Wrap-Up: Better Than Starbucks

This week we had Nils Vik from Parlour Coffee come talk to us on how to make the best coffee. It was fascinating! Here are the notes I took during the session:

Coffee is a cherry. The bean that we roast and brew is the seed on the inside of the fruit, and it varies in size, flavour, and caffeine content based on where it’s grown. It’s also seasonal, so coffees from different countries will be better at different times of the year.

Nils talked about the difference between fair trade (a certification) and direct trade, where the roastery has a relationship with the farmer and, by offering him more money per pound, can improve the quality of the yield. We have become used to a very cheap product, but in the supply chain, that means that someone is losing a lot of money, and it’s usually the farmer. By dealing with the farmers directly to improve quality and paying more per pound, we can potentially do more good than if we simply buy a bag labeled “fair trade,” which signifies that the farmer could afford a broker to provide the stamp.

This also accounts for why dark roast coffee has become so prevalent – if poor quality coffee is burnt, it tastes the same as high quality coffee. Using a light roast means that the beans have to be high quality, as one bad bean can spoil the whole batch.

Nils demonstrated two ways of making fabulous coffee. The first, with a manual drip and paper filter, uses a slow pour method. The water should be 195°F; the ratio of beans to water is 1:16; and the brew time is 2-3 minutes. The difference in flavour is in the distribution of the oils: the paper filter in the slow pour method keeps them out so the taste is lighter, and a metal filter in the French press lets them through so the taste is stronger and more robust.

Here’s his method for slow pour:

  • Dampen the paper filter with boiling water to remove most of the paper taste, and also to heat the carafe. Preventing heat loss is essential to good coffee. Dump out the water.
  • Weigh out 40 grams of coffee and grind at medium. Put them in the paper filter and make sure they’re leveled off.
  • Tare the scale to 0 and slowly pour 640 grams of water over the beans, timing the pour so that it takes 2-3 minutes and making sure that the water is dispersed evenly.

And for French press:

  • Warm the carafe with boiling water and dump out.
  • Weigh out 40 grams of coffee  and grind at coarse.
  • Tare the scale to 0 and pour 640 grams of water over the beans. Start with enough water to stir it around with a wooden spoon so that all the grounds are equally wet. Add the rest of the water and put the lid on with the plunger up to prevent heat loss.
  • Time the brew for 4 minutes, then stir one more time and slowly plunge.
  • Pour the coffee into another carafe – as long as the coffee sits next to the beans, it will keep brewing and get bitter.

He uses a burr grinder instead of a blade grinder because it crushes the beans and provides a more even grind. The grind size influences the strength – coarsely ground coffee in a drip filter results in weak coffee because the water just rushes through. Finely ground coffee can be quite strong and bitter, and will be higher in caffeine (as the water has more surface area to reach, and caffeine is water-soluble). In a press, coarsely-ground coffee won’t slip through the metal filter and add a bitter flavour (this applies to all metal filters).

To get the best flavour, buy coffee in smaller amounts and more frequently. It tastes better when brewed within one month of roasting (not necessarily purchasing – try to find coffee where the roasting date is marked), and should be stored in a cool, dry, dark place (not the fridge or freezer, as they introduce moisture). And unless you’re desperate, don’t reheat your coffee.

So, did this session revolutionize your home coffee making? What did you learn? And are you going to check out Parlour Coffee now? (I linked to their site at the top of this post – the address is 468 Main St, and you can park in the lot at McDermot and Albert, just behind them.)



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