How to brew the perfect cup of coffee, espresso, latte, and other concoctions.
Espresso Coffee Drinks
In its pure form, espresso is more popular in Europe than America, particularly in Italy. Though catching in America, derivatives and misconceptions are spreading like cream in coffee. For instance, many hold the misconception that espresso is a dark, bitter to burnt-flavored roast of coffee.
In fact, espresso is not a roast at all; it is a method of preparing coffee. Espresso coffee is often blended from several roasts and varietals to form a bold – not bitter flavor. The finely ground coffee is tightly packed or tamped into a “portafilter”; high-pressure water is then forced through the grounds and extracted in small, concentrated amounts. Intensity is the key here. Why do you think they call it a “shot?”
This is the intense experience of coffee that most Europeans prefer and believe Americans are too scared to try. Proper Espresso is served in small demitasse-style cups and consumed promptly after extraction in the following types of servings:
The “short shot” is the first ¾-ounce of espresso in an extraction, which many believe is the absolute perfect espresso.
A 1-ounce shot of espresso.
Otherwise known as the “long shot”, this is a 1 ½-ounce shot of espresso.
This is not merely a 2-ounce shot of espresso; this shot uses twice the amount of coffee in the portafilter, whereas the lesser shots use the same single serving.
Despite Starbucks’ popularization of the term Macchiato as a brand name, this is a very simple drink devoid of the flavored caramel and chocolate treatment better suited to an ice-cream parlor. It is simply a shot of espresso with a layer of foamed milk
Espresso con Panna
A shot of espresso with a layer of whipped cream.
A shot of espresso with steamed half and half, a.k.a. light cream.
Another drink warped by misconceptions! Cappuccino, named for its similarity in color to the robes of Capuchin monks, is simply a shot of espresso with steamed, wet milk, not necessarily slathered with a frothy, dry foam.
This is very popular drink in America probably due to its sweet, mellow flavor. One shot of espresso is mixed with 6 to 8 ounces of steamed milk, then topped with foam – if you prefer. Without the foam it’s officially known as a Flat White. Since it’s hard to find a latte in the super-sized United States smaller than 12 ounces, a double shot of espresso is common. If you prefer greater amperage via caffeine, up the number of shots!
With a few minor variations, this also goes by the name Café con Leche or Café Au Lait, depending on whether your coffee spirit is channeling Spanish or French.
This is essentially a watered-down shot of espresso with the resulting flavor arriving very close to simple, brewed coffee. One espresso shot (1 ounce) with 6-8 ounces of hot water.
Flavored Espresso Drinks
These are essentially the same drinks listed above with flavored syrups added somewhere in the process. For instance, Café Mocha is simply a latte with chocolate syrup added with the steamed milk.
Like Sasquatch and Yeti, the perfect iced coffee is very elusive. Coffee with ice cubes makes for watery, cold coffee. Begin with strong coffee – stronger than you would normally brew hot. Try bolder tasting, dark roasts. Brew it strong. You can double brew by pouring hot coffee back onto fresh grinds – like pouring the coffee back into the coffee maker and brewing again. Add sugar or spices like cardamom before chilling so they dissolve thoroughly. You can add ice then, but it’s best to chill in the refrigerator for a few hours or even overnight so the ice doesn’t melt so fast.
Once chilled, pour over ice and mix with whole milk or, even better, half and half, to taste. Favorite syrups, like chocolate for an iced mocha, can go in to the mix now. Just be sure to use all of that energy or an afternoon workout.
It’s practically unanimous: every great cup of coffee starts with freshly ground coffee. And when I say fresh, I mean grinding your beans just moments before brewing. Too much trouble, you say? Nonsense! Poppycock! Where shall we begin?
We’ll start with the two basic types of grinders and the notable variations within.
• Blade Grinders
That high-speed whir heard round the world each morning is a blade grinder. These are the cheapest grinders for general-purpose coffee making. They come with perky names like Krups or Braun. You probably have one. You shouldn’t. Perhaps you should relegate it to grinding Grandpa’s gruel. They can be very handy but they are not always precise and I do not recommend them. They horribly hack and slice your beans, leaving an uneven grind with course and fine particles in the same batch. The motors run hot; grinding too long can scorch the coffee.
• Burr Grinders
For a step up in precision, now we’re moving in the right direction, tally-ho! Burr grinders are the answer to a more perfect union of bean and grind. Disk (a.k.a. plate) and conical burr grinders are your basic choices. Flat disk grinders use two spinning disks to smash the coffee into precise uniform grinds. Precision is good for home use; you can even get a truly fine espresso grind. But, alas, they can also run hot and, if not careful, can scorch the beans.
• Conical Burr Grinders
These are a bit more expensive, but are the choice of both coffee professionals and enthusiasts alike and well worth the price. These are the workhorses. Precision grinds, even for Turkish coffee, and a slow, cool motor.
• Hand Grinders
If you’re both counting pennies and are also in need of a way to work out your flabby upper arms, perhaps you could try a hand grinder. They work on the same principle, except your arm substitutes for an electric motor. Watch those biceps bulge! The trouble here is that it takes an awful lot of effort to get even a small brew under way and in that time you could be drinking coffee.
The Various Grinds:
This type of grind leaves the largest granules of coffee and is preferred for French Presses (a.k.a. plungers) or the percolator method of brewing.
Medium grinds have a consistency of granulated sugar and are primarily recommended for vacuum and certain types of drip coffee makers. Because of its versatile size, it can also be used for other brewing methods, but not espresso.
Also known as an espresso grind, this is a grind with a powdery/mealy consistency used in espresso makers and Neapolitan flip-drips though electric drip and filter brews can use it as well.
Like fine flour, this extremely fine grind is the province of Turkish coffee and usually needs to be ground in a special grinder.
If the French are known for refinement and elegance, than the French Press is positively emblematic! In fact, it’s a personal favorite. Few methods of brewing coffee allow such precise control of the process. So let’s press on, shall we?
You’ll need your French Press, hot water and have course, coarse ground coffee.
1. Heat the water by whatever means necessary, a lighting bolt comes to mind… A whistling kettle actually is my personal favorite. Use only the purest water, free of chlorine and hard minerals, so that nothing gets in the way of the coffee flavor. Distilled water is a no-no: it can leave your coffee flat.
2. We’ll assume you’ve ground your coffee to perfection – a somewhat coarse grind is best for the press. It should look like coarse sand with fine chunks… So now it’s time to measure or weigh the coffee for the most accuracy and place in the press. Remove the plunger from the carafe and set it aside. Carafes vary in size, but the measure is the same: about 2 round tablespoons per 8 oz of water. More precise: 7 grams per cup.
Or for a 20 oz French Press use 2 oz or 50 grams of coffee. Which is approximately 1 oz per 10 oz of water.
3. When your water boils – or whistles – let it rest a moment to cool. The best brewing temperatures are between 201-205 degrees. Pour the water SLOWLY into the carafe and let it sit over the ground coffee. Not too full! You still need room for the plunger.
4. Notice the foaming action of the coffee and water, known as “blooming” or, for the more technically minded, “off-gassing.” Stir with a spoon to rid the foam.
5. Place the plunger/lid on top of the carafe to help keep in the heat and wait 4 minutes. Oh, the agony of waiting!
6. At four minutes… take the plunge! SLOWLY press the plunger to the bottom of the carafe and leave it there. Don’t be a fool and retract the plunger.
7. Pour yourself and your friends – if they’re near – a cup of delicious coffee. Put a lovely record on your stereophonic device, exhale and ENJOY! Wait, one more thing–
8. I recommend decanting the coffee into a thermos or heat saving pitcher of some kind as even the grounds at the bottom of your French Press will continue to brew the rest of the coffee and-gasp! – over-brew it.
Automatic Coffee Makers
This is by far the most popular means to make coffee in America. The choices for machines in this category are enormous! And while these machines can do everything from keeping time, turning on automatically to fetching your e-mail – oh, I wish! – only a very few offer the kind of precision needed for a perfect, tasteful cup of coffee. Since the process of making coffee varies from machine to machine, here are a few dreadfully important guidelines to follow.
• La Machine
Machines that heat the water to between 195 and 205 degrees – and can do it in less than 6 minutes – are ideal. If you have something lesser, it’s not a total disaster, but it will be something to ask Santa about come the holidays.
• Clean Water
This can’t be stressed enough– use clean, filtered water, but not necessarily pure water, such as distilled or ionized water. Coffee flavor is best if there are some minerals to bind with. If the water is too hard, it affects not only flavor but also encrusts the machine’s heating elements. The words coffee and crust are not pleasant bedfellows.
• Measure Up
I detest measuring the water to the four-cup mark on a strange pot and only getting one 1 ½ cups of brewed coffee! A cruel joke, indeed. Every machine is different, so you may have to test just what THEY mean when THEY say “a cup” or “a scoop.”
• Filter Pros and Cons
Paper filters are the least expensive kind, but can also filter out the best flavors found in thecoffee by trapping the oil. Cheap papers can make your coffee taste like, err, paper. Wetting the paper first can cure the latter by rinsing away any residuals from the manufacturing process. Cloth filters need a lot of care, they must be thoroughly washed before each brew, but many consider them a very green alternative. Stainless steel or gold-plated filters provide a more costly but imminently reusable alternative and only need to be washed and scrubbed with water. The quality of the cup is good, but some of the finer grounds can get through – so use a medium-coarse grind.
• Carafe It
After brewing, it’s best to empty the pot into a thermos or insulated carafe. Coffee machines are notorious for overheating the finished coffee even while set to “warm” and ruining a perfectly good pot. Sinful.
• Clean Up
Periodic cleaning of your machine to free it of rancid coffee oils and mineral build-up in the heating elements is essential for making the best possible cup every time. Whistle while you scrub-a-dub.
This is an easy and effective way to brew outstanding coffee with precision and employs the most basic rules of coffee temperature and time. Some say it’s he best! There’s very little to it, really, so let’s get to it.
1. As always, use coffee ground only moments before preparation. For this method, coarse to medium fine is best.
2. Place your brewing cone, either plastic or ceramic, over your cup or a storage vessel.
3. Place your preferred filter type, either paper, cloth or metal/synthetic mesh.
4. Measure coffee and place it in the filter bed. As a rule of thumb, about 2 tablespoons for a cup or 7 grams per six ounces of water. Level the coffee in the filter.
5. Heat water to boil and then let cool for a moment, so it settles to between 195-205 degrees. You can start the water boiling first and cover the other steps so the water is ready when you are to pour.
6. Pour a small amount of hot water over the grounds first. Let it soak and allow any foam to dissipate. Then—
7. Pour all of the water on the grounds being sure to get them all thoroughly soaked. Your brew will drip through to the bottom then down into your vessel.
Remove the brewing cone, stir with a spoon and enjoy a wonderful cup.
The Moka Pot
This is a fun way to make an inexpensive, deliciously mild espresso or strong coffee. In fact, it’s rather quaint and a sure way to impress company or a love interest with the appearance of a rarified skill.
A “moka” pot has two chambers. Water goes into the bottom chamber with the finely ground coffee suspended in metal basket above. Screw the bottom chamber together with the top chamber and place the entire pot over medium heat.
As the water boils, steam pressure forces the water through the coffee above it, into a narrow tube, and eventually collects in the upper chamber. Remove the entire assembly from the heat and allow the coffee to settle. Serve immediately. Great straight and strong or as a café con leche with hot milk. Impressed?
The art and science of a good shot of espresso could fill volumes, so we’ll only delve into a few basic principles and in no particular order. Life is too short and I would rather be drinking espresso than lecturing on it. On with the lecture…
Espresso is not a coffee roast per se, but there are certainly roasts that make a better, bolder shot. The best espresso comes from a blend of Arabica beans that balance dark roasted flavors with sweeter, milder roasts.
More than any other brewing method, espresso demands a very fine, consistent grind some say is close to a powder. Those small hand grinders will not do when making the perfect espresso, you’ll need an adjustable Burr grinder.
Keep your machinery clean. That grinder, the steaming nozzle, et al.
The correct “dose” of espresso grinds for a single shot is 6-8 grams per cup. Double for a double shot, naturally.
Tamp or pack the grinds into a puck with moderate, consistent pressure. Turn the tamper to “polish” the puck.
Extraction time is between 20 and 25 seconds for either single or double shots. Be consistent.
Finished espresso is thick and creamy, with a foamy, orange-brown crema on top.