Great Coffees

Written by Helen Glenn Court
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The secret to great coffees lies partly in their growing, partly in their roasting, and partly in their preparation. As far as you and I as consumers are concerned, ensuring the first two is a matter of personal taste and of buying selectively. That I might prefer Sumatra and you might like Kona, that you might like a sweet beverage and I a stronger one with plenty of milk and froth, these are immaterial. Preparation of the coffee is up to us.

Preparing Great Coffee

Let's assume that you have a quality coffee in hand, whether whole bean or ground. The first step beyond that is to be sure that your equipment--from grinder to carafe to brewing mechanism--is clean. Any build-up of coffee oil residue can leave a lingering bitter, even rancid, tinge to future brews. The answer to this is to clean your coffee machine thoroughly each time you use it, rinse thoroughly with hot water, and dry with a soft absorbent cloth.

The second step is ensuring that your coffee is as fresh as possible. This might mean replenishing your supply every week or two. It might mean keeping your coffee in the freezer. It might mean grinding the beans immediately before brewing. A number of these issues are up for debate, especially the freezer suggestion. But, if you're familiar with the difference--for example--between vegetables grown in your own garden plot and their canned cousins off the grocery shelf, you know there's nothing to touch or even come near the fresh variety.

The size of the grind is significant. If beans are ground too coarsely, the coffee can taste flat. If they're too fine, the coffee can be bitter. The differences between a Bodum plunger, a cone drip gold-mesh filter, and a flat pan paper filter, for example, are important. If you're not grinding the beans yourself, tell the person who's grinding them for you what equipment you're using.

Water quality is also important. You might--if your tap water is hard or chlorinated--want to use either filtered or bottled water. You don't want, however, to use softened or distilled water. They've been processed just as much as chlorinated and that taste will carry over to your coffee. Always use cold water when brewing coffee. Remember the general ratio of from one to two tablespoons of ground coffee to six to eight ounces of water. Drink and enjoy!

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