Gabriel Mathieu de Clieu looked at the seeds in his hand. They were a rich shade of dark brown, with a light coat of shiny oil. He brought them to his nose and took a long, wistful whiff. The aroma promised of untold flavor locked inside, to be freed only to the adventurous soul that ground them to powder and unleashed their alchemy into hot water. His thoughts raced back to his post in the island of Martinique – the hills terraced with drifting soft mist. He knew what he had to do.
For folks that are serious about good coffee, burr grinders are almost universally favored over blade grinders.
Blade grinders work like blenders. They whack away at the beans with sharp blades, reducing them to powder. The bean bits near the hub of the blades are almost always bigger than the ones at the edges, leading to a very uneven grind. This might work for percolators or drip machines, but because less bean surface is exposed to the hot water, less caffeol is extracted, leading to a watery brew. You end up wasting a large portion of perfectly good coffee beans this way. Blade grinders are best left for spices, really.
Burr grinders use two plates with grooves to grind the coffee beans between them to an even consistency. Think old mills with grindstones, and you’ll get the picture. You can control the separation between the two burr plates to grind beans for a variety of brew methods, from very coarse for percolators right up to superfine for Turkish coffee. And since burr grinders run at lower speeds than blade grinders, they will not overheat the beans. Burr grinders can be much more expensive than the best blade grinders, with really high end models heading into the thousands. Some have automatic dosing for producing the right quantity for a given number of cups of coffee. Steel burrs usually last longer than ceramic burrs, but they both need to be cleaned out occasionally with a soft brush. Refer to your user manual for details.
If you’re into espresso, a good burr grinder is a requirement.
Any coffee grinder produces fines — microscopic coffee granules that stick stubbornly to the sides of coffee grinder bins. Fines choke espresso portafilters, sludge up French press coffee and in general become a real nuisance. Purists go to great lengths to keep them from mucking up their brew. While you cannot completely avoid fines, you can work around them to an extent. After grinding, take the grind bin over the sink and gently lift the lid. Do not tap. Remove the lid and discard the fine coffee powder sticking to it (or make Turkish coffee with it if you so choose). If you find any clumps of fine in the ground coffee, discard it similarly. You’ll see the taste of your coffee or espresso improve significantly when you get rid of the fines. Higher end grinders have built-in features to reduce fines, but most home models don’t.
The other way to go is to get a grinder that has a glass container, like the Bodum Bistro Electric Burr Coffee Grinder. Unlike the plastic containers of many other grinders, the glass doesn’t hold the static electricity that
Use a separate grinder. The oils and added flavors in flavored coffee tend to stick around in grinders and may be hard to get rid of entirely.
When you’re trying out different beans, it might be a good idea to grind a very small batch and discard the grounds before grinding a full batch. Don’t worry about wasting grounds like this — spent grounds are really good for plants!
Michael Amouri of Café Amouri in Vienna, VA, was kind enough to sell me two pounds of his Ethiopia Harrar green coffee for testing purposes. I couldn’t wait to roast them to dark roast and try them out. The following day, my friend and colleague Mike Petrucci tasted the coffee from a Clever pour, and penned an absolutely awesome review that I’m glad to share with you. Here’s Mike, in his own words.
“I’m not usually a fan of dark roasts. I feel the beans’ natural flavors get masked which will in turn rob me of joy. Not cool.
But this Harar is different, or at least the way that Arka over at Kustom Coffee has roasted it. What I’m about to share are my notes on the coffee. Just a collection of feelings. Almost like a memory of a past event.
I love my Behmor 1600 roaster. It has completely changed my life for the better, and has given me the best way to share my passion for coffee. Now whether I’m playing coffee tour guide to my subscribers, or roasting fair trade beans to order, I have a way to communicate through the beans I roast.
Now that we have the emotion squared away, let’s delve into the little things that keep these little roasters running strong.
I was riding high. Visions of gloriously aromatic coffee beans danced before my eyes as I worked my brand new Behmor 1600 roaster night after night. Flush with initial success, I had just set up Kustomcoffee.com, and was getting ready to spread my joy to the world. That would be a good time to learn humility, right? And humility arrived, right on cue.
The best method for making coffee depends on individual taste, but the list definitely does not include the common drip brewer. The flavor ingredient of coffee is the oil that lies within the bean, and drippers burn it off quickly in the name of keeping the coffee hot, resulting in sawdust juice. If you must buy a dripper, get one that brews into a thermos. Oh, and also avoid the Tassimo and Senseo single-cuppers — pure garbage.
Now that we’ve got the bad actors out of the way, let’s review the good methods. (more…)
Our good friend Lee Patrick Sullivan brought back some excellent dark roast beans from San Francisco Coffee Roasters, Atlanta the other day. He spoke of a dedicated roaster that exercises maniacal control over his roast. That was evident when we put it through the little espresso machine in the office. The sip began with an assertive profile, but then as the flavor progressed to the back of tongue, it receded to a very smooth — almost creamy — finish, with hints of dark chocolate and apricot. This is a very fine and complex coffee. Try some of the San Francisco Blend here.
I first experienced the Gedeo blend from Ritual Roasters at the Coffee Van at the Oakton farmer’s market. This coffee originates from the Yirgacheffe region of Ethiopia. Ron, the owner/barista, brewed me a shot to taste. At first sip I was taken aback by the intense, assertive lemon flavor, followed by a fruity finish. It was a lovely change from the usual.
Fast forward a few months. During my Saturday morning visit to the market, I finally bought some of the beans from Ron. At work, Mike Petrucci and I decided to take it through several brewing methods to see what works best. We tried French-pressing and the Aeropress. The lemon flavor was much more subdued, moving to the back of the mouth with the French press version. The Aeropress yielded a more vivid flavor palette, with the berry flavors showing up much more prominently. It has a much smoother finish when brewed this way.
As we experimented and drank this bean, we experienced how preparation methods changed the flavor profile drastically. Not all beans open themselves up to this much variety. You might want to pair the espresso version with something rich like cheesecake. Try it – you won’t be disappointed. Ron might still have some beans in stock – talk to him.
We all know how necessity can birth inventions. Some of them are crazier than the rest.
I was recently in the mood for a cappuccino, and felt too lazy to go buy a bottle of milk. So I gathered up four Mini-moos – those no-chill-required liquid creamers – from the office coffee table, and added them to 3/4th cup of hot water. The consistency approached skim milk. I foamed this mix till about 140° with the little old pump espresso machine, and added to a double shot of espresso. Not bad. Foamy, half-decent texture, not a substitute for real milk foam but passable. Here we call it the Officcino.
Mark Hanner is back with a clutch of coffee shacks in and around Anchorage. Before you scoff, remember that these folks are really serious about the quality of their coffee.
“They have a lot of those “photomat” drivethrough coffee places here like in Seattle and everyone of them is better than a Starbucks,” Mark says. “They all have great names too like the Mocha Moose. I hit 3 yesterday driving around as it was cold and kept me awake from jet lag!”
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