How to make coffee that will impress the hell out of your guests, part 3 of 3: Making the magic happen


by Jay Gabler | 5/5/09

Part three of a three-part series. Read parts one and two.

Ready, set, go! You’ve got your fresh beans and your fresh equipment, and you’re set to impress.

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First things first: get the water boiling. Dump out that kettleful that’s been sitting there since yesterday and start with a fresh pot. Tap water is fine, though there are those who will point out that over 99% of coffee is water and will recommend that you get a Brita pitcher or a standing cooler. I say sure, go for it…but you’re not going to radically transform the quality of your coffee by calling the Culligan Man.

Next: the grind. The grinder you’re likely to have at hand is one of the little spinning-blade guys, which will do you good if you’re careful about how long you grind the beans for. The longer you grind, the finder the grind you end up with—and this really does matter, to the second. I recommend about twelve seconds for drip or vacuum-pot brewing, and eight seconds for French press brewing. Burr grinders, which theoretically grind coffee more consistently, are theoretically better—but at entry-level prices I’ve seen some real lemons. If you get a line on a good burr grinder, awesome; otherwise, I think a blade grinder is fine. Both options are infinitely better than having your coffee pre-ground (and, thus, pre-staled).

In all cases, I use about three generously rounded standard scoops (roughly five generously rounded tablespoons) for each mug of coffee I intend to fill. Note that making coffee stronger versus weaker is a function of the amount of coffee you use for each unit of water, not a function of how long you take to brew the coffee. As previously mentioned, taking extra-long to brew coffee makes it taste nastier while making it no more highly caffeinated. If in doubt, err on the side of making your coffee too strong; you can always water it down after brewing, making it less strong without changing its taste.

And now: the magic.

Manual drip: Insert a paper filter in the plastic cone and run some water through it. (The water-soaking step is not essential, but it’s easy to do while you’re grinding the coffee, so why not?) Dump the grounds in the filter and prop the cone on your mug or carafe. Let your water come just off the boil and soak the grounds thoroughly. When the water level subsides, pour again. Repeat until you’ve dripped as much coffee as you want…and you’re done! If you’ve never used this method before, it may seem to go shockingly quickly, but taste the finished product. I think you will find that it compares quite favorably with that automatic-drip coffee that your neighbors are waiting ten minutes for.

French press: Dump the grounds in the pot and add the appropriate amount of just-off-the-boil water. Add the lid and watch the time! I recommend letting the coffee brew for three and a half minutes; significantly more or less, and it’s not going to taste so great. When the brewing is completed, depress the filter and pour.

Those are the basics, for the two most basic methods of making coffee. If you’re using another method, just be sure to pay attention to the fineness of the grind and the length of brew time and you’ll be, as Bob Dylan says, all good.

(Last but definitely not least, be sure to clean your equipment properly! French presses should be completely disassembled—unscrew the filter—and washed thoroughly to purge all the skanky oils.)

Photo by Christian Kadluba (Creative Commons).

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