Coffee beans go through a long journey from seed to cup. Any misstep along the way can ruin the end result. This applies to how the coffee is brewed. After all the care the farmer puts into cultivating his crop, throughout the drying and milling process, transporting the coffee, storing it in a warehouse, and finally roasting and shipping it, if it is brewed improperly even the best of beans can taste like watery drek. Here are some sturdy tips to help you avoid making potentially disastrous brewing mistakes.
This is a basic description of how espresso is properly made using a traditional espresso machine that uses high pressure pump to force water through a portafilter for proper extraction. Note that one cannot come close to achieving genuine espresso using a $50 machine that relies on steam pressure to force water through the coffee grinds. Those machines, or “steam toys” as they’re sometimes referred to, simply cannot produce enough pressure for proper forced-infusion to take place. The espresso equipment must be capable of producing “nine bars” (about 125-145 psi) of pressure.
Preheat the cup (or shot glass) by filling it with hot water from the steam wand of your espresso machine. This minimizes heat loss from the espresso, which can result in a sour, bitter shot.
Remove the portafilter from the group head and wipe it clean with a dry towel.
Turn on the machine and run clean hot water through the group head to remove any spent grounds clinging to the group head and to stabilize the temperature (heat) of the group head.
Fill the espresso basket with freshly ground coffee from the grinder.
Level the grounds with the flat edge of a utensil, like the back edge of a butter knife.
Tamp the grounds firmly; applying 30 pounds of pressure and wipe clean the rim of the portafilter basket (this is where the portafilter will form a seal against the group head). You can practice tamping on a bathroom scale to get a feel for how much pressure to apply.
Fix the basket handle to the group head of the espresso machine.
Start the pump of the espresso machine.
Observe the flow of the espresso. A single shot of espresso is 1 to 1.5 ounces of coffee brewed within 25-30 seconds. The flow should appear to look like a “mouse tail” wiggling slightly back and forth.
Serve or use the espresso immediately. The most delicate flavors will evaporate out of the coffee in a very short period of time, thus degrading the taste of the shot.
After brewing and drinking or serving the shot, remove the portafilter from the machine and discard the spent grounds.
Rinse and wipe the portafilter basket clean and return to the group head. It is very important to keep the portafilter attached to the espresso machine when not in use so it stays hot!
A double shot portafilter of espresso should be 14 grams of fresh ground coffee brewed with 9-10 bars of pressure, with a water temperature (at the infusion point) of 195-205 degrees Fahrenheit (depending on the coffee used)producing 1-1.5 ounces of liquid in 25-30 seconds. If you have a single portafilter, through it away. Almost none of those on the market are shaped right to make good espresso with.
Follow this ritual for every shot of espresso brewed. Cleanliness cannot be overemphasized. Even a small amount of spent grounds stuck hiding on the bottom of the group head from a previous shot will effect the quality of the currently brewed shot.
Brewing consistently good shots takes practice and the best equipment (namely espresso machine and grinder) your budget will allow.
The history of coffee is filled with pronouncements regarding its effects on coffee drinkers – ranging from coffee’s divine quality to energize a mundane life, to be alternatively matched with edicts banning the evil brew as sinful and deadly to one’s health. During and after the late 1960’s, researchers conducted modern scientific studies to investigate the effects of coffee and caffeine on humans. Since then both have been implicated as a risk factor for a litany of diseases and health disorders including cardiovascular disease, stroke, hypertension osteoporosis, liver and kidney disease, and various forms of cancer. Thirty years later, largely due to improved scientific methodologies and the effort of the coffee industry, many technical inaccuracies of these early studies have been corrected. Most authorities now agree that there is no conclusive evidence linking coffee and caffeine consumed in moderation to the previously mentioned health problems.
The following information is widely available on the internet. We at The Lost Dutchman Coffee Company have compiled some interesting results of various studies:
In Japan and the United States, men consuming two or three cups of caffeinated coffee per day showed a 40% reduction in the risk of developing gallstones. Only slightly greater benefit was realized at intakes of four or more cups per day.
In Italy, Japan, and the United States, people who drank three to four cups of coffee a day created a risk reduction of 80% for liver cirrhosis than non-drinkers.
In a ten year study, women consuming more than two or more cups of coffee per day were 65% less likely to commit suicide.
No cancer correlation to caffeine has been found, except that people who smoke often do so at the same time that they drink their coffee.
Some studies indicate that people that drink four or more cups of coffee per day have a 25% lower risk of colorectal cancer compared to those who drink little or no coffee.
Caffeine can raise blood pressure for a few minutes, and in some cases hours. However coffee consumption does not seem to cause ongoing hypertensive disorder. If a person already has hypertension, however, a cup of coffee may temporarily raise blood pressure and this could ultimately increase a more immediate risk of stroke.
Coffee can increase stomach acid production and affect the closing of the valve between the stomach and esophagus, leading to reflux and heartburn. Note that coffee typically has a pH value of 5 – 5.5. This is considered “mildly acidic”. Caffeine and other compounds in coffee stimulate gastric acid production by the stomach. It is this acid that can cause an acid reflux event. Darker roasted coffee seems to minimize this effect to a degree.
Adults who drank two to three cups of coffee a day had 25% less asthma than non-coffee drinkers.
Coffee contains nearly 2,000 compounds in the final brewed cup – many being products of the roasting process itself. It is perhaps a combination of caffeine and these compounds that create some of the beneficial relationship listed above.
The French Press is thought to have been invented somewhere in France during the mid 1800’s, but the name of the person is not known for sure. It was first patented in 1931 by a fellow named Attilio Calimani (that name does not sound French). It is also commonly referred to as a “Press Pot” and “Coffee Plunger”. In French, it is called “Cafetiere a Piston”, with cafetiere meaning “coffee maker”, or “pot”.
Why use French Press? Well, it is a standard by which coffee is evaluated because it’s the most pure way of preparing coffee. One has complete control over steep time, steep temperature, quality and size of coffee grind without using paper filters that filter out some of the finer nuances the coffee may have to offer.
Using a coffee plunger correctly may be a little more difficult than it first appears. If the coffee doesn’t taste great, try reviewing the steps below and make changes to your method until it comes out right.
French Press Brewing Preparation
Get the Grind Right. Use of a high quality grinder for French Press is almost as important as it is for espresso preparation. Avoid using blade grinders since they create grind particles of extreme size variance. Instead, use a decent quality burr grinder like the Baratza Maestro. A $40-$50 burr grinder won’t work very well. If you have a high-end espresso grinder available, all the better.
The grind size depends on the fine-ness of the screen in the press-pot. Grinds should be just fine enough not to pass through the screen. A common misconception is to grind too coarse. The mesh screens in the stainless steel French presses we sell are very fine, so we recommend a grind size considerably finer than what you’d see in a can of, say Folgers or other pre-ground large commercial canned coffee. Note that there will always be some sediment left in the bottom of the cup. It’s part of the French Press brewing process. Simply don’t drink the last sip or two.
So the key two grind points are:
Use a high quality burr grinder, or you probably won’t like the result
Use as fine a grind as you can without having grinds pass through the mesh
How Much Coffee To Use? Try starting with two tablespoons of ground coffee, or 10 grams if you have a digital scale, per 6 ounces of water. If the brew tastes too weak, increase the amount by adding one more tablespoon, or 5 grams. Remember, you’re creating a custom masterpiece in the morning, so getting the right technique might take some experimenting.
Brewing Technique and Steep Times. Here comes the best part. You have total control over the entire brewing process, unlike with a drip brewer.
Once you’ve perfectly ground the coffee and put the right amount into the pot, pour the correct amount of good quality water you intend to use over the grounds in a circular fashion. Use mineral water if possible. The water must be between 195-205 degrees Fahrenheit as it contacts the grounds.
Do not let dry islands of coffee grounds form in the middle. If they do, use the back side of a spoon to push the island just under the surface.
Carefully place the plunger into the pot with the screen against the lid (the knob is pulled all the way up). Do not press the plunger down at this time. The purpose of putting the lid on is to help keep in the heat. This is where our vacuum insulated stainless steel French presses excel. Presses made of glass allow more rapid heat dissipation, which is not necessarily good for brewing.
After one minute, leave the lid on and gently swirl around the press in a circular motion to create a whirl-pool effect which will suck any floating ground beneath the surface.
After one to two additional minutes, gently press the plunger down firmly into the pot. This pressing action should take 10-20 seconds (don’t just ram it down quickly).
It is ready to pour into your favorite mug and drink
Note that our method uses only 2-3 minutes of total steep time. This is because we use as fine of a grind setting as we can without having coffee grounds pass through the mesh. A finer grind allows the more flavorful oils to be extracted into the brew. A coarser grind takes a longer steep time of 4-6 minutes to extract these oils, and you also may wind up extracting some of the more undesirable bitter compounds associated with over extraction. Some of the cheaper presses on the market don’t have very fine screens. If this is the case with yours, then you have no alternative but to grind coarser or upgrade to a better quality press.
What about leaving the coffee in the French Press after brewing is complete? Try and make only as much as you would use in a single serving by simply reducing the amount of coffee that is brewed. If you’re like me, you probably don’t have time in the morning to run through the whole procedure again. For awhile there, I was decanting the extra coffee into a thermally insulated cup, but then found that as long as the plunger is pressed firmly to the bottom, the “second cup” of coffee was still much better than the coffee decanted into another cup. The reasoning goes that when the grounds come into contact with water, the water makes contact with every microscopic point on each individual ground. When the grounds are firmly pressed to the bottom the overall surface area (all the points of contact), decreases many of times over, leaving the water very little surface area with which to continue infusion. Using this method, the 2nd cup can easily sit in the thermal, stainless steel press for an additional 10 minutes and still taste great.