Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Recipes for REAL men, Volume 17 - REAL Coffee

Ahhh coffee, one of the last legal addictions. I fully and freely admit I am a coffee junky. Oh I've gone for months at a time without (or without any other source of concentrated caffeine), but Why would you if you didn't have to?

I TRULY love my coffee. I drink at least a pint a day, and on a heavy day I'll down two full pots, or about 1 gallon.

Of course that's a lot "better" than I used to be. From the time I started drinking coffee regularly, at about 13 (I got my own Gevalia subscription that year), til I was about 21 or so, I would have as much as 1 pot of coffee per hour when I was awake. Considering I would sometimes stay awake for three days at a time... well that's some serious coffee consumption.

Oh and no, it wasn't the coffee keeping me up. I've had chronic insomnia since I was five, with or without caffeine, so why not be more alert and enjoy it eh? In fact, the caffeine actually HELPED me sleep; because when I came down, it was easier for me to sleep than if I'd just sat there without any coffee at all.



For each mug (8oz) of coffee you need
9 ounces of filtered, but not distilled water (distilled water tastes odd, because of lack of minerals)
3 tablespoons of fresh, medium to medium fine ground, medium roast, arabica coffee (whatever your preferred blend).
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon (the real thing, not cashia, if you have it - optional)
1 Tablespoon heavy cream (optional)
1 Tablespoon raw sugar (optional)


This is the really important part. No matter how good your coffee beans are, no mater how precise your proportions are, it's the grinding and brewing that makes the difference.

First step, pick out a good grinder. Your choice of grinder is really dependent on what type of coffee you want to make, and how you want to make it. Espresso and auto drip machines respond best to burr grinders; which also heat up the coffee less in the grinding process. The blade style grinder produces unsatisfactory results for everything but the absolute coarsest grinds (cowboy grind), and the absolute finest grinds (Turkish); and should only be used with vacuum pots, the heaviest paper filters used for gravity pots and the like; or if you intend to leave the grounds in the coffee you are drinking (as in Turkish and Cuban).

Now, how much to grind? Well what I recommend is about 3 tablespoons of grounds per 8 oz mug (I usually drink mine in 16 oz or 24 oz mugs actually). Depending on what grind you use, this usually works out to about 1.5 to 2 tablespoons of beans per tablespoon of grounds, with some leftovers.

I have a very automatic nice burr grinder. You set the number of cups you want, and set the grind; and it automatically grinds what it thinks is the right amount of coffee for that setting. It's calibrated for right around 2 tblsp per "cup"; and I find if set it to grind to 12 cups, medium fine; I have exactly the right amount of grounds for 8 mugs (or rather for 4 of my mugs).

Oh, and completely ignore the markings on your coffee pot (or the side of the machine), if it's an American home machine. Most American coffee machines are calibrated for six ounce "cups", which is ridiculous. The only people who drink their coffee six ounces at a time are little old ladies, refugees at red cross aid stations, and people with names like Hercule, and Antonio.

You want to add about 8.5 to 9oz of water for every 8oz mug of black coffee you plan on serving; because the grounds will retain some water, and some water will evaporate as steam. Basically, for my 12 "cup" pot, if I fill it to the maximum capacity, I get 4 of my 16oz mugs worth (with cream and sugar), plus a little left over as the dregs; and that's pretty much ideal.

Speaking of coffee machine silliness, when brewing coffee, you want to heat your water above 195, but not above 205 degrees Fahrenheit. Water at the boiling point turns coffee unpleasantly bitter and burned tasting.

In the ideal world, brewing will take 4 minutes at 200 degrees Fahrenheit.

What does that have to do with machines?

Well, some good quality machines will brew at the right temperature, and take the right amount of time, but most don't. If a coffee machine has a single heating coil for the warming plate, and the siphon; you can almost guarantee that it will either burn your coffee in the brew, burn it on the warming plate, or send it on a temperature rollercoaster ride.

The $30 and under machines tend to overheat everything, flashing the water to steam with a single overheated element, which could damn near boil the pot on the warming plate. The over $30 but under $150 consumer machines don't get the water hot enough, and cycle the temperature on and off a lot, which is almost as bad.

If you want good coffee from an electric machine , spend the $200 and get a good quality machine (most often from a specialty company like Sweet Marias), like a Technivorm, or a commercial Bunn (which make great coffee if you shut the warming plate off entirely and just brew with the water heater - but you have to get the commercial machines with the 1000+ watt heater. The high end home machines only have an 800 watt heater, and don't get hot enough).

For a cheaper, better alternative to a low cost drip machine, get a gravity pot (like a Chemex), a gravity filter cone and carafe, or a vacuum pot. French presses also work, but I don't like the results unless you pour the coffee into a carafe immediately after the steeping time is done (I love French press coffee if you brew it absolutely perfectly). Most French press users leave the coffee in the press too long, and that makes for bitter, burned tasting coffee, as the water extracts the roasting artifacts after its been in the grounds for more than about 5 minutes.

Load the filter loosely. I prefer Swiss gold foil filters, but good paper works fine too. If you have a large basket style filter, instead of a thick cone filter, use two filters.

Oh, I should note here, if you are using a machine, or a gravity filter, don't make less than two mugs at a time; or the water won't stay in the grounds long enough. On the other side, don't make more than 8 mugs at a time, or the water will stay in it too long.

If you must make 1 cup at a time, don't get one of those silly single cup "brew pod" machines; they're horrible. The coffee is undrinkable. The best solution is either a single cup gravity filter cone (they cost about $5 and take normal sized disposable paper filters); or something called the "aeropress", which actually presses out 1 single cup of coffee at relatively high (but not espresso high) pressure. It makes a damn good cup of coffee, and I've found it to be the best solution while traveling or camping.

Back to the brew...

Once loaded, sprinkle the salt and cinnamon evenly over the top of the grounds, then brew.

Why Salt and Cinnamon? Well, I just like cinnamon, but there is a good reason for using it; it restores some of the flavor balance to filtered water, and it ups the aroma factor of the coffee. Remember, you aren't trying to flavor the coffee with cinnamon here, just add a little extra accent. The same could also be done with nutmeg, allspice, or ground hazelnut.

But Salt?

Yes, salt. The salt changes the mineral and acid balance of the water, allows it to extract more flavor out of the coffee, sharpens your tastebuds, and helps keep the bitter oils in emulsion with the water.

Trust me, a little salt in your grounds can make most any coffee better. You want it to look like a light snow over dark ground. Too much salt, and you'll.. you know puke and stuff; its just a couple pinches for a whole pot.

Finally, we brew. For best results, on a "stop and pour" type machine, start the brewing process with no pot under the brew basket. Let the basket fill with hot water, for about a minute or so to let the grounds saturate evenly; THEN add the pot under the basket and let the brew finish. Most gravity pots and filters are calibrated so that if you fill the filter completely with water, and then stir stir a bit, they will brew for the proper amount of time.

If you do have a "stop and pour" machine, DO NOT STOP THE BREWING PROCESS TO POUR A CUP. You have to wait until ALL the water has brewed through, then stir the pot up a bit; or the flavors will be unbalanced from cup to cup. You can wait a grand total of 3 minutes.

For best results pour immediately into a vacuum carafe or air pot; to prevent scalding, loss of flavor, and to prevent oily resins from forming on the top of the coffee. Absolutely, leave the coffee on the heat no longer than 15 minutes; or it WILL noticeably oxidize and taste stale or burned.

Now, how to serve.

Personally, I think the only proper vessel for coffee, unless you need to keep it warm a long time, is a large, heavy, china mug; and I prefer loop handled. I personally like the 8 and 16oz sizes for a regular mug, because by the time I finish anything larger, the coffee has cooled too much to properly enjoy it. Conversely, if I DO need to keep my coffee warm longer, I prefer a 24oz thermal mug; because the extra thermal mass helps keep the coffee warmer longer.

Sometimes (if I can get the best quality beans, and brew them in a good machine or filter) I take it black, but most often I take 1 tblsp of cream, and 1 of sugar, per 8 oz (as I said, I tend to drink 16 or 24oz at a time). Any more than that, and you aren't drinking coffee, you're having a coffee flavored dessert.

As to flavorings and the like... well, coffee purists will tell you hell no; but I don't see anything wrong with having a flavored coffe if you feel like it. I rather enjoy hazlenut, mocha, vanilla, and carmel flavors with my coffee from time to time.

One thing to absolutely avoid though, are artificial creamers and sweetners. Coffee is just plain nasty with saccharine of aspartame; and the only time I use coffeemate or other "creamer" is when the coffee is horrible, but I need the caffeine. You are drinking corn starch and soy filler, and you can definitely taste it.

If you absolutely can't have sugar, but want your coffee sweet; I recommend Splenda (sucralose). It's an inverted sugar; which means it is actually made from sugar (sucrose specifically), and tastes sweet, but your body can't convert it into calories (though there are some calories in some preparations of the stuff from fillers and bulkers). If you are one of those nutjobs that thinks artificial sweeteners are evil plots by corporations to control our minds or give us all cancer so they can sell us drugs that don't work... well first of all what the hell are you doing reading my site... but anyway use Xylitol instead. It actually has calories, but not many.

Other than for drinking, coffee made this way makes for great infusions and reductions; say in a coffee cake, or a barbeque sauce for example.

And be sure to check out:

Recipes for REAL Men, Volume 17 - REAL Coffee
Recipes for REAL Men, Volume 15 - DTG (Damn That's Good) dip
Recipes for REAL Women, Volume 15 - More Chocolate Than Cookie
Recipes for REAL Women, Volume 14 - Millions of Peaches
Recipes for REAL Women, Volume 13 - Mels 10,000 Calorie Butter Cookies
Recipes for REAL Men, Volume 12 - Lard Ass Wings
Recipes for REAL Men, Volume 11 - Bacon Double Macaroni and Cheese
Recipes for REAL Men, Volume 10 - It's the meat stupid
Recipes for REAL Men, Volume 9 - Labor Day Potatos
Recipes for REAL men, Volume 8 - It's a pork fat thing
Recipes for REAL men, Volume 7 - It may not be Kosher...
Recipes for REAL men, Volume 6 - Andouille Guiness Chili
Recipes for REAL men, Volume 5 - Eazza the Ultimate Pizza
Recipes for REAL men, Volume 4 - Two Pound Meat Sauce
Recipes for REAL men, Volume 3 - Highbrow Hash
Recipes for REAL men, Volume 2 - MuscleCarbonara
Recipes for REAL men, Volume 1 - More Beef than Stew