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Coffee Basics

Updated: Apr 26, 2019

When you think about coffee, its drinkers tend to be divided into two camps: those who care about coffee a little too much and those who do not care enough. My brother, for example, is someone who cares way too much. For every family gathering, he brings a Chemex, a coffee grinder, and some artisan whole beans and, what is normally a relaxing morning ritual for many, he manages to turn into a full-production event. My father is on the opposite side of the spectrum, as he uses a Keurig, buys coffee pods in bulk annually, and drinks it with extra sugar and a flavored crème. These two archetypes of coffee drinkers are prevalent and each has their own hand in defining modern coffee culture. I feel like there is little room for those of us who both love an artisan pour-over coffee and can also appreciate the convenience of the venti- mocha Frappuccino from the Starbucks drive-thru (and the subsequent sugar rush).

As I write this, I feel that this divide in contemporary coffee culture is a parallel to the current political climate: two militant war parties setting the stage for the future and leaving the rest of us in the crossfire dealing with whatever subsequent fallout occurs. Coffee is political! How you drink your coffee is much like how you eat your red licorice: Twizzlers or Red Vines? Those in one camp tend to condemn those in the other.

Politics aside, the different ways we enjoy coffee had me thinking about all the ways we enjoy it. I did some digging, and came up with this , simple guide for the everyday coffee enthusiast: someone who believes in the drink’s power to get them up, out the door, and ready to kickass at work.

Whole vs Ground

Often, the coffee section in any store is divided into two sections: pre-ground or whole

Whole means that the coffee is still in its whole bean form and needs to be ground. If you buy coffee like this, you need to be able to grind the beans yourself before brewing by using your own grinder or a high-powered blender (if you don’t have a blender or grinder, don’t worry! Most stores have a grinder you can use). Buying whole beans allows you to store your beans for longer while keeping coffee’s distinct flavor in check. If you have never before ground whole beans minutes before brewing, you should give it a try, as the flavors are both more intense and robust.

Pre-Ground coffee is already ground for you and is immediately ready to be brewed and enjoyed. Unfortunately, pre-ground coffee goes bad relatively quickly (in comparison to the whole bean) and it will lose a lot of its distinct flavor and aromas after being ground and stored for a period of time. While being convenient, you could lose some of the flavor of your morning cup of joe!

I remember switching from pre-ground to the whole bean a few years ago, and I don’t think I’ll ever go back!

Dark Roast or Light Roast

Choosing between a dark roast or a light roast decision is completely up to your palette. Darker roasts have a particular note of caramelization to them, which ultimately masks the true flavor of the bean. Lighter roasts allow the beans’ distinct flavor to come through.

Try both and comment below with which one you like more!

Dates on Coffee Beans

This tip is pretty simple: when shopping for coffee there is only one date you should be careful about and that’s the Roasting Date. This lets you know when the beans were brought into the US and processed. The closer the roasting date is to the current day (the day you’re looking to purchase beans), the fresher the bean is going to be and the more distinct and powerful the flavor. If the coffee doesn’t have a roasting date, there is no way to tell how fresh the coffee is and you are taking a gamble on purchasing it. If you notice no distinct roasting date, make sure the expiration date is far into the future.

Brewing Methods

There are so many different ways to brew your coffee at home that it can be overwhelming.o I’ve compiled a list of the most popular, and easy, home-brewing methods below:

Aeropress: Good for those that are single and lazy.

Put two tablespoons of ground coffee into the aeropress with 1 cup of boiling water. Stir for 10 seconds, then press and serve.

French Press: For those who are patient and either love to serve a crowd or need more than one cup to get them going in the morning..

Mix half a cup (8 tablespoons) of ground coffee with four cups of boiling water in the French press, stir, and let sit for 5 minutes. Press and serve.

Chemex: For the aficionado who likes to show off.

Place a Chemex-specific coffee filter in the Chemex, and, after adding the coffee to the filer, slowly pour the water evenly over the coffee. This is meant to be a slow pour, and the recommended pour time is about 3-5 minutes. The active ‘making’ process almost makes the coffee taste better because you have to work for it!

Keurig: For the ultimately lazy, utilitarian sociopath (my dad).

Place pod in machine, press button. Done.

Unfortunately, like everything nowadays, what you choose to buy, use, or consume has an impact on the environment, knowledge of which is both empowering and devastating. After the mass adoption of Keurig products, the inventor of the k-cup, John Sylvan, has since spoken publicly about regretting his invention due to the incredible amount of waste his product has produced. Sylvan describes Keurig coffee as the “cigarette for coffee, a single-serve delivery mechanism for an addictive substance” and the pods are impossible to recycle. James Ewell, a beverage consultant, expands upon this saying: “people want convenience, even if it’s not sustainable.” Additionally, this coffee is heavily processed, thrown into the pods, and then sits in a box for weeks, potentially months, before you buy it. That’s anything but fresh, in my opinion.

Coffee Titans Vs Boutiques

Coffee has been popular since the fifteenth-century when it first became available to Europeans and quickly became the morning drink-of-choice over wine and beer. America’s own colonies famously distinguished themselves from King George’s rule when colonists so patriotically switched from tea to coffee in the late 1700s. With that in mind, it is ironic that Americans did not generally care about coffee’s potential until much later. Specifically, when Starbucks came around and made “good” coffee popular, a lot of people started to pay attention to what coffee could be. Starbucks got us excited and showed us that this treasured drink could be brewed for our individualized palettes. It’s funny that there been pushback against Starbucks from the smaller, more artisanal boutiques even though it was that original coffee titan that revolutionized the coffee scene.

Now it seems like every city I’ve lived in, I’ve grown infatuated with a specific coffee joint and its deep roots in its local community. Some of those places are:

  • Killer ESP in Alexandria, Virginia

  • Lexington Coffee Roasters in Lexington, Virginia

  • Luxe Central in Phoenix, Arizona

  • Tate Street Coffee in Greensboro, North Carolina

  • Little Amps of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

Checking out the local boutique coffee shops is a great way to see what’s going on in the area culturally, and to get a taste of the type of people that live there.

In general, if you are looking for a really good cup of coffee, look for baristas that have a ton of tattoos and piercings. Stereotyping? Maybe. I don’t know why this seems to be the case, but it’s almost always true (Dave Asprey of Bulletproof Coffee and the Bulletproof Diet agrees with this theory, too)

Final Thoughts

I love coffee not only for its taste, and its steady and reliable supply of caffeine to my system, but for its accessibility. It seems like in almost every part of America there is some distinct coffee chain or local boutique coffee joint that caters to the general palette of that area. One of the few things that coffee snobs across the world all seem to agree on is one thing: you’re generally able to get the best cup coffee available for about $5 a cup. Not an expensive way to kickstart your day, huh?

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