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Coffee 101 | An Introduction to Perfection

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I Get Ridiculously Excited About Coffee.

I have been this excited about coffee for probably the last two years and it has been consistently one of my favorite topics of small talk that’s non-finance related.

Coffee got me through pharmacy school, I didn’t like it but I drank lots of it. I needed the caffeine and coffee is cheap,  and available. Frankly, I was drinking total garbage and covering it up with ridiculous amounts of flavored creamer and sugar. I thought that this was just what you did. But somewhere along the way, I decided that I was going to start drinking coffee black. When you commit to drinking coffee black you begin to truly understand how disgusting bad black coffee can be. I thought it might be an acquired taste, so I gave it a month, just drinking it black. I would try to choke it down and although I did it, it never got easier.

I knew there was something more.

But I knew there had to be more to the story. There’s an entire subculture dedicated to good coffee. There are competitions for Baristas, for best coffee of the year and there’s a new coffee shop popping up on every corner, so I started to do what I do with every other aspect of my life.

researching coffee

 I researched it. And this Post is dedicated to my conclusions.

Coffee can be amazing black.  But, it’s a science, it’s cooking, it requires precision, it’s an art and now for me, it’s one of my favorite hobbies.

There are several factors that determine how good your coffee is going to be:

1.Whole Beans vs Pre-Ground Bean

The whole bean carries all the flavor, in the form of oils, which give off that amazing aroma. These flavor oils are what make coffee shops smell so inviting. After the bean has been ground the natural oils evaporate quickly.

Buy your beans whole, never ground!

grind your coffee at home

2. Grind your beans yourself at the point of brewing.

Grind the beans right before you use them. So if you purchase whole beans, don’t get them ground at the store. Grind the beans at home, right before you use them, to maximize flavor in each cup.

3. I recommend this burr grinder.Capresso Burr Grinder

There are 2 types of grinders: a blade grinder/spice grinder and a burr grinder.  Think of a blade grinder like a mini blender. It has a blade that rotates at the bottom that chops the beans up into particles. The problem with this type of grinder is that inevitably some of the bean gets overground and some are barely touched. This presents a problem, because the smaller the particle, the greater the surface area. The inconsistency will lead to over extraction on some beans and under extraction on others, leading to lots of variability in the quality of your coffee.

Think of a burr grinder like an automated pepper mill. These burrs run in opposite directions and ensure that you get a consistent flavor from cup to cup. They sell hand powered and electric. I have both, but I highly recommend the electric burr grinder. You will use this every day and I prefer to get my workouts in the gym.

4.The next tip is the ratio. I recommend this Hario scale.Hario Coffee Drip Scale/Timer

This requires an electronic scale with a tare feature that is sensitive enough to measure small increments of grams and will stay on for 4 to 6 minutes. This is why I love this Hario scale. I have had 2 other electronic scales which were both disappointing and would cut off as I was in the middle of my experiment.

I use a ratio of 1:15 up to 1:20. Let me explain why. Typically for a single cup of coffee, you want 15-20 milliliters of water for each gram of coffee used. So if you are making a single cup and using 20g of beans, then you might try a ratio of 1:15 and use 300ml of water. 

As you increase the number of cups that you are brewing at once, you may lean toward the higher end of the spectrum. So If I am brewing 2 or 3 cups I will use a 1:20 ratio to compensate for the longer brew time. So for 45g of coffee, I would use 900 ml of water. But I always stay inside that 15-20 ratio and then adjust for the next cup based on whether my last cup was too strong or weak. That brings us to our next key tip, extraction time

5. Extraction time. I recommend the ChemexChemex 6-Cup Classic Series Glass Coffee Maker

Ideally, you can brew your cup within 3 to 4 minutes. A longer brew time can lead to over extraction and a more bitter cup of coffee. Sometimes, if you are making more than 1 cup, this is unavoidable and is fine, but in a perfect world you will have brewed your cup in under 4 minutes.

6. Temperature. I recommend this Bonavita KettleBonavita Electric Kettle

Coffee has a specific temperature which allows it to offer its best flavor. It is generally agreed that the ideal temperature is just off the boil and if you have an electric kettle which allows you to measure it, then set it for 195 F (91 C) to 205 F (96 C)

7. Quality of water (confessions of a reluctant frugalist)

I keep reading that quality of water is critical, but this is where I have to make a confession. To this point, I have refused to spend extra money on quality bottle water for my coffee. I use tap water. Purists will get angry with me but I have to be honest with you.

Consistency

The Key is Consistency

We want a perfect cup every time and to get a consistent cup of genuinely good coffee you have to control the variables.

We need a method that will allow us to control:

  • The grind ( timing and particle size)
  • The temperature of water
  • The brew time
  • The ratio

We want maximum, consistent flavor, every time, from cup to cup.

This is the part of the story where I tell you that you need to throw out or donate your Coffee-Mate. Unfortunately, as you have figured out or been thinking, you really can’t track all of those variables when you have a Coffee-Mate or any comparable drip pot coffee maker. And if you could track those variables on your Coffee-Mate, you would find out that it’s not even close to the criteria that I just gave you. The Coffee-Mate and most drip coffee pots really can’t provide you the precision that you need in order to produce a consistently high-quality amazing cup of coffee.

  • It doesn’t maintain the water temperature
  • It doesn’t meet the brew time criteria
  • And it the hot plate burns your coffee after it’s been brewed producing that burnt, charcoal, diesel fuel taste when you don’t load it down with cream and sugar

And that brings us to my favorite coffee brewing technique the pour over method. The bad news is your current set-up won’t work. The good news is I have a solution and it’s not that difficult.

The Pour Over Method

my coffee command center
This picture contains everything I use in my coffee command center

 

Recommended Equipment

So here’s my recommended equipment. Buy it for yourself or get it for your spouse as a gift this Christmas or for their birthday.

  1. Chemex Pour Over Carafe
  2. Burr Grinder
  3. Gooseneck Electric Kettle
  4. Hario scale -Get this one specifically. I’ve tried it with other electronic scales and you want something more precise that will stay on as you add water slowly – this is the one you want.

I spend a bunch of time reviewing different items before I make a purchase and definitely before I make a recommendation. This is the exact setup that I would recommend for anybody that’s interested in good coffee.

You won’t regret it!

In the near future, I plan on creating a video tutorial to show you how I use all these together, but in the meantime here’s the picture.

my coffee command center

If you’re coming to this article because you read my Skinny Waist Fat Wallet Podcast which was Episode 10 or because you read The Ultimate Costco meal plan Part 1 and Part 2, you will know that I’m a huge fan of drinking black coffee as a short-term appetite suppressant and as an energy booster. So I realize that what I am suggesting to you is an investment, but I’m not telling you to go out and buy protein shakes and creatine and fat burners and all this other crap. So hopefully it evens out.

Focus on the basics; good food, good exercise, and good coffee. If you already like coffee, maybe it’s time to upgrade and hopefully, this article showed you how. If you’re going to base your morning around one specific drink or beverage why not make it taste good!

Was this helpful? Do you have any additional Coffee Hacks you want to share? Leave your feedback below.

9 thoughts on “Coffee 101 | An Introduction to Perfection

    • Nice find on the roaster Kevin.

      I have used my BBQ to roast in the past. It is pretty convenient with a direct natural gas line attached to the grills vs using propane tanks. You can use cast iron pans or cookie sheets; once the grill is up to 400 – 500 degrees roasting goes pretty quickly. I use pasta strainers to knock off the chaff, then transport the beans to containers once cooled.

      I am usually finding green beans for about $5.00 – $7.00 a bag at local shops in Portland.

      I haven’t done a full cost analysis to factor in the natural gas or time, but it is a fun hobby!

  1. Well no wonder I like your blog… Fellow coffee snob here. We make one cup at a time with our DeLonghi espresso machine with exquisite very freshly roasted beans from our local roaster. We get a decent layer of crema on top and rarely do I find a cup that tastes much better. Pour over is the next frontier for us, but our current setup definitely makes us happy.

  2. Poor over is ok but IMO Aeropress is the way to go. $30 on Amazon and is one of it’s most reviewed (and best reviewed!) products. Easy to clean, maintain, and travels very well. I make coffee with this at work most days.

    No, I’m not paid by Aeropress or Amazon to spread this information. I stumbled across one in a store while overseas, looked it up, went back, bought it, and have been happily preaching it to any coffee enthusiast who’d listed. In fact I’ve converted 5 or 6 six friends in the last 2 years. Not sure how ChooseFI feels about linking to products so I’ll let anyone interested do there own googling for now.

    Anyway, FI advice and resources here are great. Gotta step up the coffee game though. I’m purchasing a roaster soon too which will further my aspiring minimalist goals as well as increase the quality and satisfaction I already derive from my DIY coffee lifestyle.

    • I have an aeropress and I like it, but I ultimately wanted to make more than 1 cup at a time and once I ran out of filters I didn’t end up purchasing more. I am considering roasting though 🙂

  3. Living in Portland there are dozens of excellent coffee roasters and you can get beans for $14-$28/lb sometimes its only for 12 oz. I do love great coffee and will splurge on that for a weekend or holiday, but I have found a strange source for a fair price on beans that will do the job – Dunkin’ Donuts Coffee. (It’s much better than Starbucks IMO.) If you do want to spring for some of our insane Portland coffee, check out Stumptown, Water Avenue, Heart Coffee, Coava Coffee, Nossa Familia. Nothing beats Chemex for black coffee taste.

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