Principle #1 of making good coffee: Using good quality source product

When playing around with hi-fi equipment, people always ask how much should I spend on speakers vs Amplifier and so on. The answer most of the time is to spend most of your funds on the source of your sound since no matter how much you spend on speakers, the sound can never get better than when leaving the source. The same goes with coffee – no matter how much you spend on your fancy espresso machine, it can never taste better that the coffee bean will allow you.

For this reason, I think principle#1 should be good source product. This is not only about the coffee, but also about the water and the milk you use. Only after this we will focus on Principle#2 of managing your extraction.

  1. The coffee
     Amongst the important source products, coffee is still the most important.  A friend of mine, being a little cash strapped, opted to buy some coffee at a bargain price elsewhere. He admitted afterwards that he will never buy coffee from “those people” ever again as it was horrible.  There are so many factors in the quality of the coffee, but here is the important ones in order of the process it follows:

    • The beans should be from a reputable farm using sustainable farming methods. The grade of coffee and harvesting principles can make a huge difference.
    • The processing method can affect the taste of the coffee. It can vary in fermentation method, washing method, drying method etc. some methods produces a better tasting coffee than others.
    • Freshness of coffee plays a role. Even though green coffee can be kept longer than roasted coffee, it is better fresher than not.
    • Roasting of the coffee can make or break the end product. This varies from coffee bean to coffee bean and some can be roasted to a darker roast, but in general, lighter roast will maintain more of the bean’s character where the roasting profile becomes more evident if roasting is dark, reducing some of the fruity character of the bean.
    • Age of roasted bean. Roasted coffee is best used within 2 weeks. There are a lot of debate on letting roasted coffee first rest and de-gas. I am of the school supporting this and prefer not to sell coffee before the first week after roasting.
    • Grinding size is discussed in principle#2 and not strictly about the bean, but the use of it instead. The quality grinder used is very important though, since a uniform grind size coupled with the ability to make minute changes in grind size will impact your enjoyment of the coffee in the end. It will be a shame if a coffee, lovingly produced and roasted is ruined by poor quality blade grinder.
  2. The WaterWhen you drink an Americano, 98% of your drink is water, so it is super important.  I am not an expert on the matter and there is not much I can say on the subject as it can become quite scientific.  What is important is to use good clean water that is well filtrated.  Filtration of solids not minerals, as some machines will not work properly when water is pure H2O.  this is because the sensors in some espresso machines will not be able to communicate with each other.  Reverse osmosis will also remove all minerals, leading to a flat tasting coffee not unlike too soft water.  Water ideally should have a PH of around  7 is neutral.  Ironically though, more acidic water is good for flavour, but bad for extraction where basic water is better for extraction but not so good for taste.  More importantly is the hardness of the water measured in dH for both Total hardness and Carbonated hardness.  we have been using borehole water with good PH, but have never done hardness tests.
  3. The MilkMost of the drinks we make are milk based drinks so the quality is super important.  we use super fresh full cream milk straight from the Willow Valley Dairy Farm having a natural sweet taste to it.   Other milk types are becoming more popular due to allergies and other datary reasons, but full cream milk produces the best latte art and taste.

 

Good quality source product

Level of Extraction

Principle #2 of making good coffee – Managing the level of extraction

When one first get introduced to making your own coffee, or when you are introduced to a new way of making coffee.  There is some questions that people ask me often like: “how fine should I grind my coffee?”.  Most of the answers on these questions will affect extraction, so I decided to have a post about extraction.

Principle#2 in making good coffee is managing the level of your coffee extraction.

Managing extraction is super important since incorrect extraction will lead to either over or under extraction.  As a rule of thumb, under extraction will lead to sour or acidic tasking coffee, but you can also get salty tasting coffee.  Over extraction can be recognised by a bitter, but tasteless or hollow tasting coffee.  Only when you hit the sweet spot in-between, will your coffee hit the spot with intensity of flavour, balance and lingering pleasant aftertaste.

Extraction level can become very scientific by the use of a refractometer, which is a device often used by especially fruit farmers.  This device can measure level of refraction and since light refract more when traveling through suspended solids it can measure percentage of solids within any liquid.  Because of this, it can also measure extraction level of coffee!

We will try and keep things simpler here 🙂

The following will affect extraction, separated by brewing category as described in Brewing Methods:

Extraction factors for all methods:

  1. Grind size
  2. Water temperature
  3. Brew ratio

Extraction factors for steeping methods

  1. Agitation
  2. Steeping time

Extraction factors for drip or pour over methods

  1. Pouring technique

Extraction factors for pressure or vacuum methods

  1. Pressure applied
  2. Compaction
  3. Distribution

Let us expand just a little into each of these, but play around with all the variables and have fun!  Coffee making is a science for sure but also an art form, so do not let these factors steal your coffee joy.

  1. Grind size: this will affect extraction for all methods, since smaller particle size makes for bigger surface area, so finer grind = quicker extraction.  Various methods also require different grind sizes although some methods can be used with various grind size such as the Aeropress.  Here are general grind sizes per preparation method as a rule of thumb:
    • Super Fine: Turkish Coffee
    • Very fine: Espresso
    • Fine: Mocha Pot like Biatelli
    • Medium to fine: Pour over like V60, Chemex or other cone filter equipment as well as Aeropress
    • Medium: auto drip machines
    • Medium to coarse: Vacuum pots
    • Coarse: French press
  2. Water temperature: Water should not be too hot, else you will get over extraction.  The ideal temperature is between 91-96 degrees Celsius (195F-205F).  Closer to upper level is optimal, but never over.
  3.  Brew Ratio: This is the ratio in grams between the coffee and the water used.  The rule of thumb is 1:15-1:18, where 1:15 is stronger ratio since only 15g of water is used for every gram of coffee.  Note, this is only a rule of thumb as the other factors come into play, but it is a good starting point for your experimentation!
  4. Agitation (for steeping methods): The more you agitate or stir the coffee wile steeping, the more extraction you will get in a shorter time.  Since even coffee allowed to bloom first, will rise to the top of the water, agitation is needed for optimal extraction.  Blooming is the practice of adding just a little water initially and waiting for about 30 seconds before adding the rest of the water, allowing gasses trapped in the coffee to escape and the coffee to get saturated.  I recommend an initial gentle but firm agitation and then letting the coffee steep.
  5. Steeping time (for steeping methods):  You should allow optimal steeping time before you plunge if you are using a French press or filter out grounds in any other way.  If you are using a French Press, pour straight after plunging or decant, else extraction will continue.  The amount of time will vary from 4 minutes for French press to 24 hours for cold brew!
  6. Pouring technique (Pour over methods): A lot has been written on pour over technique.  The height, the number and duration of pours etc.  as it has the same effect as agitation in point 4 above.  I like to keep it simple.  After allowing for blooming as described before, I like to do around 5 pours to reach the desired ratio of water to my coffee, done in such a way where I do not let grounds go dry at any time and when I pour, I do it slowly and as stated in the Stumptown video, always aim for the dark spots, never for the light spots, in concentric circles.
  7. Pressure applied (Espresso and Aeropress)  Although most espresso machines have a fixed pressure, it does have an effect on extraction.  with Aeropress you can manage pressure your self and I have seen posts where people tray and achieve espresso from an Aeropress and going to lengths like creating a lever system to allow for increased pressure!  The general rule for the Aeropress is a gentle but firm, even pressure.
  8. Compaction (espresso): a lot, as always, have been said about pressure and how many pounds of pressure.  More important than this though will be to always tamp with a consistent pressure.  I apply pressure until the coffee grounds resist further compaction.  When you start tamping, the coffee will give way easily, but soon it start to resist.  I stop at my known point of resistance.  You should do the same and modify pressure if coffee either flows out like an open tap by increasing tamp pressure or fineness of the grind.  The opposite should apply if you get drop by drop espresso being extracted.  Compaction should of course leave you with a level bed of coffee.
  9. Distribution (espresso): The even distribution of the coffee in the portafilter before tamping will allow for optimal extraction.  Since water will always find the way of least resistance, we want to create even resistance to water penetration throughout.  There al lots of methods, but I use the ONA OCD distribution tool and swear by it!  Distribution is now less of an art, but I get super consistent distribution from using this tool.

Vanilla syrup recipe

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I promised one of our customers at the Farmers market how to make a simple vanilla syrup at home.  Here is the recipe I found an use as a basis, slightly modified from original.

Ingredients:

  • 2.5 cups water
  • 2 cups soft brown sugar like Muscovado
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 4 tablespoon vanilla extract.
  • Optional vanilla seeds or pods etc

Directions

  • Bring all the ingredients except vanilla extract to a simmer
  • Boil under constant supervision for 10 minutes or more.  Look away for a second and it is bound to boil over!
  • Let mixture cool down
  • Add some or all of the vanilla extract depending on the other forms of vanilla added.

Instead of vanilla, other extracts can be combined with rhe bbasic sugar surup.  It is delicious wirh cold brew.

Enjoy!

 

Cooking with coffee – Mocha custards

I saw this little beauty on the internet and modified it to my liking.  I also made changes so it is Banting safe!  That is of course if you do not put any Kahlua in.  This is really simple and apart from time in fridge took me about 15 minutes.  The most important thing is to never overheat the mixture.

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Serves 4

Ingredients:

1 cup heavy cream

½ cup strong black coffee like espresso (I used cold brew)

6 egg yolks

3 Tablespoons Xylitol (4 for the sweet tooth)

1 Tablespoon coco powder (Heaped if you like dark chocolate)

2 Tbsp Kahlua (for non-banters)

Whipped cream

Method:

Place the cream and coffee in a double boiler over low heat and stir together.  This should heat up but never boil.  If it is too hot, your egg mixture may separate later.

While stirring occasionally, on the side mix coco powder and Xylitol to combine. Add the egg yokes and whisk together. 

Once warm, slowly pour the hot cream and coffee mixture into the egg yolk mixture while whisking constantly.

Return the double boiler on low heat and stir with a wooden spoon.  If heat is too much the cream may separate.  Stir constantly until the custard thickens and coats the back of the wooden spoon.

Remove from the heat and stir in the Kahlua, if using.

Pour into small coffee cup or large espresso cups and allow to cool on the bench top. Then place in the refrigerator for several hours until firmed up.  If it does not firm up it is no worry since it will be just as nice!

Serve, topped with some whipped cream and sprinkle with a little coco powder.

Coffee Creations – Expanding your Horizons

The classics like a cappuccino or espresso will always be my favorite Coffee drinks. It is like a familiar road you walk every day. You know it inside out, yet every day you see something different or have a slightly different experience. Now and then however, you like to leave the beaten path and try something different, just to keep things interesting. This is where endless Coffee based drinks of all types come in play.

Drinks can be loosely be grouped as follows

  • Classic Espresso based
  • Spice infused
  • Alcohol fortified
  • Flavored
  • Creamy
  • Shakes and Freezos

Some of these drinks use cold brewed Coffee (See our post on Cold brew) and some use various forms of hot coffee. The list is endless, but here are two of my favorites for starters. As time goes on, I will add more recipes. Some are my own, but others are from a great little book by Sherri Johns called Coffee Café.

CoffeeCafe


Creamy: Creamacchino

There are so many versions, but I love this simple version which does not have cold whipped cream on top.

Creamacchino

Cream Pre-heat the cream in microwave oven or steam.
Vanilla syrup Pour some vanilla syrup in your cup. Pour it on the side wall and let it coat the inside of the glass..
Espresso Prepare an espresso directly into the cup and pour in the pre-prepared cream.
Coco Powder Dust with coco powder to garnish.

Flavored: Hazel Choccachino

This super simple recipe is wickedly sweet and ideally suited for a cold night in front of a fireplace.

Nutella or any Hazelnut chocolate spread Put a healthy scoop in the bottom of your mug.
Espresso Prepare an espresso directly into the cup.
Foamed Milk Pour steamed milk as you would for normal cappuccino.
Optional chocolate shavings As if is not wicked enough, add some choc shavings on top.

Where are we now?

I was pondering which subject I should write about next.  Roasting?  Processing coffee?  Different drinks?  The history of coffee?

I have tried to order my thoughts and added the following layout, which will be expanded and links added as I blog about them, on our home page.

  1. The History of Coffee
    • Legend and Myth
    • Migration of Coffee
    • Early Coffee Trade
    • Social impact and adoption
    • Prohibition
  2. Current Coffee culture
    • Consumer trends
    • Education
    • Fair Trade
  3. The Farm
    • Growing and cultivation
    • Species and Cultivars
    • Pests and Calamities
    • Harvesting and Processing
    • Sorting and Grating
    • Selecting and Tasting (common terms)
  4.  Roasting
    • Art meets Science
    • Roast Types
    • Types of Roasters
    • Home Roasting
    • Storage
  5. Preparation and Drinking
  6. Baking with Coffee
    • Cream Deserts and Hot Puddings
    • Souffles and Meringues
    • Fruit Deserts
    • Frozen Deserts
    • Cake and Torte Recipes
    • Pies, Tarts and Pastries
    • Sweets, Biscuits and Breads
  7. Personal Journey

What would you like me to post about about next?

The chilled one – Cold brewed coffee

“Cold coffee?”, I hear you say.  “That is just not right!”, you say.  If you do, you are probably robbing yourself of a simple brewing method and a great coffee experience.  Let me take you on a magic carpet ride…

So what is it?  I can tell you first what it is not; it is not hot coffee gone stale and cold when you got busy at work.  It is not the method of pouring warm, strong coffee over ice either.  Instead cold brew is a method whereby you use cold or room temperature water to do your brew.  It creates a non acidic, coffee concentrate that some describe as syrupy.  It is high in caffeine and full of flavour!

There is a long and expensive list of equipment you can use for your cold brewed coffee, but you can get awesome results with run of the mill kitchen equipment.

Some of the store bought equipment you can use are the following:

The Yama Cold Brew Tower.  This beauty is coffee science, but at almost a meter high, not practical for mere mortals.

Yama Cold Brew Tower

The Oxo Cold Water Brewer.  This is a good looking setup which has your container on a base which allows for easy dispensing.

oxo

The Hario Mizudashi Pot.  This sexy beast feature a permanent filter which needs cleaning, but so elegant!

hario

The Toddy.  Imagine Filtron on a budget without a filter.

toddy

By now you must have noticed that with a container for your brew and some filtering mechanism, you should be able to make a good cold brew your self.  One of these is the trusty French press but I make mine in a canned fruit jar and filter through my Aeropress for clarity of brew.

The recipe is super simple:

  1. I use a cup of coarsely grounded medium roast and add to my jar.  The Ethiopian Yirgacheffe we sell is perfect for cold brew coffee thanks to it’s fruitiness, sweetness and light body.
  2. To this I add three cups of iced water
  3. Stir intermittently for a minute
  4. Seal and put in fridge for 12-24 hours, but I go for 24
  5. Filter and enjoy!

Does this not look simple?  You can fill a third or half your glass with the concentrate and fill the remainder with clean water or milk.  You could sweeten your drink with vanilla syrup to taste, but try it neat first.  Mmmmm

Coldbrew

Remember coffee drinkers: Life is to short to have bad coffee!

Coffee Shop Road Trip

For my daughter Suzanne’s pre-birthday treat we decided to hit some coffee shops – most of which we have never been to before.  Armed with the South African’s Coffee-Lover’s Bible we set off for a caffeine trip.


First stop: Munch

I have to say, having a coffee shop as a nursery did not promise great things.  How wrong we were!  Staff was friendly, the food was generous, tasty and well presented.  Best of all, we had close to the best cappuccino’s of the day right there!  The WTF shirts (Where’s my food) was great.

Munch's comfy seating

Munch’s comfy seating

French Toast

French Toast

Outside seating area

Outside seating area

Great Cappucchinos

Great cappuccinos

Fun with your cuppa

Fun with your cuppa

Just chillin

Just chillin


Stop two: Motherland Coffee

When we eventually found parking, we found a cosy, packed coffee shop.  I tried something new with their Dictator – a large shot glass with condensed milk, double espresso, whipped cream and choc shavings.  Suzanne tried an iced coffee while Mariana stuck with the cappuccino.  Though the other drinks was fun, the cappuccino was probably rated as nr 5 for the day.  Friendly staff.

The Dictator

The Dictator

Friendly Barista

Friendly Barista

Frozen

Frozen


Stop three: Doubleshot

Off to Braamfontein and a interactive visit at Doubleshot.  One of the owners Alain was roasting on their “antique” 1916 Novo Cito roaster and we had a nice chat.  He explained that roast profiles are relative and many factors have to be considered.  Factors like the temperature where roast would be stopped.  This differs from roaster to roaster, but the temperature your first crack happens, can be used as a baseline of sorts.  The coffee was great and the Finca El Morito they use in their blend played its role in the smoothness of the cappuccino.  There was a nice neighbourhood vibe in the shop.

Roasting discussion

Roasting discussion

Friendly Baristas

Friendly Baristas

Inside looking out

Inside looking out

Birthday girl

Birthday girl


Fourth stop: Father Coffee

This was probably our favourite.  Mariana had another cappuccino and rated it top of the day.  I had an espresso and enjoyed the fruity acidity which shone through without overpowering the drink.  The crema held together well when tested.  We loved the vibe and wooden paneling.  We will be sure to return.

Barista of the day in action

Baristas of the day in action – Freddy and Felix

Great espresso

Great espresso

Great ambiance

Great ambiance


Fifth stop: Vintage coffee

This is where we had our alternative brewing course and I had a nice chat with joint owner Kevin.  I had the cold brew and as consistent as always, Mariana had her fifth cappuccino.  The cold brew is awesome and the cappuccino joint top cuppa with Father coffee.

Vintage coffee banner

Vintage coffee banner

Kevin in action

Kevin in action

Cold brewed coffee

Cold brewed coffee

Buzz complete

Buzz complete


I can recommend visiting as many different coffee shops as you can.  We will do this again soon.

Happy tasting!

So you bought your self an Aeropress?

I heard a comment last week: “I can not make coffee in the Aeropress without everything leaking out”, and wondered how many people struggle with this?  Now there are two methods of using the Aeropress and the foolproof way which I will describe is what is known as the inverted method.

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Some of the wonderful things about the Aeropress is it’s portability for camping and travel as well as the large number of different “recipes” you can get, so the world is your oyster!  There are companion apps like Aeropress Timer from Apple Store or Mr Barista which will assist with advice, recipes and a built in timer.  It is makes such good clean coffee and offer so many variations that there are even world championships!

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Before describing the inverted method, here is a video from the guys at StumpTown on the traditional, little trickier method.

The inverted method – 2015 world champion Lukas Zahradnik’s winning recipe:


What you need

WhatYouNeed

  1. An Aeropress.  There is only one Aeropress and a good price is below R500 ($29.95 on Amazon)
  2. Coffee beans. Ideally, you should grind it yourself, but if you do not have a grinder, purchase an appropriate grind for the recipe you want to make.  General rule of thumb is a medium coarse grind.
  3. A grinder.  A decent burr grinder will do, but not the whirly blade type grinder please.  If not, see point two.
  4. Water.  Filtered water since anything else could affect the taste.
  5. Timer or app.  This just makes things easier and consistent.
  6. Scale.  Since every recipe uses a different quantity of coffee it is quite important.
  7. Filters.  Startup stack and a neat holder is included with your Aeropress,
  8. Stirrer.  Included with your Aeropress and designed not to disturb your filter if you use the traditional way.

Method

Hand drawing a black process diagam

  1. Place your plunger about one centimeter into the body and set upside down with the filter to be fitted to the top later.
  2. Grind and measure your coffee beforehand according to your chosen method, typically 20 grams and as is the case for this recipe, make it medium fine.
  3. Place coffee into the opening where filter will be fitted later using handy funnel included.  No water ratio required since there are marks on the Aeropress and most recipes fill to mark four or close to the top.
  4. Get your filter seated in the filter holder and set  aside.
  5. Get your water boiling.  Boil more water than is needed as you want to warm up your equipment.  Start your timer as boil ends. but most recipes will have you wait a minute or until water has cooled down to 80 degrees Celsius.  This recipe is for 79 degrees.
  6. Use the boiled water to “wash” the filter.  Be careful not to spill water and burn yourself as I did the first time!
  7. At one minute, start your first pour.  Recipe calls for 8 second pour since you only pour a little.  This is to let the coffee bloom, by wetting the all the coffee to the consistency of wet mud.
  8. During the next 15 seconds while bloom is allowed to happen, pick up the Aeropress and gently swirl it.  If you use an app, you will not need to count up the seconds!
  9. During the next 10 seconds, fill the Aeropress to just below the top.
  10. You can use the next 5 seconds to twist on your filter cap, place your preheated mug upside down on the Aeropress and flipping the whole lot over.
  11. This recipe calls for a long gentle plunge so try and time it for 45 seconds.  When you hear a hiss from escaping air, you should stop, but ideally, just a second before you reach that point.
  12. You are at 2:26 including cool down time, all done – enjoy!  Cleaning the Aeropress is super easy – just remove cap and discard filter and coffee by plunging down over a bin and rise.

Don’ts

Donts

The biggest mistakes you can make are the following:

  1. Using boiling water. This will guarantee over extraction and the harsh bitter coffee that goes with it.  Waiting a minute for water to cool down is a good rule of thumb.
  2. Incorrect grind.  Use appropriate grind as per your recipe.
  3. Store your Aeropress assembled.  Don’t store Aeropress assembled since plunger seal will compress over time.

Also try:  Make a cold brew recipe from the app or alternatively do what I tried:

Place one cup course ground medium roast coffee in a can fruit jar and pour three cups of ice water over the grounds.  Stir for about  30 seconds and seal.  Store in fridge for twelve to twenty four hours.  Scoop out most of the grounds and then filter using the Aeropress for a super smooth, almost sweet brew.  I like it over ice, one third ice brew since it is concentrated and two thirds milk.

At first glance it seems complicated, but once you follow these easy steps, it should be simple enough that you do not even have to think about it.  If you use the app, it will be foolproof!

As always: Remember, life is to short for bad coffee!

An evening brewing black

Last week my wife and I attended an alternative brewing course at Vintage coffee.

Brewing0

It was a real eye opener for me who is mostly a cappuccino / sometimes espresso drinker.  Firstly all coffees are tasted black and secondly, coffees are tasted and allowed to cool down as you repeatedly taste them.

The evening started off with a quick informative talk on the history of coffee as well as the process from bean to cup.  I believe it is good to steep yourself in all things related to coffee.  Your appreciation and knowledge will help you enjoy your coffee more and more.

Brewing1

After the initial talk, we divided into three groups, each discussing and practicing a popular brewing method – French press, V60 pour over and the Aeropress.

First up was the V60 Pour over

Brewing2

At this demo, some principals were highlighted like the importance of weighing coffee and water, the correct water temperature, the correct grind and the timing of your brew.  Even though each method has its own special method, these principals remain the most important.  The pour-over probably produced the cleanest crisp coffee full of fruity notes backed up by a firm but not overpowering acidity.  It reminded me of a fruit juice in some respects.

Next up was the French press.

Brewing5

Since it filters through a metal and not a paper filter, it was more of a full bodied experience.  The difference to the taste and the way I used to make French press coffee before I knew the correct way, was very different.  I used to over-extract my coffee, with the guidelines in the French press blog, this should not happen.  See https://boxerbrew.com/2015/09/12/french-press/

Lastly, and perhaps my favourite, was the Aero Press

Brewing4

What made me enjoy this station most was the different ways one can make Aero press coffee, each with it’s distinct characteristics.  The use of an app to guide you through the process was awesome.  Unfortunately, the demonstrated app is only available in Apple’s store, but I found a close second in the android space named MisterBarista at https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.henleyb.aeropressbrewer&hl=en.  Although all the baristas was passionate about their method, I found the barista at this station particularly passionate and some interesting discussions was the result!

Brewing3

I can recommend this experience to anyone in the Pretoria, Johannesburg area and wish more coffee shops start to do this type of informal training.

Happy brewing and experimenting everyone!