Tuesday, April 27, 2010

What I learned at Public Brewing School

How do you like your coffee? I like my first cup in the morning brewed in a French press. A French press, also known as a press pot or coffee plunger, yields a deep, rich, muddy elixir that stirs my heart and mind and soul to return from dreams, to beware, as Lorca says, that life is no dream. You can follow your dreams. Just don’t keep dreaming. Wake up. Drink your coffee. Go.

To get you going, there’s more than one way to conjure up the brewing alchemy of turning coffee beans into liquid gold. I got to see and taste together all the popular home brewing methods in action at Caffe Vita’s free monthly Public Brewing School lesson. Hidden away, past a huge Probat roaster, beyond large bins of beans, and up a flight of stairs, are the secrets to brewing great coffee. Up in the loft above the roasting room of Caffe Vita’s Capitol Hill cafe, Andy, a Caffe Vita coffee guru, set up a table full of brewing appliances ready to reveal all to the coffee fans crowded together one Saturday morning.

The pour over and press pot methods are the simplest and easiest to use. Melitta, Chemex and Bodum are the familiar makers. The pour over method uses a paper filter placed inside a cone-shaped plastic or ceramic holder with a hole in the bottom of the inverted cone. The inverted cone sits over a glass brewing pot. Add fresh, medium grind coffee to the paper filter, one scoop per 6 oz. water. If you don’t want to keep buying paper filters, you can buy a stainless steel filter that should last many a cup.

Pour hot water (200 degrees F for all heated brewing methods) in a steady stream over the coffee grounds in a slow, circular mortion. You need to swirl to be sure to saturate all the grounds and get the most flavor out of the beans. I use the swirl. I like the swirl.

The press pot is the method I use most at home because nothing gets between me and my fresh ground coffee beans. No paper filter or steel mesh, just the beans brewing in the water. Use a coarse grind. And again with the swirl, after you pour the hot water into the pot, to release more flavors. The ideal brewing time is four minutes. The mud in the bottom of the cup is your friend, it has a distinctive mouthfeel. “I remember that David Schomer, who founded Vivace Coffee, said, ‘it feels like your tongue has put on a pair of velvet pajamas,’” Andy said.

Another tip I learned that works, at least for the 32 oz. size press pot, is how to measure the right amount of beans for a full pot. Into an empty press pot pour in enough whole beans so that the plunger fully extended in the pot touches the top of the bean pile. Now you have just the right amount of whole beans to grind.

The siphon coffee maker, also known as a vac pot, is the show stopper of all brewing methods. In coffee shops, such as the Blue Bottle in San Francisco, siphon coffee makers are elegant sets that costs thousands. In your own home, it will cost you a fraction of that price, but it won’t be as fancy. Still, it does make a good cup of coffee. Rather than go through the technical details, here’s a good primer on how to use the siphon coffee maker.

The Bialetti Moka Express is a stovetop espresso maker that makes a thick, rich cup of coffee. Made entirely of aluminum, Andy emphasized the necessary step of seasoning the Bialetti with a few cast away brews to coat the metal with coffee oils. Otherwise, the metallic taste in your coffee is nasty.

Our final taste of the morning came from the cold brew coffee maker to which the answer is 42. Looking like a mad scientist’s contraption, the Oji cold brew coffee maker dispenses brewed coffee at the rate of 42 drips per minute. Cold coffee brewing does take time but the flavors of the coffee you use become quite concentrated and the bite and acidity are diminished.

Want to know more? The next Caffe Vita Public Brewing School is Saturday, May 15, 2010, 10 am, at the Caffe Vita Capitol Hill cafe. To register, contact andy(at)caffevita(dot)com.

1 comment:

MAS said...

Nice post. I just enrolled in the JULY 10th class.