We enjoyed our first cup of coffee at home. It was from a pound of Kenyan Peaberry, roasted by Portland’s Coava Coffee Roasters, quickly becoming one of my favorite roasters in the city. From there, we started our trek by crossing the Willamette River and walking to Coava‘s very location on Grand Avenue for our second cup of the day.

We had lunch at a great local restaurant and before the bill came, we both decided that we needed a coffee. It was the worst coffee we had all day. Compared to the two great coffees before it, it was noticeably bitter. As our trek continued throughout the day, we had another coffee at Stumptown Coffee Roasters, a stalwart roaster on Portland’s coffee scene. And finally, between the day’s walking and nighttime activities, we stopped at home where I made us one last coffee for the day. It was a Nicaraguan single-estate coffee that I had purchased from Coava earlier in the day. My brother liked that one more than the Kenyan coffee I’d made in the morning.

It’s ironic to me that one reason I had started this website was to teach people how easily they could make “restaurant-quality” coffee at home. That tagline is still throughout the website even. And yet, over the course of a day and five coffees, the worst one we had was in a restaurant. Further proof that good coffee comes from two places: your local roaster and your own kitchen!

What’s new at your local coffee roaster?

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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!

My First Coffee Tasting Experience

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On a recent tour of the Fire Roasted Coffee Company (FRCC) in London, Canada, owner David Cook set up me up with a half-pound of Papua New Guinea coffee and a half-pound of Ethiopian Harrar coffee.  As I was preparing this morning for my first formal coffee tasting experience, to be hosted by the FRCC, I went with the Ethiopian coffee in my cupboard over the Peets Blend 101.  I figured for consistency, if I was going to drink FRCC-roasted coffee all morning, I should stick with this roaster’s product from my first cup of the day.

Coffee Tasting

These tastings are done 4-6 times a year by the FRCC.  As roaster Patrick Dunham explained to me, it isn’t to provide a lesson in tasting as if you were on a winery tour and learning to properly pick up accents in sips of wine.  Rather, the tasting is for the FRCC to profile their more exotic coffee offerings – and often, some new shipments.  The FRCC serves a high-end local coffee market that wants to try new varieties and knows they can count on the FRCC to research and source everything the world of coffee has to offer.

Here’s what I tried…

Kopi Luwak Civet Vietnamese Coffee – the “cat’s ass” of coffee

If the word “civet” caught your eye and you remember it from the movie Bucket List, I won’t sugar-coat it for you.  This feline loves to eat the coffee cherry but its system only partially digests the seed (the coffee bean itself).  What’s more is that its digestive system “processes” the bean in such a way that it gives it a flavor coveted by many coffee drinkers.  Yes, the civet’s poop is collected, roasted as a coffee bean, and ground and brewed just like regular coffee.

Some of you know that Vietnam’s entry into the coffee growing market going back some 15 years has been mainly the cheaper robusta coffee.  But this is the higher-quality arabica species of coffee.  How high-quality?  Retail price is $240/lb versus conventional $15/lb.  And FRCC has no doubt they will move all of the Kopi Luwak coffee that they recently ordered in.

Hawaii Kauai Estate Reserve

This was a great reminder of the Kauai coffee I was drinking on a recent trip to Hawaii.  Not to be overshadowed by its neighboring Kona coffee, Kauai coffee is a more reasonably-priced well-balanced coffee.

Hawaii 100% Kona

Also nostalgic of my recent trip to a plantation in Kona, Hawaii, FRCC sources their Kona coffee from the Greenwell Farms.  I certainly recognized the Greenwell name from my trip.  FRCC sells this coffee for $40/lb so not quite three times as expensive as your “regular” coffee.  While American wages and other associated costs drive up the retail price of Kona coffee, it is not without its merit for fetching a premium among coffees.  A nice acidity and unique flavor.

Jamaican Blue Mountain

Along with Kona coffee, Jamaican Blue Mountain is the other “mainstream-popular” coffee that fetches a premium over other specialty coffees.  Of the handful of plantations there, this particular bean is one of the lower-grown and that means FRCC can sell a pound of it for $30, rather than the typical retail price of $60/lb.

But as far as whether the low-grown nature affected flavor, this was one of my favorites of the day, simply because it had the most distinct flavor in my humble opinion.  Without a very sophisticated sense of taste, I had David explain to me what makes this one different.  David explained that basically, there are three stages to experiencing coffee flavor: the first that it touches the taste buds, the main taste recognition of flavor that follows, and finally, the after-taste.  The Blue Mountain coffee in the middle main phase offers sweeter tones than most.  This was probably my pick of the day.

Bolivian Peaberry

My first peaberry coffee was from Kauai.  The peaberry is a “coffee aberration” in that the two parts of the seed within the coffee cherry are not separate as is normally the case but rather grow together as a single rounded oval “coffee bean”.  It isn’t necessarily a better coffee, but a different coffee with its own flavor characteristics.  The medium-roasted Kauai peaberry coffee I’d tried while in Hawaii was a big favorite of mine…this Bolivian coffee didn’t quite knock my socks off as much.

But having said that, I didn’t have a single bad coffee today.  They were all great and unique in different ways.  The coffee tasting itself was a great experience, and I thank David and Patrick for spending as much time with me as they did to answer my million questions and make me that much coffee-smarter.  Check out the website for the Fire Roasted Coffee Company.

Study shows instant coffee better for environment

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Last week, Dr. Dave Reay, senior lecturer in carbon management at Edinburgh University, issued a study where he calculates that ‘standard’ drip-brewed coffee is responsible for 50 percent more greenhouse gas emissions than its less expensive instant equivalent.

He writes that the average cup of standard coffee is responsible for 125 grams of carbon emissions, but that of an average cup of instant coffee is around 80 grams.  His reasoning?  First, instant coffee is less bulky, requiring less energy to transport over long distances.  Second, the cultivating and roasting of regular coffee creates a higher level of emission than the production of instant coffee.  In the most shocking revelation, Dr. Reay stated that a person who consumes six cups a day accumulates 175 kg of carbon dioxide a year, or the equivalent of a flight from London to Rome.

This conflicts with the “green” image that major coffee chains are touting. “As part of Starbucks Shared Planet, we are continuing our ten-year partnership with Conservation International, a non-profit environmental organization that aims to protect life on earth.”

Now, I’m no scientist.  So I don’t have an intelligent opinion on this subject.  But, I do have an opinion.  I’m not switching to instant coffee to reduce my carbon footprint.

It’s not that I don’t want to do my part and protect the environment, only that I won’t do so on the weight of a single report.  It isn’t a strong argument until you’ve heard from the other side and while I commend Dr. Reay for taking on this task, I doubt it will get enough mainstream attention to prompt a response.  Until it does, I live my life as I did before the report, as interesting as it was to read.

I understand the idea that a little litter is not the problem, it’s the accumulation of litter and I can take steps to reduce my footprint.  However, could even the world’s entire coffee drinking people make that much impact by switching to instant coffee?  You might say yes, by a third since each cup is only producing 80 grams.  But whether right or wrong, I was once told that the international meat industry is responsible for 18% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.  Something tells me I could reduce my meat intake by a third and have a much more profound effect.  That’s the problem with these single-study reports, they put the likes of Starbucks in the corner to account for their harmful impact on the environment, but it’s taken out of the context of bigger priorities.

I like how Starbucks handled it.  A single statement to acknowledge that the report was read and to reiterate their commitment to green and fair trade practices.  I think the report is interesting, even if it doesn’t impact my coffee drinking.

Christmas Post #5: Peets Major Dickason Blend

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Happy new year, everybody!

Here is my last of the posts about coffee this Christmas.  I mentioned “stealing” a pound of Kenyan coffee from my parents’ Peetniks coffee of the month membership.image-3078950-10416819 It wasn’t the only pound I rerouted and had shipped to my address instead of theirs.  But where I might have stolen that pound of coffee, it was only after I realized I’d be hosting them this Christmas that I had the following pound in their plan delivered to my house as well.  It arrived as they did…and lucky for me, it was Peets Major Dickason Blend.

This blend is the pride of Peets.  In their words, “Combines the best coffees from the world’s premier coffee-growing regions. Very full-bodied, complex, rich, and smooth.”  The blend is named after a retired army officer of the same name who was a regular customer at Peet’s original retail location.  Together with the founder of Peets, they sampled coffees from all over the world before settling on the blend recipe that today bears his name.

The most interesting part is that with many customers associating this very blend with Peets, they treat it as their “11 herbs and spices” so I can’t tell you much about the origin of the coffees making up the blend.  I will tell you that you have to try a pound of it, it’s that good.  It is heavy-bodied which I don’t mind in a coffee, and a middle of the road acidity that many coffee drinkers will appreciate.

This Christmas, we went through more of this than of any other coffee.  A shame for me, it means I’ll have to buy more…or steal another pound of it from my parents :).

Christmas Post #4: Get Out of my Coffee Bar

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

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

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

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

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

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