For coffee lovers, there is nothing quite like the first whiff of fresh coffee brewing. The aroma permeates the house and makes a coffee drinker eagerly anticipate the first luscious sip. Brewing good coffee at home is not hard, but there are some factors that affect its quality.
Begin with good quality beans. Organic shade-grown coffees are the most environmentally-friendly and they taste wonderful. Organic is important because it’s hard to remove all pesticides before the beans are roasted, and whatever pesticide residue remains, it goes in the brew. Shade-grown coffee was the only kind produced until a couple decades ago. The development of sun-tolerant coffee plants, planted in open fields with fertilizers and pesticides, yields greater crops and quicker harvests, but at the expense of the health of the fields and the flavor of the coffee. Shade-grown coffee plants live longer and mature more slowly, allowing the full flavor of the beans to develop. Shaded coffee plantations are important habitats for butterflies and migratory birds.
Altitude, soil characteristics and climate all affect coffee quality. The most prized coffees are grown at high altitudes, in rich volcanic soil, in areas where rainfall is plentiful. There are two primary types of coffee plants, Arabica and Robusta, although there are many varieties of each. Arabica is regarded as the finer coffee because it yields balanced and complex flavors, but Robusta grows in more variable climates and produces at an earlier age, giving it something of an economic advantage. Robusta contains a higher level of caffeine.
Roasting coffee can yield beans with a color from light brown all the way to dark oily black. It all depends on the roasting time. The degree of roasting is really a matter of personal preference, but coffee connoisseurs will tell you that when coffee is roasted is much more relevant. Freshly roasted coffee is at the peak of its aromatic flavor. Within a few days, the flavor begins to diminish. Commercially packaged coffees are vacuum-sealed in an attempt to retain the flavor, but they will never taste the same as newly roasted beans.
Once you have selected an organic shade-grown Arabica bean roasted to your level of preference, it’s time to grind the coffee. Coffee should be ground when it’s about to be brewed. There is no shelf-life in ground coffee. Coarse grinds are better for slow brewing methods like French press, medium grinds for the average drip coffee maker, and fine grinds for quick brews like espresso.
Now that you have great coffee ready to brew, give some attention to the water. Brewing heavenly coffee with average chlorine-infused tap water is a wasted effort. Use good quality water, whether you use spring water or simply filter the tap water. The taste difference will be obvious.
Strong or weak, milky or black, straight or laced with sugar, a great cup of coffee deserves its reputation as the drink for all times of the day. Enjoy it as a breakfast starter, a late afternoon pick-me-up, or the leisurely ending to a fine meal. Quality beans, freshly roasted and ground, brewed in sparkling clear water, will produce the ideal cup of coffee.