You may have already recognized my name as writer of The Cider Series in which I brewed my own hard lemonade, hard apple cider and hard cherry cider. As you can probably tell, I like to experiment, and I take pride in homemade things in general. If you’re like me, or even if you aren’t but you want to live a more delicious and inexpensive life, let me now help you homemake the best coffee and/or espresso you possibly can. I’ve already covered brewing cider, but I’ve been dabbling in the art of brewing coffee for years, and it’s time I divulge everything I know. After all, being on the quarter system, we’re always either taking midterms or finals, so you should know how to treat yourself when the going gets tough. There’s no therapy quite like a cup of joe, and, as The Beatles famously sang, “Happiness is a warm mug.” Well … those are the lyrics I chime in with anyhow.
What beans should I buy?
I love a good deal more than anyone, so it’s very tempting to hit up Costco for a giant discount bag of Peete’s (my brand of choice). HOWEVER, don’t. Especially if you don’t have a coffee grinder at home and super especially if you’re not sharing with your household of six. Coffee is an aromatic delight, and it begins to lose its freshness and flavor as soon as you open up the bag. Buy in small amounts, especially if you buy pre-ground, but we’ll get to ground vs. whole bean and storage tips later.
For the richest, most flavorful and complex coffee, you should buy it roasted fresh. Handlebar Coffee Roasters and Santa Barbara Roasting Company are two local establishments that proudly toast their beans in-house. Handlebar boasts a fair selection of coffees as well as an espresso blend roasted every Monday and Thursday. Santa Barbara Roasting Company has an even more diverse and vast pantry and runs just a bit cheaper. It’s worth a day downtown sipping from a selection to choose a bag for yourself.
The “level” of roast affects a number of the coffee’s qualities including caffeine content, flavor, etc. For example, a light roast will be more acidic and have you jumping off the walls while a dark roast holds a supple smokiness at the price of less caffeine. If you like flavored coffee, do not buy flavored beans. This is often a way to sell off low-quality crops. Instead, go for a regular roast of your choosing and invest in a syrup to add to your hot cuppa.
Last tip for buying the freshest: Look for valve-sealed bags as opposed to vacuum. After the beans are roasted, they continue to release carbon dioxide for days. Valves allow the beans to be packaged right away while still letting the gas escape. Vacuum sealing requires that the beans sit out until all the carbon dioxide is released so it doesn’t build up inside the bag.
Should I buy ground or whole beans?
When you have the option, buy whole bean coffee. You can usually grind it in-store (with varying coarseness according to the brewing mechanism you plan on using) or, even better, you can grind it fresh before each cup at home. As mentioned before, as soon as you open a bag of coffee, it starts losing freshness and flavor, and this process is sped up by grinding your beans prematurely.
I grind in-store because I haven’t the time, energy or money to do it constantly at home. Using a public grinder means oils from previous customer’s beans mingle with yours, altering the flavor slightly and, of course, it means your beans lose flavor faster. If you want the best possible brew time and time again, invest in a burr grinder. This actually grinds the coffee instead of chopping it with a blade, thus providing more uniformly ground sizes that will be neither be too chunky to extract flavor nor too powdery to clog up your machine. For around $16 on Amazon, you can get a hand grinder with adjustable coarseness options. Of course, being the diehard Alton Brown fan that I am, I am happy to say this is not a klunky unitasker. This is a lightweight and small mechanism that can also be used as a spice grinder if you’re into that fresh life.
Where should I store my beans/grounds? And how long will they keep?
I was raised to believe that the freezer will keep coffee the freshest. I lived this lie for years. Sure, if your beans are still factory sealed they’ll keep longer in the icebox (we’re talkin’ years), but moisture is the ultimate enemy, and your freezer is full of – dun dun dunnnn – frozen moisture. Also, coffee is porous. This means companies can cash out on this trait by creating flavors like hazelnut and vanilla, but it also means your coffee will absorb the flavor of the shrimp sitting in the back of your freezer. Likewise, never put coffee in the fridge.
It’s best to keep your coffee in an airtight, opaque container in a cool place so as to prevent oxidation on the outside of the bean and other damage to its precious flavor. I use an old hinge-sealing coffee locker I saved from my parents’ trash can. (It was fully functional, they just thought it was ugly. Meanwhile, I’m on a college budget, and beggars can’t be choosers.) Stored properly, your coffee should stay at optimum freshness for two weeks, so buy in small batches and/or share with your housemates.
Stay Tuned For More Information from the bean queen in Upcoming issues