“Some say there is an art to great coffee. I don’t care how artistic you are; there are too many factors in play. You need the technology.”
— Bob Stiller, Chairman & Founder of Green Mountain Coffee Roasters
Can we get that creamer question out of the way first?
Part 1 here
It may be egregious to ask a coffee expert-slash-coffee-purist how he feels about creamer. I could get slapped but the food writer in me needs to know. After fixing me briefly with a hard stare ”“ and still I don’t back down ”“ Robert answers, “… sometimes I’ll appreciate it (creamer) if all I’m being served is 3-in-1. But it masks a lot, there’s a lot of masking of the real coffee. Sometimes if I have a cup of coffee that’s improperly prepared, then I’ll put [in] a ton of creamer and sugar in there.” He pauses then states definitively, “But the best way [for you] to drink coffee is black. I take my coffee black. Or espresso with a little sugar.”
Hmm, his answer doesn’t surprise me.
Obviously, discussing the subject of one’s coffee preference is inevitable and because I’m always interested in making a better cup, I dive in. Little do I know that one question ignites a series of rapid fire ones. To wit:
“Sometimes the coffee I prepare is too strong. How do I make a more consistent cup?” I ask Robert in all ingenuousness.
“How do you prep your coffee?”
“It depends on my mood,” I shoot back cheekily. We laugh. “French press is my favorite brewing method though.”
“What’s your grind?”
“How long do you soak it?”
“Make it three. How much coffee do you put in?”
“One and a half tablespoons.”
“Heaping? Leveled? What kind of scoop do you use?”
“My red Starbucks scooper.”
“What grinder do you have?”
“It may not be grinding accurately.”
Oy. I throw my hands up in defeat. “I just want a good cup of coffee,” I say weakly, my voice small.
Robert smiles reassuringly at me but launches into a whole host of reasons responsible for bad coffee: microwaved water (which I don’t use), improper grind, incorrect amount of coffee to the ratio of water, over-extraction, under-extraction, saturation… I’m getting lost. But when Robert starts talking about how my water should be close to 200°F, I get testy. “But I don’t want to have to stick a thermometer into my teapot, Robert! All these technicalities rob coffee-making of its romance.”
I see a glint in Robert’s eyes: Ah, an opportunity to set this misguided student straight!
Mimicking the coarse grind I use at home, we steep coffee in Robert’s French press with the single purpose of finding out how much time is needed to get the best cup of coffee (using this method). Our first try — 8 grams of ground coffee steeped for 2.5 minutes in 7 ounces of water is too light. “But it’s clean,” observes Robert. “Too watery,” I say. The succeeding trial is 10 grams at 4.5 minutes and 7 ounces of water. This one is vastly improved. “The secret to good coffee is the contact time (duration that grounds and water are in contact), not brewing time,” the “master” declares.
Suddenly, Robert gets up and grabs a brass cylinder (see cover photo) from the counter. What looks like a thick pipe turns out to be detachable, hollow rings, each fitted with a wire mesh. Called a grinding sieve or a coffee bean sieve, it’s used to calibrate coffee grinders, usually on a commercial scale. “16, 20, 17…” I hear Robert muttering as he arranges the rings which he then shows to me. “Theoretically, this is for a percolator depending on the brewing time; this would be for drip and the last two would be for espresso grind. Now let’s say that I have 10 grams of coffee from your grinder, I’d put it in here.” He mimics shaking the sieve (it’s heavy!). “If it’s falling into drip grind, then you should use a drip machine. But if it’s for French press and it falls into drip grind, then you should only steep for two minutes, not three or four.” I can feel my eyeballs start to roll back into my head. “… but sometimes 80% is here, 10% is here so it’s variable. So you just steep it longer or shorter accordingly. Eliminate possibilities of errors.”
“So I guess the best is to weigh it?” I ask with trepidation. “But if it’s dark roast it’s lighter and if its medium roast, it’s heavier,” Robert replies.
Ay-yay-yay. O-KAY! This time, my hands are thrown up in unrestrained frustration. “I’m drowning in all the technicalities, Robert,” I grumble. “And that’s why some people do 3-in-1,” he declares with a big smile.
But I don’t ”“ I won’t! — do that, obviously, so I grab a bag of freshly roasted Boyd’s Midnight Blend (coarse grind) and head home to perfect my own cup of coffee.
Boyd Coffee Co. (Phils.) Inc., Total Coffee Solutions
For more information, visit their website.
Robert’s book, A Coffee Journal, is available at all Fully Booked branches.