Across San Francisco and the nation, coffee continues to have its moment. Upscale and boutique coffee shops are on the rise, and it seems every day there is a latest and greatest method of brewing coffee.
Twenty years ago, who would have thought we would anxiously wait in line for 20 minutes to pay $5 for a cup of Joe? When you come across a boutique coffee shop with a long line snaking out the door, do you roll your eyes and dismiss the hype, eagerly hop in line just to say you tried the trendiest coffee of the moment, or head for home where you have your own carefully selected beans and favorite brewing method to make your ideal cup? Unless someone’s already advanced to the Ph.D. level of coffee knowledge, chances are most of us can learn something new about different brewing methods and have fun in the process.
FIRST, THE BEANS
It is generally agreed that a good cup of coffee must start with good beans. That said, what constitutes “good beans” is of course entirely based on personal preference. Preground beans are readily available, and many of us prefer them for convenience or tradition. However, coffee aficionados unanimously agree that grinding your own beans gives you fresher flavor. Not only that, but depending on the quality of your grinder, you should be able to select the optimal grind for the brewing method you choose. Sampling and experimenting with beans of different origins, roasts, and blends is a fun way to pick your personal favorite flavor.
Grind-to-water ratio is also best determined by personal preference. A good place to start is one tablespoon of ground coffee per cup of water being used, but you may find that you prefer more or less. A common misconception about the caffeine level of coffee beans is that darker roasts will have more caffeine. This idea is probably due to the stronger taste of darker roasts, which many people prefer. However, a lighter roast will usually yield a more caffeinated cup.
FAIR TRADE COFFEE
“Fair trade” coffee refers to partnerships among coffee growers, importers, and sellers, where coffee production meets fair working conditions and environmental sustainability. Child and forced labor are banned and the growers and coffee cooperatives have more power to negotiate directly with their buyers.
THIRD WAVE OF COFFEE
This refers to the recent movement that considers all aspects of coffee production: growing, harvesting, fresh roasting, and fair-trading. Coffee is now viewed as artisanal, similar to wine or cheese, and not as a commodity. The first wave of coffee took place in the 19th century when firms such as San Francisco-based Folgers and others popularized the coffee that you may have seen on your grandparents’ kitchen table. The second wave took place with the proliferation of Peet’s and Starbucks retailers that have helped to elevate coffee to its current status.
AUTOMATIC COFFEE MAKER
Tried and true, most folks are familiar with this method. Medium-ground beans are placed in a paper or reusable gold filter, and the amount of water equal to the amount of coffee you want is measured out. With the push of a button, the water is heated and runs through the machine, through the beans and the filter, and into the carafe. The result is a conveniently prepared pot of coffee, kept warm on the machine’s heating plate until it’s turned off.
Your preferred amount of coarse-ground coffee is placed in the bottom of your French press pot and not-quite boiling water is poured over the top and then stirred after a minute. The coffee grounds are brewed for as long as they are allowed to comingle with the hot water, and the length of time is a matter of personal preference; however, four minutes is a general recommendation after waiting one minute and stirring. When the time is up, the plunging filter mechanism attached to the lid should be slowly pushed down until it reaches the bottom of the French press, using equally applied pressure throughout the plunge. Now that the filter is separating the grounds from the coffee, the strength of your brew should remain the same to the last drop.
For those who need only one cup to get them going and prefer a low-acidity brew, a single cup cone is a great option. Slowly pour just enough boiling water over your beans to moisten them. If your coffee is fresh, as it should be, you will see bubbling foam appear, which is called the “bloom.” You can give the coffee a light stir to make sure all the grounds are saturated; then pour slowly and evenly in a spiral motion over the grounds to ensure they are evenly extracted. In this case, you need to be watching carefully as your water filters through the cone, because once your cup is full, water will start overflowing. Quickly move the filter cone to the sink or to a second cup ready for this purpose.