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Ditch the Drip

I don’t know how many cups of coffee have been completely ruined by bad drip coffee makers, but I know one thing for sure — barring some notable exceptions, these awful machines can never heat water to the right temperature for full coffee extraction. The hot plate below the glass carafe only adds to the disaster. It is designed to keep the coffee “hot”, but really evaporates the delicate oils that give coffee its flavor. The final result is an acrid, thin liquid that has none of the nuances of the coffee you so hopefully chose to buy.

Drip coffee makers exploded into the US market as a tool of convenience. No more cleaning out French presses, no more messing with hot water. This was brilliant! Just add cold water, scoop the ground coffee into the paper filter, press a button, and in minutes be rewarded with a pot of piping hot go juice. Who cares how it tastes when it’s Folgers in your cup? It wakes you up — isn’t that good enough, you elitist bastard? What? You still don’t like it? Add some non-dairy creamer, you wuss, and pile on the sugar. Now that there is good coffee.

If you belong to the aforementioned school of thought, I applaud you. In your quest for some extra chest hair, you have just embraced the position that nothing else matters but the buzz. If that makes you happy, carry on! When you’re ready to appreciate the blood, sweat and tears that go into each cup of specialty coffee, come by. We’ll be waiting for you. End of screed.

Now there are several top-notch drip brewers in the market. The Technivorm Moccamaster, the Bonavita and the Breville Youbrew come to mind. However, these tend to be a bit on the expensive side — over $100 in most cases — and may take a little more fuss in operation. If you must buy a drip brewer, at least avoid the ones with the hot plate under the carafe, and try to buy one with a stainless steel vacuum carafe that keeps coffee hot without having to be heated itself.

Selecting and Using a Coffee Grinder

Which grinder to use — blade or burr?

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.

Those Dreaded Fines

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

What About Flavored Coffees?

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.

How to Remove Traces of Previously Ground Beans

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!

Zen and the Art of Micro-Roaster Maintenance

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.

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Best Coffee Brewing Methods

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…)

A French press fairy tale

Sitting on the shelf at a Chicago Starbucks was a little French press, watching the people of the world order their skim non-fat soy moccachinos day after day. She hoped and prayed for someone to look her way, past the stacks of Ethiopian fair-trade coffee bags and fancy demitasses. She watched everything from hyper-expensive espresso machines to dinky little coffee mugs fly off the shelves, but all that came her way was dust. She sat there in silence, hoping her time would come, some day.

The coffee spoon kept her company. “You are beautiful my love. Don’t let those bean-burning sawdust-juice-drinking dilettantes tell you otherwise. They don’t know you’re the best way to experience coffee. We’ll always be together on a true coffee lover’s desk.  Just you wait till he finds us.” (more…)

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