Those who drink coffee will understand the importance of the morning ritual. Just the smell of the freshly-ground brewing coffee is enough to wake up the brain cells. Probably I drink more coffee than I should, three to four large cups per day. And it must be consumed before 3 pm or the caffeine will keep me awake at night. My mind won’t shut off when it’s time to sleep.
Sourcing coffee responsibly is important to a conservationist like me who consumes more than her share of the beans. Above all, the environmental impact of the habit must be considered. The beans have to be grown organically. The coffee shrubs need to be shade grown, cultivated beneath the existing forest canopy to preserve the habitat of migratory birds who live in Central America during the winter months. Coffee should be sourced as close as possible to me, to cut the transportation (CO2 emission) costs. Since I live in Maine (not a coffee growing area), I prefer to drink Mexican coffee, the closest natural source. Then the humanitarian considerations: my coffee has to be Fair Trade, produced and sold by co-ops of local farmers, not by mega-corporations bent on profit no matter who suffers. When these concerns are met, then I consider taste.
Much of the coffee Americans consume is of a lower grade than what is sold to more discerning markets, such as Europeans. Our coffee can taste bitter because the cheaper beans are not properly sorted for size prior to roasting. The smaller ones burn, causing the bitterness. To get the smooth taste I love, my coffee has to be European grade. The flavor of mountain grown beans also seems cleaner and sweeter to me.
So, I buy organic, shade-grown, mountain grown, Mexican fair trade coffee. Finding this commodity at a reasonable price is a challenge. Cafe Mam in Eugene, Oregon has this holy grail of coffee in bulk packs. Heaven.
My husband and I both love our morning cup and are pretty particular about the flavor. Fresh roasted seems to improve the savor and fragrance over beans that have sat in small bags for weeks after being roasted. We like a medium roast, for the best taste and higher caffeine content, blended with a darker roast for color. Our favorite right now is Cafe Mam Mocho (pronounced mo-cho) blend. YUM! Fresh ground coffee has a certain sparkle to the flavor that is lost when the ground beans are held for extended periods. Early on in life (before enlightenment) we used pre-ground coffee. When friends gave us a grind and brew coffee maker, the difference in taste was startlingly obvious. I suppose if we roasted our own coffee we’d be purists, but who can be perfect?
With the price per pound around $10, we want our coffee to last as long as possible. We get the lowest price by purchasing our whole beans in five pound bags. The beans are roasted just prior to shipment from Oregon and arrive in Maine usually within two days via Priority Mail. We store the beans in several layers of plastic bags in the freezer, taking out just a pound or so at a time. This we store in a sealed can in the fridge. I’ve heard keeping the beans in the freezer instead of the refrigerator is preferable, but we haven’t noticed a difference.
The grind and brew machine was made to produce a medium grind. It seemed to me that a lot of the bean was wasted with this grind, the chunks being thrown out were quite large. So I purchased a ceramic-bitted hand grinder. Automatic knife or even some burr grinders can get too hot and singe the coffee as it is ground. I set the grind to extra fine, espresso or nearly Turkish grind. The result is ground coffee the consistency of coarse confectioners sugar. I bought a fairly cheap drip coffee maker and use a fine mesh gold permanent basket, not paper filters. We have been able to reduce our bean consumption by at least half over the grind and brew machine method. We get twice as much coffee drinking for our money. Very exciting!
To my taste buds, the absolute best coffee is not made with a drip machine. When we go camping, we make our morning cups with a Melitta hand brewer. The grounds go in a funnel-shaped top that sets on the carafe. Boiling hot water (heated on the camp stove) is slowly poured over the grounds and the coffee drips down into the carafe. Maybe it’s the luxury of fresh, hot coffee after a night spent sleeping on the ground in a tent, but this brew is so delicious I go camping partly for the coffee.
Our particular method of making coffee has spoiled us for most commercially served brews. We go out to breakfast and moan about how completely awful the coffee tastes. Even the freshly brewed stuff the waitress brings around. My husband often won’t even drink the stuff. Since I’m addicted to caffeine, I’m not too particular when I’m desperate. Just add more Splenda and creamer to dilute the burned, bitter tang. If only everyone knew how great coffee can taste if done right.