How to Measure Coffee

From last week’s post, “Which roast has more caffeine?” if you read the linked article, the comprehensive answer given was:

A 12 oz. brewed cup of dark-roasted Arabica coffee will contain more caffeine if it has been weighed prior to brewing as opposed to a lighter roasted Arabica coffee taken to the same weight.

The darker you roast, the more volume the beans require. You can hold the image of beans puffing up more, the longer/darker you roast. For fixed volume, like when we ship in a flat rate box, we can fit slightly less medium-dark than medium beans. For the same weight, if you’re a bean counter, there will be more beans in the medium-dark roast bag than in the medium-roast. And if you buy green beans, a pound looks like a similar volume to our half-pound roasted coffee. Is your head spinning?

This article from Home Grounds goes into detail about why you should measure your coffee according to weight. Once you’ve dialed it in to what you like, though, you can note the volume (X tablespoons or scoops, whatever), and you can just measure by volume.

I’m sure Bea would find this all incredibly fastidious and fussy. She often makes instant coffee, and it serves her needs and taste. Do any of you use recipes from Cook’s Illustrated? I’m very appreciative that they fuss over every last detail, explain as much as possible, but then give you the conclusion, the recipe that works. So if you feel like it, you can read the backstory to any recipe. Or you can just use the recipe, and tweak it for your own needs/requirements.

That’s what I’m trying to provide you … some details if you care about them. There’s a lot that goes into coffee. Myself, I make notes about my brewing recipes and results. Sometimes I use the machine drip brewer, sometimes the Chemex or AeroPress, etc. It depends how many people I’m serving and whatever constraints. When I do something different, I just try and jot down what I do. That way, whatever the result is, I remember what I did. I write it down by brewing method, weight, grind size, water amount, and anything else involved (bloom time, stirring, etc.). I still manage to frequently mess up a fairly simple task (my recent Chemex brews come to mind).

It has become my business to understand what goes into a good cup of home brewed coffee, and I’d like to know how to eke out the best, even if I don’t do it all the time. But I’ve found that as I’ve learned more about coffee, friends are more afraid to serve me or apologize for their brewed coffee. Don’t worry! It’s all good. It should be about more enjoyment (a pause and enjoying time together, or maybe just waking up) and less stress (doing it “right”). That could hold for everything we do — more enjoyment, less stress.

A Few 2019 Products

What has caught my attention in the coffee world in the recent months? I’m just sharing in case you’re interested, it being the season of giving (to others and perhaps yourself). We do not earn any money for referrals, sponsorships, etc., so this is just what I feel like mentioning.

I like the idea of this edible coffee cup, created by a New Zealand company, which Air New Zealand is piloting. Makes me think of ice cream cones. I do often buy scooped ice cream in cones just to keep the waste, but not the waist, down.

On another note, as stated in this article, it’s a sign that pourovers have gone mainstream when Mr. Coffee now offers pourover equipment. It’s a different price point than their usual affordable machines. There was a time when it seemed you’d see a Mr. Coffee drip coffee maker in most homes. (Is Mr. Coffee considered “first wave” or “second wave” coffee?) It seems like you see everything nowadays in “third wave” coffee — French press, manual pourover, moka stovetop pots, Krups, Keurig, Nespresso, etc. — depending just how exacting the home brewer human is.

Also entering a new era for its brand, Chemex has a single cup brewer, and a digital electric gooseneck Chemex Chettle. My opinion? Too expensive when the Hario dripper will do. But maybe you love Chemexes. My friend recently cleaned out and sold her parents’ home. She discovered 35 Chemexes! Some were different sizes, but still. She says she has a physical reaction when she sees them now. We tried to come up with reasons a couple would need so many of the same type of coffee brewer, but we couldn’t.

I’m still trying to find the right formula (weight and grind size) for our 8-cup Chemex. Getting closer, but still not satisfied. It didn’t help when I hadn’t used it in a few weeks and had not yet had any morning caffeine, so maybe my brain was sluggish. I used the coffee amount for eight cups, but only filled it to its belly button, which is the half-way point, but I thought was full. Full is below the wooden collar. I must have been thinking like wine glasses, where you don’t fill up the bowl. I don’t usually make larger quantities of coffee, so I’m not regularly practicing with it. It’s amusing how such a simple device and concept still has to be dialed in. I know what our coffee can taste like, and I can’t get a single pourover to scale up with my Chemex yet. I have to host more coffee get-togethers and practice more, I guess.

What’s Simple, Precise, and Highly Adaptable?

Alan Adler and his coffee invention. And who’s Alan Adler? An inventor extraordinaire who created, most famously, the Frisbee. But also the AeroPress. The AeroPress was born not that long ago, debuting in 2005. Apparently it started with a dinner time question at the Frisbee company’s team meeting, “What do you guys do when you just want one cup of coffee?” I highly recommend reading Adler’s fascinating story. It’s an inspirational story of a quintessential curious Silicon Valley tinkerer.

I learned of the AeroPress only since getting into the coffee farming business. Over a year ago my brother-in-law sent us a link to a Tim Wendelboe how-to video, in which he used the AeroPress. When we were recently at the cafe in Oslo, the barista made our coffees using the AeroPress. According to the World AeroPress Championship website, the event was born with someone asking, “Wouldn’t it be fun to see who could brew the best cup of AeroPress coffee?” “The first competition took place in a small room in Oslo, with only three competitors and Tim Wendelboe as the judge. It was a modest and understated affair.” Read more in “The History of the AeroPress, from Concept to Championships.”

The winner of the 2019 United States Aeropress Championship in August was a woman from Honolulu, Hawaii, Towa Ikawa. Congratulations! In the news article, there was a photo of the finalists, judges, and emcee, and I was struck and pleased by the diversity.

Also mentioned in that news article was the notion of using the AeroPress for cold brew. I finally tried it today using this Perfect Daily Grind article as my guide. Two minutes versus 16+ hours. In my first attempt I learned that I hadn’t ground the coffee finely enough. Adler says there should be enough coffee and it should be fine enough that there shouldn’t be more than 3mm drip-through before you begin pressing. I had more than that. I did a second pressing with the finest grind our grinder could do. The second pressing tasted better, but the first wasn’t bad.

Anyway, if you have an AeroPress, try it out. If you don’t have one, they are only in the $30 range. If I were to get one now, I’d get the new AeroPress Go. Here’s a link to a crazy amount of recipes. Abbreviating a few of Adler’s inventing tips, also apropos for life: learn all you can; scrupulously study; be willing to try things; try to be objective; and persist!

Freezing Bea’s Knees Coffee

I ran another non-rigorous experiment. Again, I wished I had the skill to cup coffee. I had shared a link to an article about “to freeze or not to freeze” coffee beans before. Bea likes to freeze many food items, usually because she can’t eat everything she buys, receives, harvests or makes. There are many legitimate reasons for wanting to freeze foods in order to keep them as fresh as possible. Many items freeze and thaw fine, but some ingredients just don’t come out the same.

Back in early April, I let a half pound of coffee sit & de-gas in its valve bag for four days after roasting, then I double-bagged that bag in ziploc bags and put it in the freezer. My plan was to later defrost it and taste it against a freshly roasted batch of coffee.

A couple of weeks ago, I took that frozen bag out and defrosted it in our cupboard, minus the two ziplocs, but still in the original packaging. I gave it two days. Then I gave my husband a blind tasting of that previously frozen coffee against coffee that was roasted five days prior. The “fresh” coffee hadn’t been immediately packaged in a valve bag, but was just stored in a ziploc bag. For each cup, I weighed the coffee, ground it the same, used the same temperature water (thanks to our OXO Brew pour-over kettle), and used the same type of cups. The last one brewed was hotter, so I probably should’ve controlled for that. But we did also taste when both were cooled.

Both of us felt the (what was revealed to be) “frozen” coffee tasted a bit more fruity or acidic, and the “fresh” coffee had more chocolate favors. Both coffees were still flavorful. This tasting reminded us of how challenging cupping was. You can taste they’re different, but how do you describe it? Back and forth we sipped, concentrating.

In hindsight, I should’ve kept a bag of coffee from the same time and NOT frozen it, as a third tasting.

Layperson’s conclusion/tips: if you want/need to save coffee by freezing it, it doesn’t seem to suffer. Do your best to control moisture when freezing and thawing, e.g., vacuum packing or double-bagging in ziplocs. Thaw the beans before you grind them; they’ll be more flavorful. In my college days, I used to store my beans in the freezer, and I ground beans straight out of the freezer. If you want the best flavor you can still get, don’t do that.

Kill the K-Cup

I wanted to share two articles about the Keurig K-Cup®, and finally actually watched the short video, “Kill the K-Cup,” that came out … oh, four years ago. (I’m often years behind things that once went viral.) I think it’s hilarious.

Before reading anything about the K-cup, I knew it wasn’t a machine or system for me, mostly, because of all the waste. Also, you’re limited to what’s offered, though you can get a reusable cup & fill it yourself, your way. But then you seem to be going against the convenience of the system and the ready-packaged pods, vacuum-sealed in nitrogen to reduce oxidation. And you’ll have to get and grind the coffee, clean the K-cup … bah!

According to The Atlantic article, one out of every three American homes has a pod-based coffee machine. The inventor intended it as a convenience at the office. When using this coffee delivery mechanism, standard coffee is sold at about $40/pound . People pay that and don’t think it’s expensive, but people think Kona coffee is expensive?

These two articles make good points. The long one by The Atlantic was shared by my friend who owns a K-Cup machine (more for his guests than for himself) and seems to hate that he does (even before he read the article).

“The Environmental Impact of K-Cups” (by Home Grounds)

“A Brewing Problem: What’s the Healthiest Way to Keep Everyone Caffeinated” (by The Atlantic)