So, what’s “strong” coffee?

So what do I mean by STRONG (see last post)? It is, after all, a relative term. Here is how I brew coffee:

1)   I use freshly boiled water that is either filterer or bottled (the important thing is getting the chlorine out).

2)   I use a large paper filter (the reason for that will have to wait) so I need a large plastic or metal filter holder. I like the flat-bottomed filter holders that are often part of commercial coffee makers. They are black with a handle on them and sit nicely on top of many 32 ounce insulated “airpots.”

3)   You WILL need a 32 ounce insulated airpot — these are generally available in the small housewares section of Target and K-Mart and other such places. They are basically pitchers for hot beverages and have, ideally, glass-lined insulated chambers inside…the all stainless steel versions work well (and don’t break!) but they don’t seem to keep even the first cup of coffee as hot as the glass-lined versions.  Pick an airpot that is designed so that the filter holder/brew-basket thingee you select can sit securely on top of it while you’re brewing your coffee.

4)   The paper filters for these flat-bottomed brew baskets are harder to find for than regular coffee filters (such as Melitta’s and the generic versions thereof) so you may want to just stop right here (if not completely) and get a Melitta filter cone (size #6) and some size number six filters.  IDEALLY, to take a step further  (and, at this point, to turn back might well be as tedious as going o’er, ne c’est pas?) I recommend the extra-large institutional filters that fit in brew baskets that are the next size up from the ones that are supposed to go in these “regular” flat bottomed brew baskets…but that is a project you will, for the time being have to undertake by yourself. (The larger filters allow more room to pour and stir without having grounds surf over the edge of the smaller sized filters, thereby leaking into the brew and murking it up entirely…more on this later as well.)

5)   Set the filter in the cone, of whatever combination you end up with and rinse some hot tap water through the filter and cone into the airport to warm everything up and then, right before putting the freshly ground coffee (see below) into the filter cone, pour some freshly boiled filtered or bottled water through the filter and cone into the airpot to rinse out the tap water — eight ounces or so is fine.

6)   Use about four ounces of freshly roasted coffee beans.

7)    Grind the beans coarsely, to the consistency of very gravelly sand or even sandy gravel. A small (and inexpensive) rotary grinder is fine. I have found that attempting to shake it while grinding produces a more even grind but basically just grind until you can’t hear any large chunks of beans rattling around in the grinder any more…you might still end up with some finely pulverized grounds, which is annoying but acceptable. Put the four ounces of ground coffee in the paper-filter-lined filter cone.

8)   Before you start grinding the coffee add some fresh water to your kettle (remember, you used eight ounces to rinse and further warm the filter and pot?) and set your water back to boil. Electric kettles that automatically turn themselves off are great…but boiling water in a kettle on the stove works well too. The key is to let the water sit a couple of minutes to cool down to between 195-205°F before you start brewing. Kettles are better than saucepans because the water can cool down TOO much during the course of brewing if the water is not in an enclosed kettle.

9)   NOW, pour the thirty-two ounces of just boiled water slowly over the grounds, while stirring them with a large soup spoon (big enough to gently agitate and circulate the grounds around without having to splash the spoon around and make a mess.. The brewing process should take no more than six minutes but I try to ensure that it finishes in four to five minutes.

10)                  This strength of the resulting brew here is about twice that recommended during the 1950’s that was (and by many lights still is) more-or-less considered the “gold standard” by the specialty coffee industry and was originally developed by an organization based in New York called the Pan-American Coffee Bureau and was chartered to promote coffee consumption in the U.S. (I am not sure if they were active in Canada as well.)  The four to six minute range originates from the same source. These standards were developed by surveying a few thousand coffee drinkers to determine how this group, on average, liked to drink their coffee. Since then various market forces have worked diligently to dilute these standards and, ineluctably, the coffee you drink. (Obviously, there is more to be said about this…)

MY method makes a very strong cup of thick tasting and feeling coffee…opaque, even as it is poured…and stays fresh for only five to ten minutes max.

People in the specialty coffee business assume that this method, however incredibly ill-advised to begin with, is only vaguely plausible for brewing very dark-roasted coffees (if dark-roasted coffee can be countenanced at all, to begin with…) but I find it can also bring out the best in many light roasted coffees as well. Many members of the specialty coffee industry seem to have adopted a really annoying (to me, obviously, but you, dear reader should be annoyed as well, if only to keep this curmudgeon company) preciousness when it comes to coffee preparation in general and, specifically with regard to pour-over brewing, the apotheosis of which is exemplified by the use of the Hario (there are other brands) filter, cone, pot and kettle. You are instructed to pour slowly and continually from the slender spigot into the grounds in a spiral (or some other arcane) pattern and to never stir the grounds (although, a few coffee folks are now starting to stir with this method). The brew produced, to my taste, is thin and while intellectually consistent (Freud had a term for it, too), is not sensually satisfying. To devotees of this method, my way is a rampant perversion of the pour-over method —a travesty, plain and simple. The resulting brew (mine, that is) is judged to be sludgy and so strong as to make it impossible to discern any of the subtle notes that a coffee may have to offer. I find the opposite to be the case: if a coffee is well processed, VERY well-processed, it will show beautifully at a strong concentration, bathing your palate in a cascade of flavors that will unfold in a procession of flavors as you savor each sip. During the several minutes it takes for the coffee to cool down a very good coffee will change in character but not for the worse…it will just change and different flavor components will fade as others assert….but, again, with a deliciousness and revelation that I don’t experience at weaker concentrations.

All this is not to say that I cannot appreciate a cup of very good but weakly made coffee. The cupping process, after all, is conducted at a concentration that is about 75% of what the now-considered-robust standard established by the Panamerican Coffee Bureau and less than half the strength I prefer. A good coffee  will taste nice at that strength…but first thing in the morning, when I know I’ve got a really good coffee to drink, regardless of whether it is a lightly roasted high-altitude Guatemalan or a carefully selected naturally processed and fully roasted Brazil, I’m  not looking for “nice,” I’m looking for an intense, memorable, complex experience, one I will be compelled to consider with every sip and then remember throughout the day.

To each his own…




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