NEW YORK – Mocking people who care about coffee is a proud American tradition dating back approximately to the birth of Starbucks. The same jokes about coffee-dandyism that filled up many a half-hour of the ’90s-era sitcom “Frasier” still work for “The New Girl.” The attitude has become so commonplace that it infects journalism about contemporary coffee appreciation. Glance at the New York Times’ recent item on the latest high-market brew outfit to open a glitzy showcase space in Manhattan. There is a faint but unmistakable note of derision in lines like, “If you want to learn how grind size affects extraction, here’s your chance.”
But if coffee is something you drink every day – perhaps multiple times a day – why shouldn’t you want to learn how grind size affects extraction from a coffee bean? Why should paying attention to such a detail be regarded as any more annoying a habit than having the patience to remember to preheat an oven, peel an onion or perform any of the sundry other preparatory tasks that we endure in order to improve the taste of products we intend to ingest?
The answer has to do a lot with access to knowledge about coffee and comfort with being seen as pretentious – both of which work overtime as markers of class. Today’s elite roasters don’t do much to undermine popular conceptions about coffee connoisseurship: Note the dandified presentation that appears to be mandatory for Stumptown baristas, or the very name of Intelligentsia Coffee. But that’s all marketing, which a person can – and often should – choose to ignore.
Here’s the truth: You don’t have to be a champion barista (or aspire to be one) in order to dramatically, and quickly, improve your at-home coffee process, nor do you need to spend $500 on equipment.
What follows is a crash course in being a B+ coffee snob.
The method of choice for B+ coffee appreciation is pour-over, which is basically putting your coffee in a conical dripper and then gradually pouring boiling water over it; the coffee filters into a vessel beneath the dripper. This technique allows you an enormous amount of control over the strength and flavor of your coffee, but it doesn’t require a huge investment in special equipment.
For a 12-ounce cup made from Stumptown beans:
Boil some water in a kettle.
Measure out 34.5 grams of beans on a kitchen scale, and grind them finely in a conical burr grinder.
Put a No. 4 filter (I use Melitta) in a dripper sitting over a server.
When the water comes to a boil, pour a little into the dripper to wet the filter, then discard the water that collects in the server. (Keep the kettle boiling.) Replace the dripper, and add the ground beans to the filter.
Pour less than z cup of just-off-the-boil water over the coffee. Don’t pour so fast that the grounds start rising up the sides of the filter. (The idea is to let the water “wet” the grounds, unlocking flavors, in preparation for the bigger hot-water hit to come.) About 30 seconds later, pour in enough water to let the grounds rise three-quarters of the way up the filter, while breaking up any visible clumps of coffee on the surface by shaking the kettle a little. About 45 seconds later, repeat, letting the grounds rise up no higher than they did on the first pour.
When the coffee hits the 12-ounce mark on the server, remove the dripper, drink your coffee, and get on with your day.
That’s it! After a few test runs, the choreography will become second nature. At this point in the morning, I’m more likely to trip over my own feet than to overextract my coffee.
The best thing about B+ coffee snobbery is that it is customizable. You’ll experiment to find your own pour rhythms. Maybe underextracting slightly is your thing, or going finer on your grind. (Bitterness and sourness are in the taste buds of the drinker.) But most importantly, you’ll get dependably better tasting coffee, without the project taking over your entire life.