There's no simpler pleasure than enjoying a cup of coffee. The image of sipping from a steaming mug in the ambiance of its earthy aroma stirs to mind a sense of peace that is sought after by many, not to mention the boost of energy a well caffeinated dose provides. However, too often in our busy lives we drown our coffee in creamers and sugar and are rarely able to savor it before we rush out the door. There are five key elements to creating the perfect cup and once you've taken the time to put care and quality back into your mug you may see less appeal in generic brands.
#1 Premium Coffee Beans: The first thing to do is choose your beans. Purchasing your beans whole ensures they remain fresher, retaining their natural oils and flavors. Pre-ground coffee, while convenient, quickly goes stale. There are two main kinds of beans, Arabica and Robusta. The former is considered higher grade and possesses a smoother consistency while the latter is stronger but bitter. Coffee is grown all over the world and different countries and climates will each offer their own contributions to taste and consistency, so doing some research on the origins of the beans will help in finding the right selection for you at the best quality.
In order to enjoy coffee for its natural flavors and textures, store the beans in a cool, dark place like a pantry and grind them right before brewing. Also, it's a terrible misconception that the freezer will keep them fresh; this technique actually compromises the beans and their flavor.
#2 Blending: In some cases, combining two or more varieties will create a blend that can turn a simple brew into a delightfully complex one. Deciding which beans to blend is a matter of personal taste. Often in stores, blends are created to reduce cost and promote a specialty brand. The negative side to this is that these blends, while sometimes advertised as balanced, may be lacking in developed flavor. To blend with success, you must be a little adventurous and try out different beans to see which one appeals the most to you.
#3 Roasting: The next consideration is the roast of the coffee. Knowing what you like will help narrow down your choices, especially since the degree to which the beans are roasted affects their flavor. A lighter roast will give coffee more of the original taste of the bean but tends to be slightly acidic. Darker roasts are robust and the bean's oils are brought out, but they lack the flavor and caffeine a light roast offers. A medium roast provides the best of both worlds, boasting an equilibrium of flavor and body. You can either purchase beans that have been pre-roasted, as most are, or you can roast the beans yourself. Doing so allows you to have full control over the roasting process but roasting equipment can be expensive and using a stove or oven will unleash a potent aroma throughout your home.
#4 Grinding: The next step is to grind the beans. Freshly ground coffee is optimal for brewing to maximize flavor and body whereas grinds left out for just a few hours will go stale. Size also matters when it comes to brewing. Coarsely ground beans do well for cold brews while the finest grind is best suited for a cup of Turkish coffee. While grinding the beans adds an extra step in the morning, fresh is best and your palate will thank you for it. For a standard cup, grind the beans into a medium consistency between coarse and fine. If the grinds are too big, the coffee will be weak. Too fine and it will be bitter. A good grinder is rather inexpensive and should be used solely for the purpose of grinding coffee.
#5 Brewing: Finally, it's time to brew. No matter what method you implement, be sure to use filtered water when you can. A general rule of thumb is that if the water tastes bad by itself, the coffee likely won't taste good. Don't use distilled water either. It lacks the minerals found naturally in water that subtly enhance the coffee's flavor and aid in filtration. As with everything, balance is important. An optimal temperature to brew is between 195 and 205 degrees Fahrenheit. Too hot and the coffee will be flat. Too cold and the body of the coffee suffers and it will taste sour. Another misconception that people may have is that more grinds means a stronger brew. In order to get the best quality brew, more is not always better. For example, a twelve-ounce cup of coffee only needs two teaspoons of coffee grinds.
With these tips, and a little time, any coffee lover can create their own perfect cup.