I had a really good cup of coffee. Now everything is different.
November 2, 2015 11:06 AM   Subscribe

After an unexpectedly delicious cup of cold press, I find myself wondering how to improve my coffee-making and coffee-selection. Suggestions?

So I had this cup of iced coffee, and it tasted like the bitter taste in blueberries. It had berry notes! I thought people just made that stuff up.

I do not know what kind of coffee it was or how it was made, except that it was cold press and not a light roast (since I never get light roast).

I don't expect to get the same results at home as in the fancy gentrification-nation coffee shop (and I won't be going back there, either, as they're owned - inexplicably! - by pro-lifers) but what kind of coffee and kind of supplies do you recommend for making better coffee? I would prefer to avoid methods that have a lot of loose coffee grounds floating in a big jar, unless that's the only way to do things. I am willing to buy items for this purpose.

Also, what kind of coffee tastes like blueberries?
posted by Frowner to Food & Drink (25 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
I have a Toddy cold brew system and it works fantastically for me.

I cannot speak to the specific kind of bean that has a blueberry flavor but a lot of fancy local roasters will specifically list out the flavor profiles of each bean variety. Can you find out where the coffee shop you went to gets their beans from, if they are not also a supplier?
posted by joan_holloway at 11:12 AM on November 2, 2015 [3 favorites]

Do this! And find a coffee shop that roasts it own beans and ask for something with a blueberry bent; it'll be in the tasting notes.
posted by craven_morhead at 11:15 AM on November 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

Also, what kind of coffee tastes like blueberries?

Coffees from the Ethiopian province of Harrar, though the strength of the berry note varies a lot from crop to crop, and depends on processing, age of the beans, and other factors.
posted by ryanshepard at 11:20 AM on November 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

Blueberries are typically an Ethiopia Sidamo thing, though moreso in the aroma (in beans and brewed) than actual taste. You'll get more of that in a hot brew than in a cold brew.

I cold brew at home using a very low-tech toddy system, aka a big jar with loose, coarse grounds left overnight in the refrigerator. In the morning just filter through the same Clever Dripper I use for hot brew.

But the Hierarchy of Needs for good coffee is:
- clean water
- good beans, roasted fresh, ground fresh
- conical (preferably) or flat burr grinder; consistent grind
- correct extraction temperature & time
- your brew method

The further down (up?) the Hierarchy you go, the smaller the changes become - whether you use a cone or a drip brewer is much less important than if your beans are well selected and freshly roasted.
posted by a halcyon day at 11:22 AM on November 2, 2015 [3 favorites]

A natural processed Ethiopian can be brewed to produce very strong berry flavors. I'm thinking specifically of the Kilenso from Coava in Portland.

Where did you get this coffee from? What makes you confident it wasn't a light roast? The reason I ask is because darker roasts are much more difficult to get interesting flavors out of than lighter ones. That's basically the hallmark of 3rd-wave roasting-- lightly roasted single-origin coffees.

If you're looking to get more of those flavors out of coffee you make at home, you'll probably want to some sort of pour-over setup, like a Chemex, Hario V60, or something similar. I use only bleached paper filters but the metal Kone that Coava uses can produce interesting results.

You'll also want to grind the beans yourself at home in a decent burr grinder. You'll never get those same flavors at home if you're working with pre-ground beans . Also, beans that have been roasted more than ~2-3 weeks ago will be dramatically less flavorful.

Finally, the only other essential that I'd say you can't live without is a scale. You won't be able to get consistently good results without consistent doses of ground beans and water. An adjustable temperature electric kettle is nice, but not necessary in my opinion. Just take the kettle off the heat 30 seconds-1 minute after a rolling boil.
posted by paulcole at 11:26 AM on November 2, 2015 [2 favorites]

Well, I feel pretty confident that it wasn't a light roast because every time I've ever had a light roast it's been bitter and icky, so I never order it. But perhaps there was some confusion and I got a light roast?

Tell me more about the process of making cold press coffee. I have done it with loose coffee grounds in a jar and didn't think much of the results.
posted by Frowner at 11:43 AM on November 2, 2015

Are you specifically looking for cold-brew methods, or are you looking for hot brew as well? Answers for hot-brew are going to be a bit wider in scope than for cold-brew.

For cold brew, Toddy is pretty dang legit. They're a touch messy, but not too crazy. Its probably how the coffee was brewed the same way, just in larger batches. I would follow the instructions on the box. They're actually pretty good (but, if you have a kitchen scale, you can just brew at a 1:4.5 coffee:water ratio and you can make any size batch you need). Cold brew has a tendency to bring out some of those juicier flavors that are present in certain coffees.

As for that blueberry flavor in such intensity, I'd start scoping out, as others have mentioned, Ethiopian Harrar/Sidamo, and sometimes Yirgacheffe coffees. I would also focus on lighter to medium coffees from a reputable roaster (memail me for a long, long list…and if you provide your location, I might know of something close to you). Lighter roasted coffees have a bit more of the chemicals present that mimc fruit flavors.

The other big factor that might impart that blueberry flavor is how a coffee is processed at origin. I personally find that how a coffee is processed can contribute to the flavor of the coffee nearly as much as the actual roast degree. I would look for coffees marked "Natural Process" or "Dry Process" (same thing, different names depending on who you buy it from). These are harder to find but its totally doable. You might also like what's called a "pulp natural" type processed coffees. We see these more from Latin America, but they can have really strong strawberry and cherry flavors to them; same fruit profile, just a different overall flavor, and sliiiightly less intensity.

Knowing these differences can help you pick out a coffee from its description and the information given by a roaster without ever tasting it in person. These are the types of processing that exist…there's a couple others, and a couple variations on these, but this covers probably 95%+ of the coffees you'll run into on the open market.

Washed Process coffee is the most common form of processing. If a coffee is not labeled with a type of processing, it is safe to assume it is a washed coffee. This is the industry baseline for coffee. If a coffee is not a washed process coffee, the roaster will probably let you know about it by labeling it as such. Sometimes it is called the 'water process,' 'fully washed' or 'wet process.' This process is the easiest to control, and given a plentiful water supply, quite cheap to produce.

Washed coffees have a tendency to highlight characteristics such as clarity and structure, along with brightness and mild, accessible flavors. Typically, washed process coffees have a good balance of flavor, acid and complexity, but are lacking in aggressive fruit forwardness and body.

A. The coffee cherries slowly ripen on the tree.
B. The cherries are then harvested, usually by hand.
C. The skin, fruit and mucilage (a pulp covering the seeds) are removed from the seeds.
D. The seeds are then left to float in water tanks to ferment.
E. The seeds are placed on drying patios or raised beds.

Pulp natural process coffee is sometimes called 'honey processed,' 'miel,' 'semi dry' or 'semi natural' depending on the country of origin. Pulp natural coffees are more ecologically sound and less water intensive than their washed process counterparts, and their popularity is starting to rise in Central and South America.

Pulp natural process coffees have a tendency to taste similar to washed coffees, however they can be a little more fruit forward and have slightly more body. In terms of flavor, they tend to be a true midpoint between natural and washed coffees.

A. The coffee cherries slowly ripen on the tree.
B. The cherries are then harvested, usually by hand.
C. The skin and fruit are removed, but the mucilage remains.
D. The seeds are placed on drying patios or raised beds.
E. The mucilage is removed from the seeds, and the seeds are left to dry again.

Natural process, sometimes called 'dry process' or 'tree process' is the form of processing that leaves the entire coffee cherry intact. This is a very labor intensive and risky process as controlling the rate of fermentation is difficult and can easily lead to defective flavors. Good naturals are tasty, but there's a lot of really bad naturals out there.

Natural coffees typically produce very heavy bodied cups, laden with big fruit-forward flavors and earthy ferment notes. They typically lack clarity and structure and are considered a bit ‘brash,’ but they make up for that lack in terms of sweetness and intensity.

A. The coffee cherries slowly ripen on the tree.
B. The cherries are then harvested, usually by hand.
C. The entire cherry is placed on a patio, or raised bed for drying
D. After initial drying, the skin, fruit and mucilage are removed.
E. The seeds are left to complete the drying process.
posted by furnace.heart at 11:43 AM on November 2, 2015 [15 favorites]

Legit instructions on how to make cold brew, with a toddy brewer. Here's the same general vibe in an illustrated format.

"Cold Pressed" might refer to making cold brew in a french press? And this method is kind of gross, and gritty at best. I do not suggest it if you're looking for a superior cup.
posted by furnace.heart at 11:52 AM on November 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

every time I've ever had a light roast it's been bitter and icky

Everyone here is much more knowledgeable, but I've always thought the darker roasts typically were more bitter.
posted by czytm at 11:52 AM on November 2, 2015

Here are the biggest bangs for your buck in home coffee preparation, as someone who has experimented with this a lot and also used to be a barista:

1. Whole bean coffee you grind yourself. I have a $10 grinder from Target which is absolutely fine for this.

2. Good beans. Doesn't have to be CRAZY expensive, just get something a little better than your Maxwell House or Folgers or whatever. Since you liked the berry notes in the cold brew you had, you might want to try a single-origin coffee from somewhere in Africa, which is a region known for producing bright fruit-toned coffees. I like Trader Joes for beans, because they have a lot of different single origin options that are very affordable, but your usual supermarket might have good stuff, too. I would avoid flavored coffees, stuff from Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts, etc. for the time being (though there's nothing wrong with any of that per se).

3. Method. You tried cold brew and liked it, and cold brew is stupid easy to do yourself at home. I do mine in a big mason jar and strain through cheesecloth. Other people I know do it in big pitchers, tupperware, etc. All you really need is a big container that can hold liquids and a fine strainer (a coffee filter or a paper towel doubled a few times also works in a pinch). For hot coffee, I do pourover a lot because I live alone and drink only one cup per day. A french press could also work well for your needs. Some people swear by aeropress, but I've not tried it yet. I'm not a fan of drip machines, and a moka pot is not what you're going to want if you like bright fruity roasts. And let's not even speak of a Kuerig. If you have a drip machine and like to use that, you will still notice a HUGE upgrade in your morning cup with list items 1 and 2, above. Method is probably the least important as long as you're not doing it very, very wrong (Ethiopian in a moka pot, Kuerig anything).

To start, don't go crazy with equipment and worrying about the "best" quality this or that. Yes, that stuff is good, but I think obsessing about it can prevent you from drinking good coffee. Sure, roast your own beans if you want, spend $300 on the right kind of grinder, etc. But honestly a glass of Braun-ground TJ's Kenyan cold brew is going to be so much better than burnt Folger's drip machine swill that it's a good start before you want to get real nerdy about it.
posted by Sara C. at 11:52 AM on November 2, 2015 [2 favorites]

a halcyon day is correct, but for folks living in major cities, the water issue is mostly moot. Municipal water supplies in NA are pretty great, and usually better in the bigger cities. You can, if you like, let your water sit for three days to get rid of the chloramine smell, but for most people, getting good quality water isn't the biggest issue.

The single biggest upgrade you can make is switching from pre-ground to ground just before use. You can do this quite inexpensively with a $20 blade grinder. Roasted beans keep about a week or so, so keeping them in a (lightproof or in the dark) jar works fine.

You can spend the money on an expensive burr grinder, but, unless you're making espresso or similar, the increment in quality isn't as big as just grinding your own.

You can spend a lot of money on making good coffee, but much of what you're paying for is convenience. It's perfectly possible to get a that perfect temp for pour over without a fancy temperature controlled kettle, for example, but it means standing over you existing kettle with a thermometer at least once until you know the length of time it takes to cool off to 195F to 205F after it boils. Likewise, a good quality drip machine can do that too, but that's another bump up in price and convenience over a pour over filter setup.

But you don't need to spend huge money to get great coffee.
posted by bonehead at 11:55 AM on November 2, 2015

Also, re your contention that it "wasn't a light roast" but simultaneous contention that this was a fancy artisanal third-wave kind of place, the answer is that none of those places ever do dark roasts. If you asked the barista for a "dark roast", they either ignored you or gave you something on the medium-boded side.

When I was a barista at a place like that and people asked for a dark roast, I would give them whatever we were doing that day from Central or South America, as they tend to produce more medium bodied coffees with a rich mouthfeel and chocolate/nutty/cherry notes that "dark roast" fans tend to like. But honestly, who knows?
posted by Sara C. at 12:03 PM on November 2, 2015

(Okay, not to thread sit - I asked for cold press, and IIRC they offered me a choice, and I declined the one they described as light roast. I assume the other one was not a dark roast, but I know I have not intentionally ordered light roasts in coffee shops in quite some time. I make no claim about the quality of light roasted coffees in general - it's more likely that I just got some bad coffee a couple of times and it had nothing to do with the roast.)
posted by Frowner at 12:11 PM on November 2, 2015

For methods, I've done the mason jar & cheesecloth route, and the french press route. Both are, for me, too messy to make it a regular thing. The Hario Cold Brew Pitcher, at $16, is life-changing. It's easy, tidy, and it's very straightforward to make excellent coffee at the proper proportions. It's also got a very slim profile, which is perfect for the fridge - the toddy systems I've tried have been very bulky.
posted by judith at 12:44 PM on November 2, 2015 [3 favorites]

Lazy cold press: a cup or more of coffee grounds in a French press, with the plunger raised as high as your fridge will allow, filled with water and left overnight. Viola!
posted by wenestvedt at 1:05 PM on November 2, 2015

Welcome to the world of coffee snobs! I highly recommend it. Coffee snobs are the best kind of snob to be --- it's inexpensive, and you probably drink coffee many times a day already, so why not drink something decent?

Basically Sara C. has it, you are golden if you have 1. Good beans, 2. Grind right before you brew, and 3. Use a simple good method (cold brew, French press, pourover, whatever --- aeropress is great too).

For beans, I'll raise my hand and say that I go to a hipster coffee shop and buy foo-foo single origin beans. I couldn't tell one part of Africa from another with a map, so I just pick one where the tasting notes look fun. If the beans seem to be decent quality and they were roasted recently --- if the bag doesn't say, then they weren't --- that's really all I care about.

Grinding, I haven't done head-to-head between a blade and a burr grinder, starting with a blade probably makes sense. When you want to upgrade, I have a cheap burr grinder for under $100 and I've found them fine for pourover, etc.

Method, yes, probably not too important which one you use, it does change the flavour a bit, but you can always "try out" the results of different methods in coffee shops if you are not sure whether you like, e.g., coffee from a French press. You can get good coffee in a lot of reasonable ways. The two important factors to control are: (a) the ratio of grounds to water, (b) the grind size, and (c) the water temperature (for brewing hot). You can find lots of advice for both of these online if you pick a specific method.
posted by sesquipedalian at 1:11 PM on November 2, 2015

If you prefer to use a blade grinder, I recommend shaking it while grinding -- it'll get you a slightly more consistent grind.

Another cold brew method that really seems to bring the fruity flavors forward: you can use whatever pour-over thing you like, a Clever dripper or a Hario or just a little plastic Melitta, and make a roughly double-strength cup of coffee over a cup full of ice cubes. Like this. (They call this Japanese style without any evidence that the technique comes from Japan...? But it's good. I think doing this with Ethiopian beans will get you what you want.)

I'll dissent slightly about the method not mattering. A French press will get you a more acidic cup of coffee than any method that goes through a paper filter. I think an Aeropress makes about the least acidic cup possible and all the other paper filter methods are somewhere in between, all other things being equal -- of course the variety and roast affect acidity too. I like low-acid coffee myself, but if you're enjoying the bright flavors, acidity might be part of what you like.
posted by clavicle at 1:21 PM on November 2, 2015

The two important factors to control are: (a) the ratio of grounds to water...

Gah! I forgot to recommend picking up a cheap scale (like this perhaps) and measuring your grounds and water by weight. 15:1 to 17:1 is the typical brew rang, which is about 62g for 1L of cold brew water.
posted by a halcyon day at 1:48 PM on November 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

I get my coffee from Driftaway Coffee. It's a subscription service but their beans are prime and always freshly roasted before being sent out. Totally changed the game for me.
posted by Marinara at 2:02 PM on November 2, 2015 [2 favorites]

I have nothing to add to the advice above about how to brew your coffee. But to find the specific variety and roast you drank, I'd try calling the coffee shop (at a non-busy time) and describing what you were served. If they are any good at all, they will be able to at least narrow it down to a couple of options and ideally tell you exactly what you had in terms of variety, roast, and brewing method.

(Then you can source your beans from a place that isn't supporting politics you find objectionable, obviously.)
posted by Dip Flash at 2:06 PM on November 2, 2015

I bought an Aeropress a couple of months ago after seeing a bunch of people here recommend it. And then I went to my good local coffee place and asked them what beans I should buy for it, and I got the ones they said. I grind them at home in the $15 grinder I've had for 20 years. I watched youtube and learned about the inverted method of brewing. Yum. I'm actually drinking less coffee because the one I make at home in the morning is so delicious that I don't want to ruin the next one using my work machine, which used to be perfectly fine.

So I vote that you should buy an Aeropress.
posted by Cuke at 6:59 PM on November 2, 2015 [2 favorites]

Cuke: I'm actually drinking less coffee because the one I make at home in the morning is so delicious...

I find this to be true, too.

By contrast, my dad & brother work together, and they brew coffee constantly, all day long. They are both cheap and lazy, so they simply pour more water through the same battered Mr. Coffee... using the same basket of grounds. By the end of the day their brew is completely clear and also acidic enough to eat a hole in the floor tile.
posted by wenestvedt at 9:33 AM on November 6, 2015 [1 favorite]

I might be going with the Hario cold brew pot above. The Aeropress looks really neat, but I don't drink hot drinks (seriously - for some reason I find anything more than a little warm uncomfortable to swallow, and "lukewarm" isn't that great a temperature for a beverage) so I wouldn't get that much use out of it. (Yes, that does mean that I routinely brew coffee and then chill it before drinking, upon which I know there is much frowning.)

I think I'm looking for that sweet spot between "better than a Mr. Coffee filled with grocery store beans" and "involves a lot of weighing and measuring". If I want really perfectly delicious coffee, I'm told that there are other places in this great metropolis that brew it and are not owned by prolifers (and they're also anti-gay-marriage! which I guess comes as no surprise, but what's surprising is that anyone goes there; so gross). (Of course there's lots of places in the Twin Cities for a good solid cup of coffee; the really good coffee was just so above and beyond as to be a different experience).
posted by Frowner at 9:44 AM on November 6, 2015 [1 favorite]

The difference between hot-brewed coffee, chilled, and cold-brewed coffee is enough to be the difference you noticed in this coffee shop! Hot-brewed and then chilled "iced coffee" has a tendency to be very sour. And it certainly kills any flavors inherent to the beans.

Which means both that you should be able to easily find more delicious cold brew at a shop not owned by pro-lifers, and also that you should be able to radically improve your home coffee making without much effort at all.

(Re measuring and weighing, it's pretty easy to get coffee measuring spoons that are the precise amount for one cup of coffee. Add that times whatever number of cups you're making, and boom, great coffee.)
posted by Sara C. at 9:54 AM on November 6, 2015 [1 favorite]

Frowner, go to Dunn Bros. (or wherever you prefer) and tell them that you want to start cold-brewing at home. Tell them you had a great cup of something, maybe medium roast, that tasted slightly of blueberries. Then say, I am looking for somehting like that…and then shut up because, more than likely, they will have a bunch of ideas and will be happy to sell you several things to try. :7)

Using a one-quart French press pot really is tidy and easy!
posted by wenestvedt at 10:01 AM on November 6, 2015

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