In the context of a global pandemic and a nationwide lockdown, caffeine doesn’t quite make the cut as essential (“Technically”). Still, we all know that even in quarantine, people need their coffee.
As we are stuck at home twiddling thumbs and embracing
each other rolls of toilet paper, the nation is left to (dare I say) caffeinate themselves. So, to help the average Joe make better coffee at home, we asked the coffee professionals in our home community of Lansing, Michigan to weigh in.
Here are five simple tips for improving your coffee experience while in quarantine.
Note: we focused on tips basic enough that almost anyone could apply them to their morning experience without having previous coffee knowledge or having to go to the store and buy a franchise worth of coffee equipment. Everyone can improve their coffee experience one small step at a time. It’s not pretentious–it’s practical.
1. Clean Your Coffee Machine
Coffee is a messy business, so first of all, let’s get rid of the mold. Natural oils from the beans and coffee sediment quickly cake onto the internal operations of any brewing equipment. This means that, if left unchecked, mold and mildew can eventually play a bigger part in your morning than you probably want.
[See our post Your Coffee Is Probably Filled With Mold]
While stuck in quarantine and maybe between window-washings, take some time to properly clean your brew pot, Keurig, or whatever you use.
Electric brew pots and Keurigs should be cleaned 1-2 times a month (check your manual, google instructions, or ask us). More hands-on apparatuses (which are easier to keep clean) like French Press, Aeropress, Chemex, Hario v60 or Kalita Wave should be cleaned (or at least rinsed) after every use.
It really makes a difference!
After a conversation with a customer, the man went home to clean his Keurig. Not only did he immediately call his daughter to tell her not to use hers until he could clean it (because he was horrified by the build-up in his own), but he said that after he cleaned it, his coffee tasted so much better! “Never again,” he told me, “will I let it get that bad.”
– D. Doug Mains, Runabout Coffee
2. Store Your Coffee Beans Properly
Don’t put your coffee in your fridge! Coffee is similar to baking soda. It’s a hygroscopic food, and will absorb moisture and smell from its environment. Freezers are not any better due to a lack of humidity and moisture control in the freezing and thawing process.
Coffee should be stored in an airtight container, or coffee package with a one-way valve which allows the coffee to release CO2 created in the roasting process. If the coffee has access to air, the oxidation process will speed up and reduce the level of quality of your coffee.
This bit about oxidation is why we recommend quality at-home grinders (@baratza). Pre-ground coffee will increase the oxidation process due to the increased surface area, which will result in a faster degradation of freshness.
In an ideal world, coffee should be freshly roasted, whole bean, and used within two weeks to one month of roast date for optimal tastiness. Your coffee isn’t going to “go bad,” but over time it will lose flavor to oxidation. Eventually, it really will just be brown water.
If you’re buying good coffee from good farmers, roasters, and cafes, take good care of it. A lot of hands work very hard in the coffee chain to bring you that freshness and flavor.
– Cara Nader, Strange Matter Coffee
3. Buy The Right Coffee (Right for everyone)
Buying whole bean coffee from a local shop will not only improve the quality of your coffee experience at home but will make a dramatic difference in your community and around the world.
Large companies buy coffee at prices based on the commodities market. This means they are buying coffee at or around $1.28 per pound. It is such a small amount of money that the farmers who produce the coffee cannot afford to implement processing systems that allow for higher quality. On a deeper level, they cannot afford to pay their employees a decent living wage, which is the cause for so much poverty in coffee farms around the world. The system is not sustainable.
Over the last decade, many local coffee businesses have become passionate about sourcing coffee from roasters that purchase their beans at a much higher rate than the commodities market suggests in order to promote sustainability, which in turns gives you as the consumer a much better cup of coffee. This is typically referred to as direct trade or relationship coffee.
Buying coffee from a local roaster or coffee shop will give you a better cup at home, and it can make an impact in the lives of small business owners in your community. Fortunately, many of these places are offering coffee bean delivery even in this time. It may cost a bit more money than the beans at the grocery store, but it is well worth it for the excellent product and the investment in your world and community.
– Ethan Painter, Waypoint Coffee Co.
4. Experiment With Your Coffee to Water Ratio
One simple way to improve your coffee at home is to take into account the coffee to water ratio. Doing so will help you tweak the flavor and body to your liking and maintain day-to-day consistency.
We (Craft & Mason Coffee Roasters) typically start with a 1:17 coffee to water ratio. We find this is a good ratio for thinning out the flavors just enough to taste everything we want without it being too watery. You can try it at this ratio and then try 1:16 and 1:18 just to see if you prefer one of those instead. Keep experimenting until you find a ratio that you enjoy the best.
A volume measurement like a scoop or cup with a fill line can weigh different amounts so we recommend finding a scale that measures to the gram, and don’t forget to weigh the water too!
– Jeremy Mason & Eric Craft, Craft & Mason Coffee Roasters
5. Dust Off The Old French Press You Never Use
Most people have some sort of abstract coffee equipment hiding deep in their cupboard. Since we have a little more time on our hands, why not experiment?
One of the more common brewing apparatuses people have laying around is the French Press. If you have one, you’re probably familiar with the steps (grind, add water, stir, steep, and press), but here are some more ideas to think about.
Measure your beans and water. It’s more precise as not every bean weighs the same. A kitchen scale works great.
Play with your water temp. Try brewing a pot at 205 degrees then another one at 195 degrees. See if you notice a difference. I bet you will!
Make cold brew. Try a 1:5 ratio. Saturate with room temperature water. Cover the press pot with plastic wrap and set it on the counter or in the fridge for 12-24 hrs. Press to filter and now you have yourself cold brew concentrate. Unless you’re really looking to get your motor running don’t forget to cut it with something like water or milk.
[See our post, How To Make Cold Brew At Home Using Your French Press]
There really isn’t a right or wrong way to enjoy your daily brew or even use the French Press. The important thing is to take the opportunity to connect with your coffee and having some fun in the process.
– James Defrees, The 517 Coffee Company