Authors: Kevin Sinnott
The Art and Craft of
An Enthusiast’s Guide to Selecting,
Roasting, and Brewing Exquisite Coffee
To Larry McManus, 1941–2009, whose encouragement and creativity started my involvement in the world of coffee.
It is possible to taste the volcanic lava from Sumatra and to smell the spice fields of India. I know of no better way to travel the world than through a passion for coffee
Do you remember your first cup of coffee? Mine was on the first date I had with a young woman who is now my wife. We saw Romeo and Juliet one crisp, autumn evening, and her oversize college sweater and the aroma from the chain coffee shop are sensual memoires I can still conjure today.
My next most vivid coffee memory came after my first son was born. We had no money, and we drank House of Millar Mocha Java from the grocery store. I also ground it at the grocery store because I didn’t own a grinder. I brewed it in a basic brewer we’d gotten as a wedding present. I remember it tasting rich and elegant.
One day, I noticed the House of Millar wasn’t on the neighborhood store’s shelves anymore. I was devastated. I drove to a nearby store, and I bought all of the bags left on their shelves. I stored all but one in the freezer.
Meanwhile, a dedicated coffee bean store opened nearby. The store’s owner, Guy, seemed like a laid-back artsy sort, who liked nothing more than to spend his days sampling the various coffees. I became a frequent customer.
Trouble was, as much as I liked Guy’s coffee at his shop, I could never get it to taste the same at home. My wife even started questioning whether we should spend the extra money on Guy’s beans. While I stood my ground (grounds?) on buying good beans, I privately realized the coffee was better when Guy brewed it in his commercial equipment.
I knew it was time to upgrade my home equipment. I bought a burr grinder on clearance and discovered a Chemex at a thrift shop. Each time I improved my brewing equipment, the coffee tasted better. I have never looked back, and I have spent decades mastering the brewing process to ensure the best possible cup of coffee is brewed every time.
This book taps into my decades of coffee brewing experience and teaches you how to make café-quality coffee at home in direct, easy-to-follow instructions—without dogma.
Coffee and wine are more alike than coffee and tea. As with grapes, every nuance possible can be affected by the earth and climate from which coffee comes. These differences can last all the way to the final flavor and aroma from your cup.
A few key themes are explored in these pages:
• Grinding is critical to the brewing process. The job of any coffee grinder is to divide the beans into same-size pieces. This might seem simple, but grinders are the Achilles’ heel of many a home-brewing station. Here, you will learn how best to achieve proper grounds at home.
• Brewing coffee is half art and half chemistry—or alchemy. The exact portions of ground coffee to water, the water temperature and the water’s contact time with the grounds all affect the flavor of the final coffee. It is possible to make two very different tasting beverages from the same beans using different brewing methods or using two identical brewers and simply altering the variables with each brewer.
• Espresso shares many qualities with brewed coffee, but there are some differences that affect the selection of beans, roasting, grinding, and (certainly) brewing that grants it its own chapter.
• We treat coffee botany lightly becuase the topic could fill a book in itself. Just note that most coffee in the world comes from three or four original plants, and there are a number of variations designed mostly to allow coffee to flourish in a range of climates. While consumers have little control over these variations, I predict they will become more important as they discover the flavor effects each species has on the final cup. Some higher-quality coffee roasters are starting to list the coffee species (such as bourbon, typica, and caturra) on their packaging.
If there’s one thought I hope you come away with after reading this book, it is that coffee should be consumed for pleasure. I used to joke that I’d prefer the worst cup of coffee with my wife to the best cup with her mother. (I no longer say this because my mother-in-law and I have become very close.)
Remember, coffee gives you the chance to travel the world, exploring culture, history, and terroir through a culinary lens. After you read this book, your coffee will taste better than ever and possibly better than you even thought it could.
PART ONE THE BEANS
1 KNOWING YOUR COFFEE BEANS
is like wine—hundreds of varieties line the shelves, their names offering little to help you differentiate dark from light or good from bad. And much like wine, the flavor of coffee depends on its source: the bean. Understanding this aspect of coffee is the first step to understanding the whole process. The bean contains the genetic flavor profile of each flavor note. But how do you select the best beans? From what varieties can you choose?
Many variables define each coffee bean type. This chapter focuses on the differences between unroasted beans. In other words, the names and phrases you likely know—French roast, hazelnut, fine ground—show up in later chapters. To find and enjoy the best coffee, you need to start with the basics.
By the end of this chapter, you will know the following:
• What to ask when shopping for coffee, whether at a specialty coffee retail store, at your local grocer, or online