I learned that I am a coffee plebeian

Published March 3, 2016

I only started drinking coffee a few months ago. (I tried it about 18 years ago but never liked it.) With all I’m reading about how it’s actually good for you, and as an alternative to Diet Coke, I figured it’s a decent habit to pick up. I tried some of Karen’s coffee and thought, “Meh. This is gonna be tough.” But she also had some leftover K-cups (hold onto this thought) from when Sarina was here, and they were a dark roast compared to Karen’s light roast. So I tried them and liked them. Dark roast it is!

This made sense to me. Karen typically likes milder flavors than I do, so the fact that I liked the more robust, more flavorful dark roast wasn’t unexpected. (Hold onto this thought as well.)

Next it was a matter of trying a few brands to see what I liked. I settled on Peet’s, not because it’s necessarily the best, but after trying a few brands and blends I found I liked it and that was good enough. I’ll still try others, but I know I have one to come back to when I’m not sure.

Then I started thinking, I wonder what the best way to brew coffee is? I figured the Keurig wasn’t gonna come out on top — it’s more about speed than taste. So I started reading. Do I want an old-style percolator? Maybe and electric one? We have a French press, and that’s supposed to make much better coffee (and it does), but on our electric stove it’s so slow, plus you end up with all the grounds on the bottom. And I read nothing but good reviews of coffee made with the Aeropress.

Then, by chance, I happened to have some time with a local coffee grinder. A guy who lives for this stuff and who isn’t a snob. He explained that making the best coffee isn’t too big a deal.

  • You need good beans. Fresh.
  • They need to have the right temperature water poured over them — about 195-205 degrees F, because science.
  • They need to sit in that water for about three to four minutes for the flavor to come out but not the bitterness.

That’s the problem with the Keurig (aside from the fact that most packaged K-cups have crappy coffee in them): The water doesn’t spend enough time in the coffee. You don’t get the flavors out because you’re sacrificing flavor for speed. The best way to make coffee is the “pour-over” method, where you gently pour the water over a cupful of ground coffee, slowly, and it drains through a filter and into the pot/cup over several minutes. The big name here is the Chemex. That allows all the flavors to come out so you aren’t tasting generic coffee; you’re tasting all the richness of that particular blend.

And then he hit me with a bit of info that I’m apparently the last to know: Lighter roasts are more flavorful. Darker roasts are more generic. So my quest for better coffee started by going backwards. So I bought some beans from the guy (light roast, artisan but not snobby). I got home and made them in the French press, checking the water temp and following his instructions.

Well yep, it was flavorful all right. And it was awful. Not that there was anything wrong with it, just that I didn’t like the flavors. (These weren’t flavored beans, they just happened to taste a certain way.) Underneath was the coffee flavor all right, but it had all this other stuff on top — tastes that I guess dark roasts do away with.

I started reading more about making coffee, then, and I realized that the methods and tools that coffee aficionados use are designed to get more of those other flavors out — the flavors I don’t like! And that number-one way to make it, pour-over, is also the most finicky. So I would end up working harder to get a cup I would like less.

What’s the best method for me? The Aeropress seems to be it. Apparently it makes a great, smooth cup (and strong!), but doesn’t let in all the non-coffee flavors that I really don’t want. And that’s the good thing about having, apparently, bad taste in something: It’s easy to get exactly what you want.