I had a coffee epiphany earlier this year.
I decided to splurge on a $16 bag of Counter Culture coffee, which is roasted in Durham.
Before that my coffee of choice was Eight OClock or whatever brand I could get a deal on with coupons at the grocery store. Every morning, I would brew several cups in my drip coffee maker. I would deluge my cup of coffee with sugar and milk.
The Counter Culture coffee was different. When I ground the beans, they smelled of black walnuts. That smell lingered when I brewed it. The taste was so good that I defile it with sugar or milk.
It reminded me of the first time I tasted a really great wine. I was at the annual wine festival at the Pinehurst resort. At a wine dinner, a fellow diner was sharing pours from a bottle of Beringer cabernet sauvignon from his personal collection. The wine danced on my tongue and changed in my mouth, becoming more complex as I swallowed. It was a revelation. Thats what good wine can be.
I wish I had written down the name of that wine. (What a great reporter I am!) I wish I had written down the name of the Counter Culture coffee that I bought this spring.
When that coffee ran out, I returned to my old coffee-drinking habits, unsure about whether I wanted to commit to such splurges on a regular basis.
Then I had a series of horrible batches of coffee from my drip coffee maker. I swear I didnt change my technique. Sometimes the coffee would be weak. Sometimes the coffee would be too strong. Sometimes only half the grounds would be wet inside the basket. After several attempts at cleaning the machine and still getting inconsistent results, I decided it was time to change my coffee ways.
I ditched the drip coffee maker and decided to get some lessons from two experts: Nathan Brown with Counter Culture Coffee and Michael Harwood, an award-winning barista with Carrboro Coffee Roasters.
Both showed me how to brew coffee with a pour-over brewer, also called a cone filter. The device can be a cheap plastic one used while camping or a ceramic one that costs $22. The filter sits on top of your coffee cup or a carafe and brews directly into it. You also will need a coffee grinder, a tea kettle and a kitchen scale that weighs grams.
This method isnt for everyone. It may be too expensive. It may take too much equipment. It lends itself to those with an engineers brain, figuring out the best grind, amount of coffee and how to best pour the water over the grounds. (I certainly do not have that kind of brain, but I still prefer it.)
Before I was making coffee roasted who knows when, in a machine that brewed with what was probably too-hot water, producing bitter results, hence the need for sugar and milk.
Now I am enjoying my morning coffee more. It tastes better. I dont have to doctor it. As Harwood says, its a nice ritual to start the day.
If you want to try, heres what I learned from these experts about coffee and pour-over brewing:
• Coffee is perishable. It is best enjoyed within two weeks of roasting. Local roasters and there are a number of them often list the roasting date on the bag. Coffee beans should be kept away from excessive air, light or moisture. Store it in an air-tight glass or ceramic container in a dark, cool place but not in the refrigerator or freezer. Buy only what you will use within two weeks.
• Place a paper filter in the pour-over brewer. Pour in some clean water to eliminate any papery taste.
• Measure the beans. You want 1.6 to 2 grams of coffee per ounce of water, or 25 to 32 grams for 16 ounces of water. (Play within this range to see what you like best.) If you dont have a scale, you want about 5 tablespoons of coffee beans for 16 ounces of water.
• Grind the beans. A burr grinder is best but those can be expensive. Brown says if you have a blade coffee grinder, which are more common but produce inconsistent grounds, shake it while grinding to produce grounds the texture of kosher salt or sand. Pour into pour-over brewer.
• Boil your water. (Harwood uses filtered water. I used tap water and liked the results.) Once it boils, take it off the heat for 30 seconds. The optimal temperature of water for brewing coffee is between 195 and 205 degrees.
• Pour enough water to wet the grounds. Stop and watch the grounds bloom, or puff up. When the bloom deflates, pour the rest of the water slowly and evenly over the grounds. This is easier to do with a tea kettle with a narrow spout. This should take two to three minutes.
• Enjoy your coffee.
To see a three-minute video with instructions on pour-over brewing, go to counterculturecoffee.com/pouroverbasics.
Counter Culture occasionally has classes on coffee brewing at its Durham training center. The three-hour classes are open to the public and cost $75. For information, go to counterculturecoffee.com