Maybe you never think about your coffee beyond the fact that you desperately need a hot cup of java to wake you up in the morning and maybe even a few more to keep you going throughout the day. But coffee is so much more than just that mug of morning fuel. Read on for everything you need to know about coffee, from how and where it is grown to what procedures and products make the best brew.
In-Depth Coffee Information
Robusta vs. Arabica Beans Coffee trees are grown between latitudes 25 degrees North and 30 degrees South. This sub-tropical region is known as the Coffee Belt, and it includes 4 continents and more than 50 countries. The coffee bean comes from the seed of the coffee "cherry", a firm, reddish fruit of the tree. Where commerical coffee is concerned, there are two main types of coffee trees- Arabica and Robusta. Quite delicate and sensitive to its environment, the Arabica plant grows at higher altitudes and thrives in milder temperatures. It can't survive frosts or extreme heat, is susceptible to pests, and has a lower bean yield than Robusta. Though it requires a certain amount of care and attention, the tree produces a bean that makes a high quality coffee with a superior flavor profile, mouthfeel, and drinkability. The Robusta tree grows quite thickly and lushly at lower elevations. As the name suggests, it's far hardier than the Arabica and can withstand a wider variation in temperature. Because it's easier to harvest and produces a highly caffeinated, harsher and inferior drink, Robusta beans are much cheaper and are usually sold in flavored coffee blends. Arabica beans are generally reserved for quality coffee blends and even specific regional designations to highlight the special characteristics of the growing area.
All Kitchen Kapers coffee is made from 100% Arabica beans, including our flavored coffees.
Measuring Coffee When you've got the right coffee beans for your tastes, you must make sure you use the right amount each time you brew. If you're using a coffee spoon or teaspoon to measure your coffee and just estimating how much water you need, you're doing it wrong. This is not the way to brew coffee- unless your goal is an uneven insipid cup of joe. If you want to make perfect coffee all the time you've got to measure everything from brewing water to coffee beans to get all the potential levels and depths of coffee flavor. So go get a kitchen scale already! And then measure about 1 ounce (1-2 tablespoons) of freshly ground coffee beans for every 6 ounces of water. This is the standard coffee to water ratio generally believed to produce the best tasting coffee. The important thing is that you measure these amounts accurately and correctly, then grind. When you measure, you create the possibility of an even extraction. What is even extraction exactly?
All About Extraction Water and coffee grind size are key components in extraction. Very coarsely ground beans will give you an underextracted brew with a sour flavor. This is because the grounds are so coarse that the water couldn't extract enough of the good tasting coffee stuff from them and instead pulled more of the acidity from the beans. Alternatively, very fine grinds will be over extracted because the water will extract too much of the bean's volatile oils and compounds. This cup of coffee will be bitter and astringent, overwhelming and unpleasant. Well extracted coffee has just the right amount of sweetness and acidity and a pleasant lingering finish. The key to this cup of coffee is a grind that's in-between fine and coarse, and just the right size for your particular brewing method. Don't confuse extraction with coffee strength. Extraction has nothing to do with the strength of coffee and everything to do with the flavor of coffee. For more precise numbers, try to remember that extracting 18% to 20% of the flavor from the bean is ideal. Here's a helpful brewing chart:
Now that you've selected, measured and ground your beans and know a bit about extraction, it's time to brew your coffee. What's the best method for you and how do you get the most out of the coffee machine you own? Let's find out!
Types of coffee machines
Manual Drip Coffee Makers- Retro Ritual A truly old school brewing method, this type of coffee making appeals to baristas and coffee connoisseurs because it allows them to brew a custom made cup tailored to their specifications. These low cost coffee makers, or drip brewers, require no electricity and feature a casually refined design. Most drip brewers are inspired by the Chemex Coffee Maker- a compact glass beaker with a wooden sash around the center for safe handling. This coffee brewer was invented in the mid 20th century and is so celebrated for its classic design that a Chemex brewer is on display at the Museum of Modern Art. Manual drip coffee can also be prepared with a cone filter, or coffee dripper. Typically made of plastic, porcelain, or boroscilicate glass, cone filters can be used to brew directly into a cup, mug, or carafe. When done correctly, brewing coffee with a drip brewer or cone filter can enhance and highlight the character of your coffee. But don't get too cocky! Though this type of coffee making may seem uncomplicated, certain variables must be just right to brew a perfect cup, and it requires a certain skill to master them.
There's something quite meditative about manual drip brewing because there isn't any technology to get between you and your brew. (Well, except for the burr grinder that you'll use to grind the beans. If you don't have a burr grinder, buy one. Freshly ground beans make the best tasting coffee.) When you're ready to brew a cup, grind the beans to a fine consistency like table salt. Place a metal or paper filter in the top of your drip brewer or into your coffee dripper and then spoon a serving of freshly ground coffee into the filter. Heat water to just under boiling (200-205°F). The high water temperature used in manual drip brewing releases the essential oils and aroma of ground coffee for maximum flavor. When the water is ready, pour it over the coffee grounds in a careful, circular motion. You will need to do this slowly so the coffee grounds are completely saturated, stopping occasionally to let the grounds "bloom" (you'll know this when you see it- your coffee will seem to swell) and to give the coffee time to steep in the pot below. This very specific type of pouring is the reason manual drip coffee making is also known as the pour over method. We recommend that you use a gooseneck kettle to do this because it provides some level of control over the amount and speed of the pouring, so you get perfect results every time. There. Now, all you have to do is savor your coffee, knowing that it has been made exactly the way you like it.
French Press Coffee Makers- Sophisticated Simplicity Like the Manual Drip Coffee Maker, the French Press puts the coffee drinker at the center of coffee brewing. Invented in mid 19th century France and later patented by Milanese designer Attilio Calimani in 1929, the French Press is a quick and easy brewing method that produces a compellingly robust and intensely flavored coffee with rich aroma. The Bodum Chambord French Press , with its clear glass carafe and stainless steel frame, piston pump press, and lid with mesh filter is the design that most people recognize. Coffee is brewed by adding coffee grounds to hot water in the carafe, then leaving them to brew for a few minutes. When you've brewed it to your desired strength, you just depress the plunger- this traps the coffee grounds at the bottom of the beaker and releases more flavors. Then, keeping the lid pressed firmly to prevent any spent grounds from getting into your cup, just pour and enjoy. Because these coffee makers are inexpensive, you should use the money you save to buy a quality burr grinder. We can't stress this enough. With freshly ground beans, you'll brew a coffee that's at its peak. That's because the whole bean protects and preserves flavor. When you brew coffee immediately after it's been ground, all the natural oils and heady aromas will have nowhere to go but into your cup. Unlike pre-ground beans which absorb ambient odors and moisture and have gone stale before they've been bagged for sale. So remember, freshly ground beans really do make the coffee! To brew a French Press coffee with the most exquisite flavor, you should grind your beans coarsely and to a uniform consistency that resembles heavy kosher salt and heat the water to just under boiling. That's it. Now it's time to pour and sip your delicious coffee.
What's great about both French Press and Manual Drip Coffee Makers is they require no electricity. They're eco-friendly and compact enough to take with you, so you can have coffee to your liking at work and on the go. But what if you're looking for a more substantial coffee maker with more features?
Auto Drip Coffee Makers- Caffeinated Convenience Invented in 1972, the automated Mr. Coffee machine revolutionized coffee making. The fast and convenient appliance was an instant success and in short order, many more brands of auto drip coffee makers followed. These coffee brewers are so popular that it's safe to say that everyone has had a cup or two of auto drip coffee. This is the endlessly refillable coffee of diners and donut shops. The kind of coffee that steadily drips into glass carafes all day long kept hot by a warming plate. Not exactly celebrated for its flavor, its recognized for its persistence. But auto drip coffee doesn't have to be overbrewed and overextracted. There are premium auto drip machines that have been designed to help you brew a perfect cup of coffee at home. These brewers produce the perfect water temperature and brewing time for consistently delicious coffee cup after cup. Repeatedly tested for quality by the Specialty Coffee Association of America, these premium auto drip brewers have been recognized for their superiority.
When using an auto drip coffee maker, the coffee beans should be ground to medium fine so they appear to be a bit finer than sand. After the beans are ground, place the coffee filter into the filter basket, pour the grounds in, add filtered water to the reservoir and press the start button to begin the brew cycle. The water is heated to near boiling and showered over the ground coffee. The coffee then drips through the filter and falls into the carafe. Because the technology of the auto drip coffee maker means it brews very quickly, it produces coffee with a less intense and smoother flavor. And most of these machines can be set on a timer so your coffee will be ready for you in the morning. With that kind of convenience and consistent flavor quality, it's no wonder there's an auto drip coffee maker on most kitchen countertops.
Grind and Brew Coffee Makers- Fresh 'n Fast Combining the function of an Auto Drip Coffee Maker with a built-in bean grinder, Grind and Brew Coffee Makers are ideal when you want convenience and fresh ground bean flavor. These easy-to-use machines provide bean to cup functionality. You just fill the reservoir with water, add whole beans to the grinding basket and press a button. That's it. The machine does the rest, from grinding to brewing to dispensing fresh, hot coffee into your cup or carafe. You don't have to worry about spills or messy coffee filters. You don't have to worry about anything. Because the burr grinder is built-in, these coffee makers save you time, money and counterspace. Plus, some of these machines feature different settings that let you adjust the grind size, brew time and brew amount so you can brew to order. And many Grind and Brew Coffee Makers come with built-in dials for espresso, cappuccino and more.
Percolator Coffee- Plainly Perked The percolator was invented sometime between 1810 and 1814 by Sir Benjamin Thompson, an American-born British physicist and soldier. Though it's been updated and patented many times in the ensuing years, the percolator still functions with the same basic mechanism and design. Usually made of stainless steel and appearing somewhat like a tall teapot, percolators have a hollow, chambered interior with a vertical tube in the center that reaches from the bottom to the top of the pot. Coffee grounds are placed in the top chamber and the bottom chamber is filled with water and then heated. Percolators can be warmed on the stove or over a campfire, while the modern electronic versions need only to be plugged into a wall outlet. When the water is heated, it travels up the tube and is dispersed over the grounds. Once the grounds are saturated, the coffee-water is sent back again through the tube into the bottom chamber. This cycle is continued repeatedly, producing a bubbling and spurting sound as the coffee goes through this "perking" action, stopping only when the coffee approaches the boiling point and is ready to drink. Early percolators nearly always got too hot and ruined the flavor, but the newer electric percolators are supposed to stop the continual cycling at just the right point, preventing overheating. Nevertheless, percolator coffee is usually not the best as far as flavor is concerned and is often quite strong and intense. The old saying, "coffee boiled is coffee spoiled" can easily apply to percolator coffee. To get a tolerable brew, it is best to select a very smooth coffee with low acidity, grind it even coarser than you would French press coffee beans and perk for no more than 3 minutes. Though percolators were once a mainstay of coffee brewing, the invention of the auto drip coffee brewer has made them something of a relic of a bygone era. Yet there are still some percolator enthusiasts around who relish the robustness of this type of coffee.
Difference Between Blade Grinders and Burr Grinders There's no doubt you've noticed that we've emphasized the importance of freshly ground coffee beans, but we haven't really explained what's the best way to grind your beans. Well, let's take care of that right now. Though there are two types of bean grinders (blade and burr), the only grinder you should consider using is a burr grinder. Blade grinders are typically cheap and a bit clumsy because they use a spinning blade to dice up coffee beans and usually make a lot of noise while doing so. The result isn't so much as ground beans as a mish-mash of big coarse pieces and tiny fines which don't extract evenly- so you get an uneven tasting cup that can't decide if it's over or underextracted. Either way, it isn't good. A burr grinder, however, will always evenly grind coffee beans. Burr grinders use sharp cutting surfaces and precise adjustments to grind in a controlled and consistent way. Burrs can be flat or conical, or a combination of the two and are usually constructed of steel or ceramic. In a burr grinder, the burrs sit opposite each other. The coffee beans run in between the burrs and are processed from both sides. The burrs are very sharp and work much better than blades to produce evenly and perfectly ground beans in ranges from coarsely ground to finely ground that will make delicious coffee. There are tons of burr grinders available so it can be hard to make the right selection. Expect the burr grinder to cost over $100... but delicious coffee is worth the investment. Baratza makes high quality burr grinders and Kitchen Kapers features a wide selection from entry level to professional grade. For these and all other coffee products, check out this page.
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 cappuccinos 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 Espresso 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 separate milk frother will be needed to make cappuccinos and lattes.
Finally, Super Automatic Espresso 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 usually offer a high level of customization, 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 barista!" But it really is kind of like that.
Each of the above pump-driven categories 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 barista, 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 a lot 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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