Be a Cool Bean and Learn the Subtle and Delicious Art of Crafting the Perfect Cup of Coffee
Wake up! If you are like 83% of Americans, you too start your day with a nice hot (or cold) cup of joe. But are you getting the most out of your brew?
Be honest now— are you even awake enough to think about anything when you dump those ground beans into your machine?
Your coffee can be more than just a wake-up call, it can be the most delicious part of your day. A few small steps can revolutionize not just your mornings but your entire life. If you do it right, coffee can be the answer to all of life's problems.
Think I'm kidding?
The $30 BILLION a year industry would be on my side.
Coffee is more than the soupy black drink of the morning. With the right information and vocabulary, you too can be a coffee insider, complete with secret handshake and clubhouse.
Start off with a little learnin' to know exactly what you're looking in different types of coffee beans in the grocery store, get a bit roasted as you experience the life of a coffee cherry destined for your cup, and discover a whole new world of beverage.
So what are you waiting for? Get your jumbo mug ready, because you're about to crave some coffee.
Seed Drink, Anyone?
Step one in coffee adoration: the plant.
Think you know everything about coffee? Think again. Chances are, if you stumbled upon a wild coffee plant in the woods, you'd have no ideathat it could grow to be the beautiful beverage you know and love.
Coffee beans are actually the seeds of the coffee plant. They're green, little, and not very delicious (even if you coat them in chocolate). It takes forever-- well, a couple of years, anyway-- for a coffee plant to start the types of coffee beans that will eventually turn into our delicious java.
Life Cycle of a Bean
1. Seeds are planted and shrubs start to grow.
2. Wait for years for the shrubs to reach maturity.
3. When flowers start to develop, wait between 30-35 weeks for the flowers to turn into coffee cherries.
4. Pick the bright red and ripe coffee cherries from the plants.
1. Dry processing is the traditional method of preparing coffee beans for roasting. Clean ‘em, sort ‘em, and lay ‘em out on dry surface in bright sunlight. They'll be ready for the next step in about a month.
2. Wet processing needs specific machines, but it's a lot faster. The coffee cherries are dumped in water and the skin and pulp are removed from the cherries. Then you'll have lovely, almost-ready coffee beans.
6. Mill the beans to get rid of any leftover skin. Both dry processed and wet processed beans need this-- you got rid of the pulp and main skin during wet processing, but there is still a little silver skin that needs to be removed with a hulling machine.
7. Roast the beans. Most companies start off by roasting a small batch, tasting, and adjusting the roast temperature and length to get that perfect flavor.
8. Time to grind. You can buy pre-ground coffee beans, perfect and ready for use, or you can grind your own right before brewing.
All that work, but it's so worth it.
Make the Best Cup, Buy Whatever Beans Necessary
So you're looking at the shelf o' types of coffee beans, ground and whole, and what do you see?
Contrary to what the grocery store aisle would have us believe, there are really only two types of coffee: Arabica and Robusta. If you're a tried-and-true coffee aficionado, you probably already have a definite preference, whether you know it or not.
Each variety is slightly different in taste, and if you're drinking coffee for the caffeination, definitely pay attention to the name on your beans.
Lower in caffeine that Robusta
Flat, Long beans
Pricey: tricky ideal terrain, disease-prone trees
70% of the world's coffee
50-60% more caffeine than Arabica
Primarily used in blends and instant coffee
Round, small beans
Hearty trees with few growing limitations
30% of the world's coffee
Of course, there are all kinds of smaller varieties within these major categories, such as the Bourbon strain of Arabica, known by some as the “pinot noir of coffee.” Buy some, try some, and develop your very own coffee tasting profile for different types of coffee beans. You'll be throwing around words like “Robusta” and “varietal” in no time (without being ironic).
The Beans, the BEANS!
There are two cups of coffee in front of you.
You must make a decision. Which one is more delicious?
Coffee bean selection comes down to your personal taste preference… but what are you tasting for?
Smell your brew and describe it. Is it smoky? Fruity? Does it remind you of a flower or nut? Most importantly, do you like it?
When you taste an acidic food or drink, there's a bit of a pop at the end of your tongue. A bit of acidity is great, but too much can be overwhelming. How much do you want your tongue to pop with each sip, after all?
Fat or skinny, what do you prefer? All types of coffee beans are brewed with water, but some (think Turkish coffee) just taste and feel thick. And that's before adding the cream!
The amount of roastin' time and the type of roast will affect the flavor of your beans (no matter what types of coffee beans you're drinking). There are four common coffee roasts: light, medium, medium-dark, and dark. The color of the bean (as well of the flavor of the resulting brew) darkens and intensifies with each step up the roast ladder.
Is it too acidic? Can you taste too much elderberry or walnut or dark chocolate? That's the balance right there, friend. Even if the initial flavor is great, without balance you'll be overwhelmed and dissatisfied by the time you reach the end of your cup.
So at the end, how do you feel? What do you taste? If your mouth still tastes delicious long after the coffee has been consumed, you've selected an excellent blend.
Okay, so you've got your main coffee types, a tasting guide, and an overall picture of the life of your favorite types of coffee beans. But where did your coffee actually come from? And what in the world is “single source”?
Coffee grows all around the world, right? Sort of.
Coffee plants (shrubs, really) grow best in relatively high altitudes. Arabica especially loves being up high, which makes these coffee farmers some of the heroes of our world.
Today, most of our beans grow in the aptly named bean belt, a tropical region that stretches from Eastern Mexico all the way to New Guinea. The coffee-growing regions of these countries provide burgeoning bushes with nutrient-rich soil, lots of moisture, and a nice balance of shade and sun.
Sadly, most locations outside of the bean belt aren't very suitable for growing coffee bushes. So much for your backyard coffee garden.
No matter where you are in the world, your coffee probably came from Central or South America, Africa, or Asia. And, you guessed it, growing location totally affects coffee taste.
Bright, fruity, floral
Spicy, earthy, woody
But if you pick up a cup of coffee made with a blend of beans from all over the place, how can you ever taste the deliciously unique flavors of each growing location?
Single source coffee is the answer.
Single source coffee is just what it sounds like: coffee beans taken from one source. Sometimes it's one country, sometimes one general location, and sometimes even one farm. While single source coffee is an awesome way to really experience subtle flavor changes, if you're happy with your dependable blend, you do you! Just know there are options out there.
Wait. Who Came Up with That Idea?
Picture it: Ethiopia, thousands of years ago. You wake up, groggy from a day of hard labor or child-rearing or whatever. You wander over to the nearest coffee bush, grab some ripe coffee cherries, and spend the rest of your day cleaning, milling, roasting, and brewing some dark black bean juice? I don't think so.
So what happened?
How (and why!) did this beautiful beverage ever come to fruition?
Even more importantly, how did it end up in my 21st-century cup?
When it comes to the history of coffee drinking, legends and conspiracies abound. Kaldi, a jittery monk in Ethiopia, apparently got so hopped up on coffee beans he couldn't stop talking about it. People hanging out in the Near East referred to their coffee shops as “Schools of the Wise.” European religious rulers banned the drink outright.
But no one could keep coffee down for long-- even the Pope tried it and loved it!
Toast to the Revolution?
The USA wasn't the only revolutionary idea of 1773. Tossing tea into the Boston bay may have sent a goodbye message to King George back in England, but it welcomed in a new favorite American hot drink: coffee.
Even Thomas Jefferson loved the caffeinated beverage, and who knows, America may owe its entire development and Constitution to that little bean.
Gimme That Drink.
Ancient people drank it, sure, but why are people still so obsessed with coffee today? CEOs and small business owners alike have all invested in the glories of the coffeeshop, and you can hardly cross a busy city street without spying at least a couple of Starbucks. But who's giving up all their hard-earned cash for a paper cup of hot brown juice?
Nearly everyone, as it turns out.
And people aren't just throwing money at Starbucks baristas, either. The average American does spend about $1,110 each year on coffee,
but 79% of coffee drinkers still say that they brew coffee at home, too, with their own favorite types of beans.
A Strong Shot of Benefits
Jitters aren't all you're getting from your morning pick-me-up.
Legit scientific institutions (the National Cancer Institute, the University of Southern California, the University of Hawaii) have published findings showing that coffee...
…. wait for it…
… could SAVE your LIFE!
In a wide-ranging and diverse study, researchers found that participants who had two or more cups of coffee each day were 18% less likely to have died while the study was progressing (the study started in 1993) than participants who never drank coffee.
Another similar study tracked people across Europe for 16 years. They came to similar conclusions.
It's possible that coffee combats or reduces heart disease, kidney disease, and even cancer.
Consider that next time you're rolling your eyes at the Starbucks drive-thru.
That Doesn't Look Much Like Coffee…
You're standing in line. You can feel your eyelids drooping as you shuffle forward towards the barista. All you need is a cup of coffee. When the friendly-faced kid in front of you asks you what you want, though, she just gives you a wide-eyed stare when you mumble, “Coffee.”
Nope, you didn't pronounce it wrong, These days, there are so many different names for coffee drinks, beverage sizes, and flavors that it can make anyone's head spin.
Coffee drinks mainly vary based on their added ingredients and the way the coffee inside them is brewed. Taste ‘em all!
Don't Be Despresso, Drink Some Espresso!
You don't need to be fancy to love fancy coffee drinks. Once you've mastered the lingo, you'll be ordering like an Italian in no time.
Many fancy coffee drinks (your lattes, cappuccinos, and the like) have an espresso base. Most of them feature espresso, steamed milk, and foam in varying amounts, and the difference a dollop of foam makes is pretty incredible.
But what is espresso? Is it even a different thing than coffee?
Espresso does not require different types of coffee beans.
Espresso does not need tobe made in an eclectic coffee shop by a pro.
Espresso is just prepared a little bit differently than standard brewed coffee.
To make espresso, you (or your friendly neighborhood barista) will pack the ground coffee in a little puck-shaped container in an espresso machine. Then, super-hot water will shoot through the coffee puck. A shot (one ounce) of espresso will be ready in mere moments.
You sure can make espresso in your very own home, but make sure you have finely ground beans and the ability to provide hot water pressure on those ground beans!
Espresso (Short Black)
A beautiful, basic building block of a delicious drink. A short black is just one shot of espresso, usually served in a tiny little white cup that makes you feel like you have giant hands. Savor each sip, because it'll be gone all too soon.
Double Espresso (Doppio)
Just like it sounds, a doppio is two shots of your perfect espresso. All 60 delicious milliliters (2 ounces) of espresso are still served in an espresso cup.
Sorry, a ristretto isn't three shots of espresso in an espresso cup. A ristretto uses the same amount of coffee as a standard shot, but only half the water! It's a super dark and concentrated way to get all that caffeine and delicious flavor in a quick little drink.
Consider a lungo a double ristretto. It's double the espresso and half the water.
Picturing a giant cup full of milk with the espresso shots poured over the top? Hate to break it to you, but that's not what you'll be getting if you order a macchiato at a traditional shop. A basic macchiato does feature two shots of espresso, but with a spoonful of foamed milk on the top instead of a ton of steamed milk.
Traditional macchiatos are beautiful: dark brown coffee on the bottom, a layer of pale milk-coffee blend, and topped with creamy, foamy white milk. Serve in a glass mug to best admire your skills.
Fancy a coffee with a slightly more balanced ratio of espresso and milk? Check out a cappuccino: made with equal parts espresso, steamed milk, and milk foam, it's traditional and famous for a reason.
Similar but not the same, the cappuccino and the latte feature identical ingredients with life-changing proportional differences. Unlike a cappuccino and its equal numbers of all elements, the latte adds a whopping 10 ounces of steamed milk to its base of two espresso shots. A tiny bit of foam may top the drink, sometimes even in fancy designs.
Americano (Long Black)
Just when you thought there were no more ways to prepare espresso, the Americano comes along.
Mix two shots of espresso with three ounces of hot water, or vary the amount of water if you're feeling a little crazy.
Craving coffee and dessert at the same time? Get yourself an affogato, vanilla ice cream mixed with a shot of espresso.
Unlike the name, the flavor of a flat white is anything but dull. It's pretty much the same as latte, just without the foam on top. Don't tell all of the Starbucks Flat White obsessors that, though!
How Do You Brew?
Even if you're just looking for a standard cup of black coffee, you're not out of the decision-making woods just yet.
Of course, you could just throw any old types of coffee beans in any old Mr. Coffee, fill the dispenser with water, plug it in, and wait for the drips to stop. But why would you do the same old, same old when there are so many other easy and delicious brew methods?
Between your beans and your machine, you can brew a beautiful cup of hot and delicious coffee that bears little resemblance to the office sludge.
The Drip's No Dip
Drip coffee (also called filtered coffee) is your standard brew method, practiced everywhere from the most high-end restaurants to your very own kitchen counter. If you're looking for an easy way to get your next caffeine infusion, drip coffee is the way to go.
Simply pour your ground beans into a paper filter, pour water over the beans, and you're off. You can use this method for soooo many types of coffee: it can give you a hefty supply of brew for your office or enormous family, but it is also a solid, classic way to make one or two cups of high-quality drink.
Even within the world of drip coffeethere are options galore.
You've got your standard coffee pot setup, a whole slew of fancy “drippers,” and, of course, the percolator.
Beloved by industrial office buildings around the world, percolators aren't known for their delicious coffee. Maybe someday, percolator, maybe someday.
Remember when you learned about the joys of espresso?
Espresso is an excellent example of pressure-brewed coffee. The machine shoots hot water through tightly-packed ground coffee, making an awesome little pick-me-up.
But pressure brewing isn't just good for espresso and chic lattes. Pressure brewed coffees are done faster, pack in more intense in flavor than drip coffees, and, although they contain less caffeine than other coffee brewing methods, they're all around cool.
What if you're not ready to shell out the big bucks for a cafe-style espresso maker, though?
Try a stovetop espresso maker instead!
This adorable little device lets you make espresso in mere minutes (literally, in less than five minutes start to finish), and while it may take you a while to perfect your grind, a stovetop espresso maker will revolutionize your mornings.
Steeping It Up
French press coffee is no longer the domain of the rich and famous. Steeping is an easy and traditional brew method-- it's a favorite for a reason.
Whether you're using bagged coffee, a vacuum pot, or the good ol' French press, steeping works the same way: you're putting your favorite types of coffee beans in water and waiting for the water to soak up all that fabulous flavor and caffeinated goodness.
If you've got a coffee bag, stick it in hot water like a tea bag and let it steep for a while. Same with the press: dump in the coffee, pour in hot water, and wait.
Consider the Bitter
Let's get down to basics: do you really need anything more than hot water and ground coffee?
The answer is no, not really.
You can sure make a cup of coffee with just water and beans, but don't expect the same flavor profiles as your barista-made brews.
Turkish coffee is one of the most popular boiled-coffee options. You mix coffee and water and boil. A lot. It's thick, it's strong, and some people think it's wonderful.
And then the Old West fan favorite: Cowboy Coffee. Boil water, add coffee, let sit over heat, and enjoy. Just try not to get too many coffee grounds stuck in that ol' moustache.
Simply the Best
You've connected with your coffee. You know its story and its life, the obstacles it has had to face as well as the literal mountains it has had to overcome in order to be with you. You know it and you love it.
Well, you want to love it.
You take a sip and pretend to taste the hints of blackberry described on the package, but… you just can't.
What's a wannabe coffee lover to do?
Never fear. Since the very beginning of coffee drinking there have been people like you, eager to enjoy the goodness of the brew but anxious about their initial taste reaction. There is a solution (ten of them, to be exact), and you'll be on your way to coffee obsession in no time.
Butter isn't only for toast anymore. Add about a half teaspoon of butter to your hot cup of coffee, mix, and enjoy. It'll give your boring old cup some new flavor inspiration and give you the boost you need to get through the day (or afternoon, or evening, or whatever).
Add Some Salt to That Burn
If you are a lover of the salty, throw a dash of salt in your brewed coffee or in your most delicious types of coffee beans. It'll brighten up the flavor and give you something new to talk about!
Any Time Is Ice Cream Time
Switch it up with an affogato-- add ice cream! While the official affogato recipe calls for a shot and a scoop, you can add your favorite vanilla ice cream to any type or quantity of coffee: for a quick weekday pick-me-up, try pouring your Americano or standard drip coffee over a scoop!
Sugar? (do dodi do di do) No, Honey, Honey
Honey? Honey. Sweet, healthy, delicious, it'll perk up your coffee. Add a dollop or a spoonful to your lattes and black coffees, just be sure to taste before you add too much!
Check out that spice rack: cardamom is a spicy, chai-like, delicious addition to your coffee drinks. Add a tiny sprinkling on top and you'll be enamored with this entirely new type of drink.
Move Over, Syrup.
Love those vanilla syrups and lattes? You don't have to go to the coffeeshop for their goodness anymore. Throw a little bit of straight up vanilla extract into your coffee for a similarly delicious flavor addition-- you might even like it better!
Let's Get Weird
Lemon, with coffee? Sounds strange, but you only have to try it to love it. Add a splash of lemon or lime juice (or the zest) to your cuppa and find yourself reinvigorated in a new and fruity way.
Consider the Coconut
What isn't coconut milk good in? It isn't coffee, that's for sure. A splash of coconut milk not only cools down your tongue-scalding beverage, it adds a unique and fantastic hint of coconut flavor. If you're looking for a creamier alternative, here it is, right there in the dairy aisle.
Melted chocolate. Do you need more convincing than that? And yes, it's better than a mocha.
Hero of the Pantry and the Cup
It's delicious, it's nutritious, it's nutmeg! Add a sprinkle of this nutty, earthy goodness to your coffee and enjoy. Your spice cabinet will be thrilled!
Go Forth and Brew
If you don't already have a steamy hot cup of coffee in front of you, you should be applauded for your restraint. But what are you waiting for?
Seriously, why aren't you making coffee right now?
Make it, drink it, share it, and enjoy it-- after all, that roasted bean may be saving your life.