Help me make the perfect cup of coffee.
October 24, 2006 12:27 PM   Subscribe

Help me make the perfect cup of coffee.

After wallowing for years in the land of instant coffee ignorance, I've woken up to the fact that brewed coffee is absurdly better then the instant garbage I've been drinking for a long time.

However, I need some help enhancing the experience. My standard go-to beans have been Starbucks "House Blend" and Dunkin Donuts "Original" flavor. Both have been pretty good, but I get the feeling there are much better beans out there. My requirements are 1 - reasonable price and 2 - being able to purchase them (I live in the nyc). By reasonable price I mean between 5-15 dollars a pound, although cheaper would be better of course. I suppose I could get grinder if necessary as there seems to be decent ones on the market for 10 bucks or so.

Also I prefer a lighter, perhaps sweeter blend, not any of the "darker" roasts that Starbucks seems to prefer, if that helps at all.

Finally, any brewing tips would be helpful (i.e. how much water, coffee you use - or any other random tidbits.)

Looking forward to my coffee nirvana.
posted by jourman2 to Food & Drink (65 answers total) 58 users marked this as a favorite
I highly recommend using a French Press instead of a standard drip machine. The coffee is noticeably better and not-at-all bitter. I use a burr grinder to grind the beans just before making the brew and an electric kettle to boil the water. (Yes it's a lot of work to do right after I wake up but the final product is well worth it.)
posted by EiderDuck at 12:31 PM on October 24, 2006

Honestly, the best beans are 1) the variety you prefer, 2) as freshly roasted as possible. Check out your neighborhood for coffee roasters - usually coffee shops with a roasting operation. If the bins say when the coffee was roasted, you're probably in business. Anything less than a week is probably OK. Try a bunch of varieties! $10/lb is about average in my experience.

I find grinding my own beans also produces much better results than pre-ground, but then again my grinder and espresso machine cost more than my first car so I may be a snob.

You can also read up on roasting your own beans, since people have figured out that you can do so with inexpensive hot air popcorn poppers (or the oven, of course). Green beans last a long long time and you can roast small batches when you need to at home.
posted by kcm at 12:34 PM on October 24, 2006

Also I prefer a lighter, perhaps sweeter blend

Yeah, me too. Find a store that buys in bulk and has a high turnover - I used to go to Citarella. The beans you buy should be oozing oils; that means they've been roasted fairly recently. This is probably the best indicator to me of coffee that's going to taste good. Buy a small amount, no more than a week's supply for best results.

Check out the Colombian Supremo, Kenya AA, or if you're feeling pricy the Kona or Jamaican Blue Mountain. Don't bother with Kona blends as they are usually 10% Kona. On the budget side, some Guatemalan coffees taste a lot like Kona.

And yeah, get a grinder and grind the beans as you use them. A blade grinder is fine for drip coffee - you only need a burr grinder if you're doing espresso.
posted by ikkyu2 at 12:35 PM on October 24, 2006

I've been pleased lately with whatever light roast is on sale ($10/lb) at Whole Foods at Columbus Circle. The place can be a zoo if you go at the wrong time.

Cheaper whole bean coffee is available at Trader Joe's ($6/lb), which I also do sometimes. The stuff from WF's is much better, though, perhaps because it's often roasted the day you buy it.

Hopefully someone else can recommend an indie shop with good options as well.
posted by sohcahtoa at 12:38 PM on October 24, 2006

I second the french press...
posted by o0dano0o at 12:38 PM on October 24, 2006

Sam's club sells 2.5lb bags for $11, that's around $4.40/lb. This is gourmet, organic coffee, beans. I tend to like hazelnut, but they also have non-flavored. Freshly-ground beans makes the best coffee.

As to how much to use, that's up to you. Experiment with more or less coffee, then go with what's best for you.
posted by cahlers at 12:41 PM on October 24, 2006

Definitely invest in a grinder. Even not-so-fresh beans will produce better coffee if you grind them just before brewing than if you grind them at the store and let the package sit for a few weeks. Store the beans in an air-tight container.

A french press is great, too, but the coffee gets cold very quickly, so if you drink slowly (like me) you may want to transfer the fresh-made coffee into a steel-lined coffee mug immediately after making it.

And some Costco stores have this incredibly delicious Seattle Mountain blend that I absolutely love and that's ridiculously cheap, but you will probably get better results by following the suggestions above and finding a local roaster.
posted by arco at 12:45 PM on October 24, 2006

I'm a big fan of the Bodum Electric Vacuum coffee maker. Excellent coffee taste, easy to use/ care for/ clean. And i is sort of theatrical - makes a cool noise and visible percolation experience right before coffee is ready.
posted by davidvan at 12:47 PM on October 24, 2006

I second the Kenya AA recommendation. You would also probably enjoy Tanzanian Peaberry.
posted by COD at 12:47 PM on October 24, 2006

Bet I know a dark roast you'd love: Haitian Bleu Voodoo. Seriously. It has all the full body and richness of dark-roasted coffee and is (paradoxically) very light and mellow. It has a slight smoky/charcoal taste -- like bourbon aged in a wooden cask. It's very easy on the tummy.

And get a grinder. That goes without saying. You don't need a $80 Pavoni ... a $15 generic one is fine to start out with.
posted by RavinDave at 12:48 PM on October 24, 2006

The Aerobie Aeropress makes the finest cup of coffee I've ever tasted. I wouldn't be without mine. Lots of coffee geeks agree.
posted by essexjan at 12:48 PM on October 24, 2006

About 20 years ago, someone wrote a Ph.D. thesis on the optimum method for brewing coffee. As I recall, it was at a respectable university and paid for by one of the big food companies

The upshot was that coffee has sweet components and bitter components and these have different solubilities. Most of the sweet flavor has been dissolved out of the grind in about 3 minutes exposure to boiling water. The bitter components require about twice that time.

So if you like sweeter, milder coffee, keep the brewing time to 3 minutes. If you like a more robust flavor and aroma, then let the brewing go to 5 minutes.

I also much prefer the French Press. I was bothered for a long time by the fine grounds that sift through the mesh. After some experimentation, I found that pressing the grind to the bottom at the beginning of the brewing process, followed immediately by a rapid pull up of the mesh stirs the grind throughout the water, maximizing the transfer of flavor. Repeat this at about 1.5 - 2 minutes into the brewing. Finally, at the end of the brewing time, depress then rapidly lift, followed immediately by a slow depression of the plunger. The swirling grinds will compress under the mesh as it descends, filtering out the fine grinds.

Finally, when pouring out the blessed brew, peer through the liquid in the press as it flows to the pouring spout. Near the end of the pour you will suddenly notice that a small cloud of darker brew is proceeding toward the cup. That is the unwanted sludge, so stop pouring immediately.

Works like a charm!
posted by RMALCOLM at 12:52 PM on October 24, 2006 [13 favorites]

A lot of the perfection of a cup of coffee comes from the equipment. Doesn't have to be expensive though. As others have said, what you like is what is good.

A friend of mine who works at Green Mountain Coffee writes an excellent coffee blog, and his equipment reviews are excellent. We bought our last drip machine and grinder based on his recommendations.

Good luck!
posted by terrapin at 12:55 PM on October 24, 2006

Definitely go with a French Press. Zabar's has very good coffee that is very reasonably priced (about $7/lb).
posted by alexmikayla at 1:00 PM on October 24, 2006

I am a coffee snob. :)

Nothing but French Press! The Melior has been my staple for years. Bodum will also sell replacement parts if you break the glass or bend the press beyond repair.

Depending on how much coffee you drink, you may want to consider ordering Gevalia coffee. It is wonderful, whether you buy whole beans and grind them as you use them or buy the pre-ground stuff. Their Breakfast Blend or Signature Blend would be a good place to start. Depending on the type you order, I believe most of their coffees are in the $6-$9 range (1/2 lb. packages).

When you do find something you like - keep it in an airtight container (in the freezer if you can). I think this works better with pre-ground coffee, but it helps hold in the flavor.

I would avoid Kona blends - blending dilutes the real flavor of the Kona. Kona (unblended) is the best type of coffee I think I've ever had - hands down. It is horribly expensive... If you ever have the chance to try it, go for it - although it may be stronger than you're looking for.
posted by youngergirl44 at 1:14 PM on October 24, 2006

I also use a French press... they are WAY better than drip. RMALCOLM's suggestion of the double-press before pouring is a good one! I'll have to try that. Basically, I've just come to accept a bit of sludge in the bottom of the cup as the price of a superb cup of coffee. It's not like you can TASTE it, it's just a visual thing.

My method: buy decent, unground coffee. Don't go overboard. Any reasonable bean will taste very good in a press. The way to test is to eat a couple. Good beans taste good, like coffee. After you've had a couple of good ones, bad beans will be immediately apparent. They're often malformed or overcooked, and coated with heavy flavoring to mask their poor quality. That kinda-sorta works in the actual coffee, but when you eat a bean straight, the subterfuge is obvious.

Most important thing: Expensive coffee is not automatically good coffee! Safeway in California, eight or so years ago, sold very poor quality coffee at premium prices. It just had lots of flavoring. You MUST taste a bean to be sure it's good. You can use your Starbucks' as a benchmark. Their beans are high quality. You may prefer other roasts or other beans, but their basic product is entirely acceptable.

I use a combo of the press and a steel Thermos. Boil water, grind coffee, pour, wait 5 minutes, transfer to Thermos. (I like the new steel Thermoses better, they're more durable.) Hot, yummy coffee all day. Scrub out your Thermos every few days. Coffee oils build up fairly quickly, and will make the coffee taste bad. Use a decent detergent...I use Dawn, works fine).

People almost always compliment me on my coffee, and now that I know how to do it, I spend almost no time with it. :)
posted by Malor at 1:17 PM on October 24, 2006

I bazzillionth the French press. I am a huge coffee snob but being a student I'm also on a budget and I find the espresso bulk beans at Safeway (yes Safeway) to be really quite good and comparable to the organic/micro-roasters such as (in Calgary) Kicking Horse Coffee as well as my personal fave, Illy Espresso. I find that espresso beans have a nice dark flavour without being too harsh.

I own a cheap Braun grinder and find it messy and time-consuming to operate. Again, other coffee snobs will scoff but, given that I go through the stuff so quickly that I find that there's little/no difference in taste between grinding it in the store and storing it in a vacuum container vs. grinding it every time I want coffee. Maybe if a pound lasts you more than a week it might start to degrade. Eventually I'm going to get a proper top-loading grinder, but until that day comes I like the convenience of the pre-ground coffee - especially when my eyes are half-shut in the morning.
posted by jimmythefish at 1:18 PM on October 24, 2006

Don't some people recommend actually using very cold, filtered water and then heating it later? I know I've heard this. Maybe it's bogus.
posted by ORthey at 1:22 PM on October 24, 2006

Also, whatever method you do use, start with clean, clean, CLEAN equipment. It makes a huge difference.
posted by Opposite George at 1:27 PM on October 24, 2006

I've woken up to the fact that brewed cold brewed coffee is absurdly better then the instant drip feed garbage I've been drinking for a long time.

Just trying to save you some time, and thousands of dollars in ridiculously asinine equipment.
posted by prostyle at 1:27 PM on October 24, 2006

To sum up so far the askmefi peeps are definitely recommending at least:

1 - A french press
2 - a grinder
3 - some sort of decent gourmet coffee (like a WF or Safeway) that's been roasted as recently as possible.

What else?
posted by jourman2 at 1:31 PM on October 24, 2006

There's lots of good advice above, much of which I agree with. But I think that one of the most useful things you could do towards understanding coffee (and why some of this advice works or doesn't) is get Harold McGee's On Food and Cooking out of the library and read the section on coffee.

Also, here are some useful resources.
posted by advil at 1:32 PM on October 24, 2006 [1 favorite]

As an aside, I have heard from several coffee "snobs" that one should never put beans in the freezer, because removing-and-returning the container from the freezer causes condensation on the beans and dilutes the oils that help to make coffee so good. I keep my unground beans in an airtight container on the counter, and I can see the oils that they are talking about on the beans themselves. Any insights from the coffeenerds here?
posted by arco at 1:32 PM on October 24, 2006

Thousands of dollars? People are recommending french presses, which are available for $20 or less.

I do like cold brewed coffee though.
posted by RustyBrooks at 1:34 PM on October 24, 2006

For a while I was ordering coffee from Oren's Daily Roast, who happen to be based in New York. It was always excellent coffee.

French presses are great, if you're willing to take the time. I get annoyed with cleaning it out, boiling water, etc. I bought a Technivorm drip brewer about a year ago and haven't looked back. Definitely worth the money, and it makes the best drip coffee I have ever tasted. Even mediocre coffee tastes better, which I attribute to the temperature of the water (also a critical factor with the French press) and the switch on the basket, which allows you to extend the brew time.

Don't skimp on the grinder, as others have said. I bought a $50 Capresso burr grinder but was very disappointed with the uniformity of the grind. The higher end units they make are nice, though.
posted by kableh at 1:36 PM on October 24, 2006

With so many people recommending the french press, I feel compelled to mention my preferred coffee-making device, its main competitor, the moka pot.
posted by sfenders at 1:43 PM on October 24, 2006

I 4th, 5th, or 6th the french press. Here's mine. I love it. The metal base is weighted and keeps the coffee warmer a little longer than the glass one I used before.

Gevalia was mentioned upthread and it's very nice. I loved getting that package in the mail.

Lately my favorite coffee is Community out of Louisiana. Don't know if it's available up there.
posted by dog food sugar at 1:43 PM on October 24, 2006

I'll totally agree about the grinder, but I'll be a contrarian and say skip the French Press. If you like a lighter, sweeter cup, French Press coffee may be too robust and oily for you.

I think the best filtered coffee comes from a manual Chemex, but it is slow and inefficient. A decent quality drip coffeemaker really isn't bad if you don't want to be bothered pouring the water yourself. (But if you don't mind the manual process, definitely get a Chemex, which not only brews the best cup, but also looks fantastic when serving.)

As for beans, if you're near a Whole Foods, I think the Mexican variety of the Allegro house brand would suit your tastes very nicely. I think it's $8-9 a pound. Mmmmm...
posted by j-dawg at 1:45 PM on October 24, 2006 [1 favorite]

2nding the aeropress. it's awesome and solves the main problem with a french press, which is too much particulate matter in the brew.
posted by joeblough at 1:54 PM on October 24, 2006

Mmm... Coffee made in a moka pot + sweetened condensed milk + ice = Vietnamese Iced Coffee.
posted by arcticwoman at 1:56 PM on October 24, 2006

I get made fun of for "importing" my coffee from other cities that I've lived in. I really like intelligentsia and counter culture -- I tend to buy lighter organic blends and can recommend those from both places. As for equipment, I agree with everyone who recommends the french press, but I did have a boyfriend who had a vaccuum maker (I forget what they are called, but they sold them at starbucks for a while) and the coffee was much more tasty than drip.
posted by echo0720 at 1:57 PM on October 24, 2006

Porto Rico has good coffee for good prices (< $8/lb), cheaper than whole foods or starbucks and they have a bunch of coffee nerds working there to talk your ear off about coffee. (I wear headphones.) Three stores, all downtown. Locations and coffee prices are on the site. They tend to have one roast/blend on sale each week.
posted by Doctor Barnett at 2:09 PM on October 24, 2006

Also, jourman2, you unfortunately missed out on starting your question with "CoffeeFilter," a most delicious pun.
posted by ORthey at 2:20 PM on October 24, 2006 [2 favorites]

Another vote for Aeropress! I'm fairly snobby as well, although I admit to strangely never having bought a french press (have many other devices in my cupboard, however). French press would definitely look much better on your countertop though. The Aeropress isn't much of a looker.

Another cheap option if you're looking for a quick improvement would be to buy a single cup filter holder. They're about $3-4 usually and most supermarkets have at least one kind in the coffee aisle.

The beans (and water! use filtered, definitely) are important, but I find that the method and grinding the beans right before I make the coffee influence the taste enough that I can get by with almost any old bean. I like the bags from Trader Joe's because they're relatively inexpensive, have a ziploc seal, and a one-way valve to let excess air out.
posted by chimmyc at 2:25 PM on October 24, 2006

I don't know where you are in NYC, but Gimme! Coffee is my favorite. It's in Brooklyn, in Williamsburg. The baristas that I've known have been super-knowledgable and can help you pick the beans that will suit your taste.

Main Gimme page, with general coffee info and info about ordering their many coffees.
Sub-page for the Brooklyn store
posted by LobsterMitten at 2:30 PM on October 24, 2006

I get my coffee at Costco. It's ridiculously cheap (something like $3/lb) and perfectly good. I also got my drip coffeemaker and burr grinder there. Nice thing about a burr grinder is that it gives you better control over the ground size, so if you decide to use a french press, you can set for "coarse" (which is the right ground for french presses) and go. I do use a french press on occasion, but it's more work than I'm willing to do day-to-day. I've also tried the aeropress, and it's...different. Aeropress definitely is a camping-friendly system, I'll say that for it.

Once in a while, you should treat yourself to 100% Kona, just for fun Note that most coffee sold as "Kona" is only 10% or so. My favorite non-Kona bean is Antigua, which is fairly light.

My own coffee routine is to put about a week's worth of beans in a sealed canister on the counter, and the rest of my stash in the freezer. Grind fresh for each pot. I have a Cuisinart machine, and to make 4 cups I fill with water to the "9" line (I'm guessing those numbers refer to demitasse-size cups) and put 5–6 scoops of beans in the grinder. This results in what I think is a strong pot. I've tried gold filters, but currently use paper.
posted by adamrice at 2:46 PM on October 24, 2006

French press, definitely. The Bodum Columbia is a stainless (doesn't break) vacuum (keeps the coffee hot) French press and works like a charm. Google to find suppliers.

On the grinder, the whirling blade grinders are no good: the size of the ground particles vary too greatly. Use a conical burr grinder. I like the Solis Maestro Plus, but you can research others. Just make sure it's a conical burr grinder. Grind the beans just before you make your coffee.

I personally grind them just a little coarser than drip grind, and I brew for 3 min 30 seconds, but you can experiment, obviously.
posted by LeisureGuy at 2:52 PM on October 24, 2006

If you really want to experience coffee perfection you absolutely have to roast your own beans, or buy them the day they are roasted at a roaster. Roasted beans, bagged at a retailer, are already stale. Check out sweet maria's for more info.

Roasting your own beans is about a 30 minute commitment every three days or so, depending on how much coffee you are putting away, and can be done with a $10 popcorn popper from target. I promise, once you start roasting your own beans EVERYTHING else will pale in comparison. The flavors that appear in a cup of freshly roasted coffee will BLOW YOUR MIND and i'm not exaggerating.
posted by casconed at 2:59 PM on October 24, 2006

a friend of mine at work is into home roasting + sweet maria's beans, and its true, there is nothing like fresh roasted coffee. its a whole other level of coffee enjoyment.

though "fresh" might be a bit of a misnomer - i think you are supposed to let the roasted coffee sit for 48 hours before you use it.
posted by joeblough at 3:09 PM on October 24, 2006

Couple of points, as yet unmentioned.

The taste and quality of water you use makes a difference in the coffee that results. Ideally, you want water with minimum dissolved solids, as little chlorine and treatment taste as possible, and no dissolved iron or sulphur. In NYC, where you live, the tap water is generally very good, but if the plumbing in your building isn't up to snuff, think carefully about the water you are starting with. Where I live, our tap water is very hard, and the dissolved calcium clogs up coffee equipment quickly, and because I live close to a treatment plant, the chlorine taste most days is pretty strong. So I use bottled water for coffee making.

Next, the temperature of water used does make a difference in the result. I'm not a fan of cold brewed coffee, and my experiments in that direction haven't been rewarding enough to pursue, or recommend to others. Professional expresso machines try to regulate the inlet water temperature to between 190 F and 195 F. You don't want to hit ground coffee with boiling water, especially right out of a kettle, as the water near the bottom may actually be superheated, and therefore about 212 F as it comes into contact with the coffee (if a lot of steam comes up from a drip cone or French Press, it's indicative that the water was too hot, and may have even had some superheated bubbles). If you are heating water in a kettle that whistles, turning off the kettle, and letting the steam whistle stop completely, will generally get you water reliably in the 195 - 198 F range. Higher water temperatures tend to make coffee that is more bitter to start with, and that doesn't "keep" in vacuum bottles as well.

Blade grinders are fine for filter methods, but you'll get more consistent results in espresso machines, French Presses, and other mechanical methods with a burr grinder, so long as you are grinding freshly roasted beans which still contain some humidity, on sharp burrs. If you can take the freshly ground coffee from a burr grinder, flip it out on copy paper, and see fine dust or big chucks of coffee beans in any amount, your burr grinder isn't cutting cleanly, and you're not getting the even grind for which you paid the big bucks and are listening to all the noise to get. A lot of highly rated conical burr grinders actually don't produce a very consistent grind, when examined by this simple method, simply because the beans they are given to grind actually crack instead of being smoothly burr ground. Cracking coffee is old, dry coffee, and no grinder can fix that, but counter rotating conical burr grinders are often pretty bad at consistency of grind, even for freshly roasted coffee.

I agree that roasting your own can be delightful, but if you live in an apartment building, your neighbors might not appreciate it, especially as you learn. Nothing is worse than the stink of burned coffee, or seems to permeate walls more.
posted by paulsc at 3:23 PM on October 24, 2006 [2 favorites]

I 4th the Aeropress, greatest thing I've ever bought for $30.

I see you may live nearish to to NYC, so be sure to check out Porto Rico (I go to the one on St Marks east of 2nd). They have barrels and barrels of the best coffee ever, in tons of different flavors. I recently got a 1lb of French Tanzanian Peaberry, and it was probably the best coffee I've ever had. It's also much more fun to see 20 different beans in front of you.
posted by Mach5 at 4:06 PM on October 24, 2006

I grind my beans with a decent grinder - it really does make a bit difference. But I'd like to break with all of the french press people.

I abandoned the press for an Italian, stovetop espresso maker (which, technically, isn't espresso). I pour the entirety of my pot into a mug and cut it with a bit of milk. It results in a much richer flavor than either drip or french press coffee.

And the cleanup process is astonishingly easy.
posted by aladfar at 4:15 PM on October 24, 2006

You don't tell us where you are in New York, but if you're downtown, Porto Rico is indeed a good suggestion. There's also McNulty's on Christopher near Bleecker.

A few suggestions nobody's mentioned:
1) You could get a filter holder and a carafe, rather than just a single-cup filter holder. This is the best and cheapest easy way to make coffee (if the French press ends up a bother for you). The reason it's better than drip is that the water arrives at the optimal temperature of about 190 degrees as it travels from the kettle to the coffee. Electric drip machines usually don't get the water hot enough. This method yields a flavorful cup, but not as flavorful as the French press.

2) Opposite George is right, you want your equipment to be clean. But here's the thing: you don't want to clean your stuff with regular dish detergent, which messes up the oils that give coffee its flavor. I use this stuff called Joe Glo, which is about $10 for enough to last you a year. It also happens to be much more effective than detergent [Aside: this is especially important to me, because I am an espresso guy--you gotta clean the machine well or you get rancid built-up coffee oils]. Alternatively, you can just use baking soda.

3) The blade grinders aren't such a great idea, but it depends on the kind of coffee you're making. They would give you a lot more sludge in the bottom if you're making French press, because the grind is really uneven. I think it's far more important to get freshly-roasted beans than to get freshly-ground grounds, but if you want to grind your own (and I do), a burr grinder is what you want. They're pretty expensive, but you will note that the French press and/or the filter holder keep you in the sub-$20 category mostly.

4) The only reason to keep coffee in the freezer is if you are afraid of it getting stale. As a New Yorker, it's better and about as easy to get small amounts of coffee as you need them, say every week or so. I keep "emergency coffee" in the freezer for those occasions when I forget to buy beans, but it is not even close to approaching as good as my usual cup. The condensation and perhaps ice crystals that you get outweight any benefits unless you only buy coffee every few months.

5) Wash or wipe down whatever airtight container you use for beans every once in a while. Otherwise you might eventually get some rancid oils.

[disclaimer: I used to do coffee stuff for a living, and I can get kind of obsessive about my hobbies, so the above advice may be somewhat superfluous depending on your own level of obsession/compulsion]
posted by lackutrol at 4:36 PM on October 24, 2006 [1 favorite]

Oh yeah, and 6) in New York you may not need to filter the water. You get excellent water from upstate. However, it may be a concern if your building's pipes are old and/or rusty.
posted by lackutrol at 4:39 PM on October 24, 2006

Being odd, I will second both the AeroPress and the French Press. However, the French Press will yield some sludge in the bottom of your cup, no matter how course the grind. The Aero never leaves sludge. But it will only give you one cup (depending on strength).

Also, get a burr grinder - not a blade grinder. You can control the grind best that way.

As for coffee, I like Starbucks, but they seem a bit overpriced. And a little burnt to me. I've had excellent luck with beans from Fairway. And their price is great - starting at $6/lb.
posted by ObscureReferenceMan at 5:00 PM on October 24, 2006

I won't tell you how to make it, but I will tell you what coffee to buy. Get a catalog from Hawaii Coffee Company/Lion Coffee.

Holy shit. Seriously. Their 100% Kona coffees are insanely perfect, and they make the only flavored coffees in the world that don't taste like someone sprayed the beans with burnt caramel and quinine. Just get one bag and it will change your life.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 5:45 PM on October 24, 2006

French press coffee is never really hot and is seldom satisfying. To get a good cup of joe, you need to do something more assertive than steep the coffee like tea.

The best method, if you don't want to invest in a Rancilio Silvia, is to buy a grinder and a moka pot. Buy your moka pot one size bigger than you think you will need, and buy half a pound of the best fair trade beans you can get. Experiment with grind timing, and in a matter of a week you'll be making better coffee than anyone but the grouchy old Italian dude with the old Gaggia and the Juventus memorabilia on the wall.
posted by zadcat at 5:55 PM on October 24, 2006 [1 favorite]

stovetop espresso makers are fantastic. They get the flavour out better than 'French Presses' (that are known as coffee plungers in Australia).

They are also cheap, you can pick up a cheap aluminium one for about $20. Try one. The better ones may cost $40-50 but are worth it.
posted by sien at 6:00 PM on October 24, 2006

Seconding what everyone else has said about using fresh grounds and decent water. Costco's freshly roasted "Seattle Mountain Blend" is good but not a reason to buy a membership. Start with one scoop per cup and work your way to your prefered ratio from there.

I have owned many many coffee-making devices over the years. I have killed multiple Bodum vacuum coffee makers from everyday use, and a countless number of automatic drip machines. French press is a very fine way to make coffee, but there is a simple elegance to the #2 size Melitta cone, available at most grocery/discount stores for under $5 (look in housewares). For that price it often comes with a mug. It makes one, perfect, fresh cup of coffee. It is dishwasher safe, so it will be perfectly clean for every use. And it is just almost indestructible.
posted by ilsa at 6:10 PM on October 24, 2006

I hate being late to this party. A few more notes:

- as far as I can tell, the dark roast is a Southern Italian and French thing. Caribbean styles are much lighter and sweeter. My local coffee guy is Puerto Rican and tries hard to recreate the coffee of home, and it's a pale cinnamon roast, with a lot of sweet notes. So if you're looking for ethnic suppliers, go for the Caribbean ones.
- following on from that, I like patronising small roasters who roast every day. There is a certain pleasure in a regular visit to someone who knows you and knows what you like. If they really know you, they will tell you whether the bag you picked up was roasted today or yesterday.
- if you read the instructions for your French Press, they will recommend a fairly coarse grind. I have always preferred a fine, espresso type grind with the French Press.
- if your coffee is too strong, you can always add water. But if it is too weak you're screwed. Likewise, the strong flavour from lots of beans is good, but the strong flavour from prolonged steeping is bad. So you want lots of grounds, and a short steeping (< 4 or 5 minutes) time. br> - there is no shame in a little sugar, but if you're going to add a lot, you might as well buy crap beans.
- the teensiest pinch of salt can alter the flavour amazingly.
- in my experience stovetop/moka devices produce lovely strong coffee, but the bitter flavours are very pronounced. I'm thinking that you maybe want to play with someone else's before you invest in one. Get a stainless steel one if you do. The aluminium ones go really yukky inside fairly soon and never look or smell clean again.
- there are two approaches to French Press if you're me. Either get a really cheap glass one, or get an expensive stainless steel one. Because you break the glass about once a year.
- i have over a long period worked up to a La Pavoni Professional lever machine. It does make a fine, fine cup, but it would be wrong to claim that spending 40 times the cost of a press gets you 40 times better coffee. Watch out, you may catch Coffee Device Aquisition Syndrome too.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 6:14 PM on October 24, 2006 [2 favorites]

French press coffee is never really hot and is seldom satisfying. To get a good cup of joe, you need to do something more assertive than steep the coffee like tea.


You must be doing something wrong -- it's consistently too hot to drink right upon making for me.

In fact a moka pot/stovetop espresso is the one method of coffee making (well, except a percolator) that ensures that you will overheat the water (cf. paulsc's post), overextracting the coffee. According to the book I referenced above (on food and cooking), a moka pot operates at 230 degrees F, and 1.5 atmospheres, well above the point where you want to be brewing for the best flavor. So if by "assertive", you mean "overbrewed", then yes.

This is not to say that a moka pot isn't the best way to make espresso-like coffee short of getting an espresso machine, but if one makes a qualitative comparison between a moka pot and a french press, unless you like over-bitter coffee (the OP does not), or strongly prefer espresso, I really think the french press will win.
posted by advil at 6:21 PM on October 24, 2006

I love mefi. Best 5 bucks I ever spent.
posted by jourman2 at 6:26 PM on October 24, 2006 [1 favorite]

Regarding the temperature issue, I have a "french press" jug which has thermos-y walls. Keeps the coffee hot for hours. If you see one, grab it!

(also, being steel, it's a order of magnitude tougher than any of the others I have)
posted by pompomtom at 6:52 PM on October 24, 2006

Oh hells yes, paulsc is right - the water really matters. Chlorine and chloramines in the tap water react with something in coffee to produce really foul off-flavors.

I use a countertop Brita filter instead of bottled water, but yeah, pick water that tastes good before you make coffee with it if you want it to taste good after.
posted by ikkyu2 at 12:16 AM on October 25, 2006

The beans you buy should be oozing oils; that means they've been roasted fairly recently.

Actually, that's not quite true. Beans that ooze oils are either i) fresh, but roasted very dark (OP prefers lighter roasts) or ii) roasted light - medium, but just on the verge of turning stale - probably 8 - 10 days since roasting.

There's a lot of good advice in this thread. The best advice I could give though, is that no coffee tastes as good as home roasted. I've bought ready-roasted from several of the reputedly-best mail order and location-based roasters in the UK, and none of it tastes anywhere near as good as freshly home roasted beans. I'd recommend that if you are able to do it, then you give it a try and see what you think. Unfortunately I can't home-roast anymore because of an overly-efficient smoke alarm system in my new house.

If you are going to use a French Press or Aeropress (I prefer the latter - always found cafetiere coffee a bit hard on the stomach personally), then you might try some single origin beans, rather than blends. The distinctive flavours work better with this type of brewing method than with, for example, espresso, which requires a bit more balance. If you are already discerning enough to know what roast style you prefer, then you might get a kick out of tasting a few different origins and finding the one that suits you best. For lighter roasts you could try good Kenyan (bright, flowery), Central American (clean, slightly bright), monsooned malabar (funky, almost fermented-tasting, zombie-coffee), indonesian (high body, chocolate-y - probably better for a darker roast), or Yemeni (amazing exotic and varied flavours - sometimes with wine, licorice, leather, tobacco tastes). The best coffee I have ever drunk, bar none, was a home roasted Yemeni Mocha Matari - the beans for which I bought at Sweet Maria's (which another poster mentions above). I nearly cried when my stock ran out.

One final point, I would recommend that you don't buy generic roasts from espresso shops. Not only because they're probably not fresh, but also because they will be blended for espresso, and include some beans (probably cheaper robusta) intended to add crema, body and kick to an espresso brew. These are not characteristics that you particularly want (well, apart from maybe body) when you're drinking presspot coffee.
posted by bifter at 1:51 AM on October 25, 2006 [1 favorite]

Coffee roasted more than 2-3 weeks ago is stale. Throw it out. Coffee ground more than 2-3 minutes ago is stale. Throw it out.

These two things are far more important than how you brew. I personally have an espresso machine at home and use a plunger (french press) if I want coffee at work.

Once you get used to freshly ground and roasted coffee you won't be able to go back. Whether this is a good thing is left to the reader, the smell of the stale, burnt coffee in the machine at work turns my stomach.
posted by markr at 3:49 AM on October 25, 2006

Not to derail the OP too much, but...

For those of us who want to join in the French Press orgy, can someone who uses one regularly chime in with their coffee-making procedure (for lack of a better word)? I'm looking for specifics on:

- water source / water heating methods
- timing of the brew
- clean-up (which is, for me, the biggest obstacle to regularly using a French Press).

I ask because I have one of these and using the FP just takes too much time out of my morning routine relative to an auto-drop machine. I do grind my own beans, fwiw.
posted by fearless_yakov at 9:52 AM on October 25, 2006

I use the French Press thusly:
- I preheat the body by putting hot water in it
- I boil tap water in an electric kettle
- I wait a minute or two after it has boiled for the temp to drop a degree or two
- meanwhile I grind the coffee. As noted earlier, I find i get better results with an espresso grind than the medium grind manufacturers recommend. If the filter clogs, well I'd rather have strong coffee and replace the filter more often.
- tip out the water in the press
- put the grinds in the press
- I pour the very hot water over the grounds
- Stir
- follow RMALCOLM's excellent plungy protocol (which I discovered independently) as described upthread, over the next 5 minutes
- washing is by carefully putting water into the press, artfully swirling it so it picks up all the grounds, and pouring them down the sink.

Total time around 10 minutes start to finish.

If you want good coffee by cafetiere or espresso machine, you have to put up with bits of coffee ground here and there.

And I make it very strong, at least a couple of table spoons per cup but maybe more. It gets a lovely froth sort of like crema on the top and has real body. If you can see light through the jug it's too weak as far as I'm concerned.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 11:36 AM on October 25, 2006 [2 favorites]

OK, I read those instructions from Bodum. My take is that they are concerned about you suing after you get scalded. I don't care. I would rather run the risk of scalding.

In a former workplace of coffee fiends, we used espresso grinds and lots of them in big french presses and we had to lean on the plunger to get it to go down - pulling it up a little if it resisted too much to break the cake of grounds underneath. Because that's what we had to do to get good, strong coffee, instructions be damned. "Are you going to plunge?" we would ask workmates headed to the kitchen. Or someone would announce "I've just plunged" and brighten my morning. Happy days.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 11:42 AM on October 25, 2006 [1 favorite]

i've spent the past few weeks learning how to make a better cup of coffee. i even went so far as to email the owner of the local coffeeshop in my neighborhood (one of the best coffeeshops in the dc area, murky coffee) asking for advice on what kind of coffeemaker and grinder to use.

(by the way, said owner recently won the southeast regional barista championship, making him effectively the best barista in the southeast).

in any event, he stressed fe things:

1: use fresh beans! if they are more than 2 weeks old, they are stale.
2: use a burr grinder, not a blade grinder, and always grind RIGHT before using.
3: use good, clean, fresh water (bottled or filtered) at the correct brewing temperature - 195-205 degrees
4: brew it properly

as for brewing properly he said that the technivorm brewer is probably the best possible automatic brewer, but at 200 dollars it is overkill. he recommended a choice of chemex, french press, or a simple $3.00 melitta pour-over brewer.

i already have a french press and dont really like the sediment or the cleanup, so i went and found a melitta pour-over filter at sur la table and picked up a kettle and i love it. its nice because you get really good control over your coffee. i pour in a couple tablespoons of coffee for each cup in a filter, then pour water over the grounds until they are all wet. i let it set for about 10 seconds, until the coffee 'blooms' and then pour more water until my cup is full. i would just purchase and use a regular old coffeemaker but all of the ones that brew at the proper temperatures are too expensive. and lets face it, all a regular coffemaker does is pour hot water over the grounds anyway. why not do it yourself?

i also, on a whim, bought one of the aeropress thingies and i think its pretty good. fast, easy to clean, tasty coffee. only complaint i have for it is that its cheezy looking. but eh, good coffee, whatever.

as for my grinder, i picked up a burr grinder from costco for 30 bucks. its not bad. there are better ones out there but this one is fine for now.

i also buy my coffee from costco. the quality is high, they roast it in the store, and the cost is very low - like 8 bucks for 2.5 pounds. i picked up the seattle mountain roast or whatever. very tasty, very fresh, and i can afford to drink as much of it as i want, and then 2 weeks later go buy some more and throw out the old.

there is tons of information at the coffee faq as well
posted by kneelconqueso at 1:50 PM on October 25, 2006 [3 favorites]

Another point: If you are using a drip filter machine, you can improve your coffee by not using paper filters. They filter out the grounds, but they also filter out the oils that give coffee a lot of its flavour and body.
posted by markr at 2:14 PM on October 25, 2006

So what do you use in place of a paper filter?
posted by LobsterMitten at 3:35 PM on October 25, 2006

If you're Chuck Norris, the grounds will be too frightened to enter your cup, so you don't need a filter.

If you're anyone else, you'd use a gold filter. (Note: not made with real gold, generally.) These are reusable but a little more bother to clean up. There are also reusable cotton filters, but I think these would filter out as much oil as paper, and are even harder to clean than gold filters, so you get the worst of both worlds.
posted by adamrice at 4:43 PM on October 25, 2006 [1 favorite]

As noted earlier, I find i get better results with an espresso grind than the medium grind manufacturers recommend. If the filter clogs, well I'd rather have strong coffee and replace the filter more often.

Well, you like the taste of overextracted coffee in that case - grinding too fine in a french press will lead to excessive extraction of caffeine, and give a dominant bitter flavour to the brew. Overextraction will more or less completely drown out the aromatics from good beans.

This is of course fair enough if that's your preference, but I'd recommend that others try both ways and see what they prefer.
posted by bifter at 1:24 AM on October 26, 2006

I concur that experimentation is the key to identifying what you like.

To defend my practise, to my mind the nasty over-extracted flavour is a function of a) excessive temperature and b) excessive steeping time. I don't feel that the aromatic components are drowned out by my method; on the contrary, I think they're enhanced. But it is perfectly possible I am a clod with an insensitive palate.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 3:16 PM on October 26, 2006

« Older it's a half past four and I'ma shiftin' gears...   |   Portrait of the editrix as a young woman Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.