You've got a bag of specialty coffee, and you can't wait to enjoy a cup in your favorite mug, right on your own couch. You want it to be just as nice – or even better – than the one you had at that fancy coffee shop. Yes, that's totally doable! Here are some best practices you can incorporate into your coffee routine to ensure you have your favorite, dialed-in coffee every time.
Freshness is key in specialty coffee. Once you open the bag, the freshness starts to diminish. That is due to oxidation, and although there are some ways to extend the life of your beans (like vacuum sealing and freezing), if you use your beans within two weeks of opening, and grind them just before brewing every time, you won't compromise the freshness. Whole beans keep their flavor, but ground beans start losing those qualities. Freshly ground beans will ALWAYS provide a better cup. Freshness is not just a preference; it's a need in specialty coffee.
And before you ask, if you haven’t finished your bag in 2 weeks, don’t worry, your coffee is still good. It will not taste as fresh, but it will still be enjoyable for another few weeks.
Proper storage is important for keeping the quality of your beans. Keep them in a cool, dark place, away from sunlight. Avoid the fridge or freezer, as moisture can ruin the beans. An airtight container is good, as it stops exposure to air, which can make the beans stale. Think of your coffee beans as treasures that need a suitable environment to maintain their characteristics.
Water is a critical component in coffee. It’s the main ingredient in your brew. Use filtered water free of odors and tastes, as these can change the coffee's flavor. The temperature is also important; For light roasts, you normally want water right below boiling 205-210°F (96-99°C), while for medium and dark roasts, aim for 195-205°F (90-96°C). Too hot, and you risk bitterness. The quality and temperature of the water are foundational to the process. Water quality is a complex subject, and we will have a dedicated article to discuss it in the near future.
The brewing method you choose can change the flavor and texture of your coffee. From French press to pour-over to espresso, each method extracts different notes from the beans. Try various methods to discover what you like. Understanding each method and how it interacts with the beans will deepen your appreciation of specialty coffee. Many roasters indicate which preparation methods are recommended for each of the coffees they sell, but don’t consider that as a hard rule. Experimenting and exploring various methods can be very rewarding. Check our brew guides for some easy to follow recipes.
Investing in good equipment is about precision and consistency. Although for the most part you don’t need fancy or expensive gear to get an excellent cup, there is one single exception to that rule: the grinder. A good grinder will provide a uniform grind size, important for proper extraction. While you don't need to spend a lot, selecting the right gear can improve your coffee experience. It's an investment in a quality experience. We’ll also talk about equipment in one of our future articles.
Do's and Don'ts
- Do grind your beans just before brewing.
- Do experiment with different coffee-to-water ratios to find your perfect balance.
- Do allow your coffee to cool down a little before enjoying it. You’ll be surprised with amazing layers of flavor that you simply can’t experience when the coffee is too hot.
- Do use fresh, clean water, as it makes up more than 98% of your cup.
- Do clean your equipment regularly to prevent any build-up that can affect taste.
- Do follow the brewing time recommended for your chosen method.
- Do ask your coffee supplier about the best brewing method for your chosen beans.
- Do try different brewing methods to find your cup.
- Do wait for at least 3 days after the roast date to consume the coffee. After being roasted, the coffee beans need a couple days to release the CO2 that is a byproduct of the roasting process. Although it’s harmless, the CO2 has an undesirable impact on taste.
- Don't store your beans in the fridge or freezer; it can lead to damage. The exception to this is if you vacuum seal them before freezing and wait for them to reach room temperature before opening the bag when removing them from the freezer, to avoid condensation.
- Don't reuse coffee grounds; the delightful flavors have already been extracted.
- Don't ignore the roast date on the bag; fresher beans often mean better flavor.
- Don't be afraid to ask questions or seek guidance from your coffee supplier or local barista.
- Don't rush the brewing process; patience often leads to a more satisfying cup.
- Don't overlook the importance of water quality and temperature.
Specialty coffee is not just a drink; it's an exploration and a celebration of coffee. By understanding and applying these principles, you are not just making coffee; you are engaging in a journey. Stay tuned for more insights as we continue to explore the world of specialty coffee. Happy brewing!