|Coffee and Espresso > In-Depth Coffee Information|
This is our guide to Coffee: about where it's grown; how we proceed to make it in different parts of the world and in the US; and how we've actually grown into wanting better quality and better machines. So I'll start with what coffee is: basically it's grown on a plant; it's a seed from the plant and it's actually harvested from the cherry when it's ripe. It grows in a thin belt around the equator in the sub-tropical zones between the tropics of Capricorn and Cancer.
In-Depth Coffee Information
Robusta vs. Arabica Beans
Now there are basically two types of coffee plants, two species. There's the Arabica and the Robusta. The Robusta grows at lower elevations, quite quickly and lushly, and because of this it actually doesn't have a ton of time to develop into a real high quality coffee that has lots of character or dimension, but it does actually gather up quite a bit of caffeine. So it's actually lower quality than what we would want to drink and much higher in caffeine.
The Arabica bean actually grows higher in the mountains and because of this there is less land mass to grow it. This means it’s going to cost quite a bit more, but it's worth it because you get a much better flavor profile, feel on the tounge, and coffee taste. There’s also less caffeine.
Kitchen Kapers carries only the Arabica beans. 100%, including our flavored coffees, which makes a big difference. A lot of lower-end flavored coffees from different manufacturers are a mix of Arabica and Robusta, and then flavored with heavier flavorings. We use higher quality flavors and just Arabica beans. And the higher quality does not have any sugar or any calories- it's just the essence of flavor, like our number one seller, it's flavored with cinnamon and hazelnut, and I could swear that you can taste a hint of chocolate.
From the coffee in the parts of the world, you take this bean, you harvest it, and grind it, and brew it in different methods. But basically, the measurement for just about all coffees is about the same. It just depends on how you're making it, but in general, whether it's drip, French press, auto-drip, or even to a degree, percolator, it's basically one tablespoon or seven grams per five ounces of water. Now for espresso, you use the same amount of coffee, meaning seven grams or one tablespoon, to one ounce, possibly two ounces of espresso.
Now, espresso is kind of interesting because the process actually gets out less caffeine than the processes of drip, French press, auto-drip, and percolator. So you only get about 60% of the caffeine that's in the coffee, so it's a misnomer that espresso's got more caffeine in it because it's actually equal to about 3 ounces of any of the other coffees that I just mentioned. So, how many ounces do you drink when you drink your convenience store coffee? A 20 ouncer perhaps? That's equivalent to almost seven shots of espresso. Kind of crazy.
Types of coffee making
Manual Drip Coffee Makers
Drip coffee is a basic form of coffee making. It requires a finer grind; finer than auto-drip, that is. You boil water, and pour it over the coffee in a filter and it drips into the pot below. This is not electrical. So basically, it relies on gravity to pull out the flavor from the coffee. Of course all the water that you're pouring into is not going to fit in the filter system all at once so you're going to do it multiple times. So you're going to actually allow the coffee to steep. So you get a clean and full-bodied flavor. Some of the better representatives of this are the Chemex Coffee Maker and the Clever Coffee Dripper.
French Press Coffee Makers
Now, a French Press is similar to the manual drip coffee makers. The key differences are that you grind the coffee much coarser, and instead of pouring the water over the grounds, the grounds are actually immersed in the water. You let the coffee infuse in the press pot for 3 to 5 minutes, so it gives you a very intense, rich cup of coffee.; and slightly muddy since the grinds are actually pushed to the bottom when it's complete, so you might get a little muddiness at the end, but that adds a little more character to the coffee as well
Most French Coffee Presses are made of glass, and glass transmits heat very well, so you should make coffee in these vessels that you intend to drink within 10 minutes, otherwise it will cool down too quickly.
There are some thermal French Presses available, and these keep your coffee hot for a good 2 to 4 hours depending on how much you open the lid. Good representatives of these are the double-wall stainless steel Bodum French Presses.
If you’re new to French Coffee Presses, be sure to check out our French Press Instructions.
Auto-Drip Coffee Makers
This is the modern, electric coffeemaker that everyone’s familiar with. It’s an electrified version of the manual drip, but with this you use a more coarse grind than you would with the drip and the water is actually not as hot. You use water that's anywhere between 190 degrees and 205 degrees, although temperatures nearer 205 degrees are actually going to garner more flavor out of the coffee. Now, with the auto drip, you're not actually pouring yourself as you would with manual coffee makers, or watching the infusion as you would with a French press; it's actually through the electronics of the machine. The water that's dispensed through the coffee grounds is timed, and it's not all at once and continuous; it goes in stages so it allows for infusion time, and then more water will come through and push it through to the bottom so it allows you to get a good amount of coffee flavor. Some coffee makers have what they call an "aroma" setting. This allows for a little longer infusion time and therefore you would get a stronger, more full-bodied coffee. Now, some people don't like that strength but some people do, so that's a good feature for them.
Now, some of the better features you want to look for in an auto-drip maker is a shower head, meaning where the water comes out. Water is dispensed over the grounds through the multiple holes in the shape of a showerhead. It will cover all of the grounds immediately and allow the grinds to be evenly brewed. Temperature is also very important, so if you find a coffee maker like a Capresso that brews coffee at the best brewing tempurature (200 to 205 degrees), you're going to get more flavor.
Now, Cuisinart Coffee Makers also brew at a higher temperature. And then you have the Technivorm MoccaMaster that actually brews the water to boiling, and if it doesn't brew to boiling then it actually does not work. So you're guaranteeing with this machine that the water's going to be at the perfect coffee brewing temperature. Once the water boils up and over, it drips into the thermal carafe. The system is very simple, but very technical. It's actually the only one recognized by the American Coffee Association; they recommend this machine because it makes a great cup of coffee and brings the best out of the beans.
Now, the average length of time to brew for the methods we’ve talked about so far: the manual drip is about 3 to 5 minutes; the French press is about 3-5 minutes; the auto-drip for a full pot is going to be about 8 minutes. That's for a 10 or 12 cup - it's pretty much about the same.
Best Coffee Maker Brands for home brewers that brew coffee at the best temperature, ensuring a great cup of coffee.
Grind & Brew Coffee Makers
There are coffee makers that also employ a grinder. The "grind-and-brews," as they're called, are very important because coffee does age rather quickly once it's ground, and the finer the grind, the more quickly it loses its flavor, because the oils will evaporate, and the coffee grounds will absorb outside flavors. It's a common misnomer that you should put your coffee in the freezer or the refrigerator for freshness, well, that's not necessarily true because in the freezer, the oils in the bean get broken down and most freezers are frost-free now, and will suck some of the life out of the coffee and dry it. So that will affect how it's ground. Also, in the refrigerator you're going to get a wealth of moisture and you're also getting a wealth of flavors that will enter into the bean and confuse it and destroy it at times, because you really don't want to taste onion coffee, it's not a flavor that I think most people will enjoy.
So, having grounds or having coffee pre-ground, although convenient, isn't the best way to go if you want the maximum flavor from your coffee. If it's ground fresh, you're going to get maybe 10 to 15 percent more flavor from your coffee. You're really going to notice it.
There are two types of grinders. Most of the grind-and-brew coffee makers now made by Capresso, Cuisinart, and Krups, they actually have conical burr grinders, which is a higher grade.
The difference between a blade grinder and the conical burr grinder: A blade grinder actually is a blade that spins around and it chops the coffee. The chopping method actually is similar to using an axe on a piece of wood, and as you bring that axe into the wood, it smashes the wood on either side of the cut, almost burnishing it which makes it less water soluble, so water doesn't penetrate very easily into that. It also, as it chops, by the laws of physics, the small pieces fall to the bottom and larger chunks come to the top, and you're going to get a mismatch of different grinds, so all of the coffee is not going to be brewed evenly. Most people won't notice a difference, or they don't care because they're going to get a decent amount of coffee flavor and better coffee flavor from just the act of grinding just before brewing. So, it's kind of offset by the fact that because of the burnishing effect of the blades, you're getting less solubility in the coffee, and because of the friction developed from the spinning blade's speed, you actually create some kind of frictional heat which actually can change the flavor of the coffee, because it kind of cooks the oils in the bean a little bit, so although it's not the best way of grinding, just the fact that you're grinding prior to brewing coffee is very important.
Now there are two different types of the burr grinders. The first one is the flat burr grinder. The Cuisinart is the one I can think of at the moment. And basically, the beans go between two opposing burrs, they fall between these, and you can adjust with the setting for fine, coarse, whatnot, or espresso if you'd like. You're bringing those burrs closer and closer together, or further apart. And so, the grounds can only come out through the sides of those after they've been ground to a certain fineness, which allows them to escape, if you will. Now, the burr grinder also is great because it doesn't chop the bean, it cracks it like you would a nut, which opens the facets of the coffee bean to be more readily water-absorbent so water penetrates very easily, grabbing out the essence of the bean. And, you're going to get a much more uniform coffee grind, so it's all going to be brewed evenly, and that's basically the important part of this.
Now, the other type of burr grinder is the conical burr grinder, and this is what is used in most coffee houses because it's more precision-driven. And if you're making espresso, either burr grinder will be good but this one will be better if you're more technical and really want to get that perfect grind. Because it's cone shaped, it gradually grinds the bean down to exactly where you want. So it's going to be much better for those people that use it for espresso, but if you're just making auto-drip coffee, or drip coffee, or French press, even percolator, the flat burr grinder, being a little less expensive, would be just as good to use.
Most of these burr grinders allow you, because of this, to use a timer so you can actually program how many cups of coffee you're going to brew and then you can grind that amount of coffee just for that brewing session. And you can't really do that with the blade grinder because you actually kind of have to measure afterwards. But it's even good when you're using the burr grinder, to use a measuring device because there are different types of beans; some are much harder, especially the high-mountain grown and the lighter roasts, they tend to be harder and harder to grind, so they take more time. And then there are darker roasts like French Roast, Viennese, and Italian Roasts; they are actually hollow because they've been roasted so long, so they tend to grind much more quickly, so you can actually, in the same amount of time, you get a lot more coffee ground. And also, with some of those darker roasts, because darker roasts moves the oil to the surface, they become shiny; they actually stick together so sometimes they don't fall from the hopper in the burr grinder into the grinding mechanism. So, even though you have the ability to set it for a certain amount of cups of coffee, it's still good to measure them with the one-tablespoon per cup, or per five-ounce cup that these coffee makers make.
Percolators Ok, so we'll go on to percolators now. There are two types - the stovetop and the electric. Basically these use a much more coarse grind because they are more intensely brewed than any other coffee method, other than espresso that is. The stovetop percolator is most often 8 to 10 cups and it takes about 5 to 7 minutes to brew after it's reached the boiling point. And you use more coffee per cup than you would with any other coffee method. Typically, one and a half scoops or approximately 10 or 11 grams of coffee per cup and that's because the more coarsely ground, it's not going to get the essence of the coffee as well. But because it's being brewed in boiling water for 5 to 7 minutes, it's still going to come out with a very strong tasting and very hot cup of coffee, and there are a lot of customers that come in to our stores looking for the hottest cup of coffee. Now if they want an auto-drip, Capresso or the Technivorm Moccamaster is probably the way to go, but if they're looking for the real hot cup, most of the old timers, they want the percolator because that is almost boiling. It's the hottest cup of coffee you can probably get. It's McDonalds hot.
Then there are electric percolators. They do the same thing, except they can have larger capacities and they usually brew for a longer time. The brewing process takes about one minute per cup, so depending on the size of the electric perc that you get, say a 50-cup would probably take about 50 minutes. And the ones that we carry are between 4 and 8, and then we have the 12-cup by Cuisinart. So these are going to both take about a minute per cup, and you can make less than the full pot. Now, like I said, this is going to be an intense brewing process, but the electric, once it's done, you remove the innards, the stem plus the brew basket, very carefully because it's going to be very hot, 212 degrees, and you remove that so it doesn't taint the coffee flavor, and then replace the lid. And keep the cord plugged in, because basically the electric percolators, they will, once you start the brewing process, they will get to boiling and brew each cup for one minute, and then it's done. It'll shut itself off and turn into a warming stage until you unplug it, so that's important.
Despite the enduring popularity of espresso and espresso-based drinks such as cappuccinos and lattes, many are still less than certain about what makes espresso the drink that it is. Contrary to popular belief, espresso is not any specific type of bean, blend, roast or grind; though these factors are important ones that will affect the flavor and character of any coffee beverage. Instead, espresso is defined by the process of quick, pressurized brewing performed by specialized espresso brewers.
Good espresso is created when water of a certain temperature (think 200°F) is pushed under certain pressure (specifically 9 "bars" of pressure) through a precisely ground, dosed (measured) and firmly packed bed of coffee. There are finer points, but basically that's it. What results is a concentrated coffee with a foamy crema that tastes just like freshly roasted and ground coffee smells. And, fundamentally, there are only three methods for creating the pressure needed to make an espresso. And it's important to remember that, because at first glance there seems to be an ocean of different, complicated and very pricey machines on the market; each trying to win your dollar with impressive-sounding features and esoteric barista-lingo. Making sense of it can be tough. That's why it's a good idea to boil all these options down to the basics. We hope this overview may go a long way in helping you narrow the field of machines that will fit your needs best.
A practical guide for the first-time buyerSteam Brewers
The first type uses steam to create the pressure required. Water is brought to a boil in a sealed tank, creating steam pressure; it's only escape is through a bed of grinds before being led into your cup or a reservoir until the brewing is finished. There are both stand-alone electric and stove-top versions of this design. In the strictest sense, it is fair to say that neither is capable of producing a great cup of espresso. The 1.5 bars of pressure created by steam falls well short of the 9 bars needed for a really good extraction and substantial crema. Also, the 212°F water required to produce steam is hotter than the ideal temperature range and can result in coffee with higher levels of acidity. But these brewers can make a very good and strong cup of coffee, similar to an Americano and suitable for making delicious cafe au lait and iced coffees. And this is easily the most affordable way into home-made espresso. Stove top models in particular, hold an historic (read "sentimental and beloved favorite") lock on sales for this type of steam pressure brewing. Espresso makers like the iconic Bialetti Moka Express have championed home-brewed espresso all over Europe and throughout the world since it's introduction in 1933. Just click the link, you'll recognize it! The Moka Express and similar makers have a bullet-proof design that's easy to use, fast and they come in a variety of sizes. Paired with a decent milk frother, you can go pretty far with a Moka pot for not a lot of money. Meanwhile, the electric steam versions have seen a diminishing presence in the market. Aside from a flurry of specially priced products released by larger manufacturers right around November and December (hmmm...can you guess why?), electric steam espresso machines mainly exist as low cost brewers of varying build quality.
Another type of espresso maker is the mysterious piston-driven, or "Lever" machine. This type has a lever, pulled by the barrista, to pressurize hot water through the coffee grinds by a piston. The expression "pull a shot" originates from the use of this type of machine. They can produce excellent, clean-tasting espresso, but require a level of skill to operate; namely knowing how to properly apply the 9 bars of pressure (that's equal to 130 psi). There are also piston-driven espresso makers that are regulated by a heavy duty spring, the lever merely starts the process. But for the vast majority of home consumers, the venerable and often beautiful lever machine lacks ease of use and costs way too much. In today's market it is relegated to high-end professional use and deep-pocketed barista purists.
Pump Esresso Machines
The last type is the pump-driven espresso maker. They are the most relevant and popular type for both professional and home use and can range in cost from just over $100 and up to many thousands of dollars, particularly for commercial use. These machines use a pump (actually quite similar to a piston-drive mechanism) that is powered by a small motor and can handily produce the 9 bars (and more) of pressure to produce full-flavored extractions with thick, rich crema. Water is heated to precise temperatures by one or more boilers and/or thermoblock or thermocoil heating systems. Often pump-driven machines can deliver steam to heat and froth milk for cappucinos and lattes, although the specific functionality depends on the number of heating systems. These differences along with different levels of overall build quality and features result in a wide variety of models with their own capabilities and a wide range of price points.
Pump-driven espresso makers are typically classified as being semi-automatic, automatic or super automatic. Semi-Automatics require some effort on the part of the operator to grind, measure out and tamp the coffee and control the volume of water. Basically the semi-automatic machine just heats the water and pumps it through. You have the control to tell it when to stop, either by a manual switch or through a programmable function that you have to set up. While many good semi automatic espresso makers, such as the Capresso Stainless Steel Espresso & Cappuccino Machine are more affordable examples of a pump machine, they can also reach quite expensive build qualities and are often preferred by hands-on enthusiasts because they allow the user more control over the process. With semi-automatic and automatic machines, you can use any coffee you like but the size of the grind and way that it is tamped will affect the quality of the shot. Espresso pods that fit standard size portafilters are available for purchase if you prefer not to bother with grinding, dosing and tamping.
Automatic Esresso Machines require less interaction. The operator still has to grind, dose and tamp the coffee, but an internal sensor controls the volume of water and will stop pumping automatically once the correct volume is reached. Automatic machines may also include pre-programmed settings for longer or shorter extractions or the ability to program your own functions. In any case, it will stop the shot automatically. Most automatic machines will include a steam wand to heat and froth milk and can include a whole range of additional features, functions and settings. A very notable and increasingly popular segment of this type are brand-specific automatic pump machines that exclusively use proprietary coffee pods. Good examples of this type include Nespresso and Francis Francis from Illy. The pods are specifically dosed and packed to make a variety of coffees or espresso, one cup at a time. The machines are supremely convenient and produce very good coffees with rich crema at the push of a button. And while they do require that you use the proprietary pods, they save you from needing a grinder, measuring and tamping for every cup and the clean up is as easy as tossing the spent pod. Since these streamlined machines typically aren't made with steam functions, a seperate milk frother will be needed to make cappucinos and lattes.
Finally, Super Automatic Esresso Machines. As you will have guessed, they require the least effort from the user and will automatically measure, grind and tamp the coffee beans, extract the shot and stop when it's done. They usually self clean as well, and require only occassional attention to fill ingredients or empty spent grounds. Models range from compact designs like the Krups Falcon to full-blown Coffee Centers like the Jura-Capresso line. All you have to do is push a button. Many have programmable settings, giving you the option to tailor the coffee to your own tastes. This type generally carries the heaviest price tag, especially when feature-rich. But they allow you to use whatever coffees you like, they are usually very customizable and they provide a variety of excellent espresso and coffee drinks on demand at the push of a button. To use the most horribly over-used claim in the espresso machine trade: "It's just like having your very own barrista!" But it really is kind of like that.
Each of the above pump-driven catagories include machines that will range in build quality, features, and price point. To narrow the field, think about budget as well as the level of convenience you need, vs. the amount of skill you are willing to learn and apply. And what do you want your machine to make? Do you love lattes or do you just want straight-up shots? How important is steam or hot water on demand? If you like the idea of taping into your inner barrista, you may find that a stovetop espresso maker, a good grinder and frother are all you need. If you really want to learn the art with a machine that offers alot of input, there are many semi-automatic and automatic makers to explore. Or if you just need convenience above all else, focus in on pod machines or super automatics.
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