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Not Another Question About Coffee

December 7, 2010

An Ask the Profussor is pending.  It’s been on my editorial calendar for a while, but it just keeps getting pushed back.

A few days ago AddiesDad left a comment about coffee makers. If you missed it, here it is:

My Cuisinart drip coffee machine has finally died. This is the one with the internal reservoir, and both my wife and I adored it and the coffee it brewed (but probably not hot enough). We are now in the hunt for a new coffee machine, and while I’d love to buy the Tecnovorm Moccamaster with its copper heating elements, 5 minute brew time, and perfect 19o* degree brewing temperature, I just can’t drop $300 on a coffee machine before Christmas.

So, I’d like to hear from the Profussor and his milleu regarding best bets for a home coffee machine. I’m open to all brands and methods, as long as it’s not too, um, fussy.

Now the most observant among you will notice that there isn’t a single question mark to be found in the entirety of the comment. Bad, bad, AddiesDad.  My method for sorting through weeks of comments for my regular Ask the Profussor post is to search for question marks.  So please remember, if you have a question and want a response, use the appropriate punctuation.

Had this problem not been so intriguing, it would have completely passed below the radar.

I was just talking about this machine with Lee Cohen at The Daily Grind last week, and about brewing coffee in general.  The truth be told, I’ve never been able to duplicate at home the richness and deliciousness of a cup of brewed coffee from the Battery Street Peet’s in San Francisco, much less from even finer establishments.

The thing is, there are just so many damn variables:

Freshness of the beans, quality of the grind, purity of the water, temperature of the water, dispersion of the water over the coffee, ratio of water to coffee, brewing time, brewing method, and the nature of the filter, just to name a few.

This is one of the reasons why I would really like to work at a coffee shop.  It would give me the chance to really make a ton of coffee and tweak all of these variables.

That said, I’ve had my eye on a couple of different brewing technologies.

One is the vacuum pot, although I might be tempted to buy a hard-to-find Japanese model.  In theory this method heats the water to a perfect temperature, which once achieved forces the hot water into the brewing chamber.  The grounds are stirred and steeped in the water until they are filtered back down into the warmed glass vessel below.

The method has its drawbacks.

It has a lot of pieces.  And if all the water doesn’t leave the bottom chamber, you can get some diluted coffee.  But the fans of this method swear that it makes the best brewed coffee they’ve ever had.  Water temperature is such a critical part of the process, and it’s harder to control than one might imagine.

The other technology seems odd to mention in the wintertime, but that’s not going to stop me.  It’s the cold brewed toddy system.  Now some will argue that you don’t need to buy a kit to execute this simple cold extraction.  It’s not entirely dissimilar to a large French press that can hold a pound of ground coffee. But I’ve never been terribly handy, so I appreciate having everything laid out in front of me.

The idea is that with enough ground coffee, you can create a coffee concentrate that is a lot less acidic than hot brewed coffee.  Since it’s a concentrate that you can store in the refrigerator for weeks, hot coffee is ready in as long as it takes to heat a kettle.  Put some concentrate in a mug and dilute with boiling water, and you’ve got a delicious and steaming cup of joe.

What you don’t get is the smell of coffee brewing.  But you also get some of the best iced coffee you’ll ever drink.  Assuming of course you use good beans and all the rest.  

I’m really tempted to get these tools.  Although I imagine that Mrs. Fussy is breaking into hives at this very moment over the very thought of another gadget on the kitchen counter.  Don’t worry, sweetie, you’ll love them.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. AddiesDad permalink
    December 7, 2010 10:49 am

    Mea culpa on the lack of question mark, Profussor. A real question this time: do you or anyone on the site know anything about the Bunn NHB Professional Brewer?

    I buy fresh roasted/ground coffee from Uncommon Grounds, and use reverse-osmosis filtered water (necessary in Saratoga), so the final factor for me is the water temp. Bunn, Zojirushi, and Tchnovorm are the three brands so far that I’ve seen make the water truly hot enough.

  2. Raf permalink
    December 7, 2010 5:13 pm

    To actually answer the question that wasn’t asked. It depends on how much coffee you want to make.

    In either case, I’d skip the overly fussy japanese vaccuum pot.

    Seems like most of the geeky coffee shops have coalesced around the over cup dripper.

    I use this one:

    Here the more expensive blue bottle version:

    Here’s another fancy one:

  3. Ellen Whitby permalink
    December 8, 2010 1:04 am

    I’d like to say that a request, which is similar to a question, doesn’t actually need a question mark, especially if the reader can identify it from the actual words rather than the punctuation. I would have categorized AddiesDad’s comment as a request. Thank you for responding to it.

    As for Ms. Fussy, I’d be happy to help out with additional shelving, unless the Profusser can fit his gadgets into those really narrow CD cases.

  4. December 8, 2010 2:50 am

    Electric coffee makers tend to break (i.e. the heating system for water and the hotplate fails) at a ridiculously high rate. Therefore the best coffee maker is the cheapest one. I think my current favorite is one I picked up for my parents for $14.95 at Walgreens 3 years ago. All the paint has rubbed off (legends for on, off etc) but it still makes great coffee.

    I too have the Cuisinart coffee dripper that isn’t hot enough. Oddly enough it was touted by reviewers because it has a hotness choice which I guess you could call “not hot enough” vs “not at all hot”. I hope it dies a painful death, soon.

    And if you want the smell and total experience of fresh roasted, fresh brewed coffee a la Uncommon Grounds or Peets, then go to one of those establishments and order a cup of coffee. It’s a cheap high.

  5. AddiesDad permalink
    December 8, 2010 8:58 am

    I think my inclination is to try the cold toddy brew system for a couple of reasons: 1) it’s cheap to try, and if I don’t like it c’est la vie; 2) I typically only make a full pot on the weekends when I’m home more, and this has the added benefit of providing the instant one cup of coffee might wife might crave when I’m not home to make coffee; 3) it takes full advantage of the ground coffee at its absolute freshest.

  6. dave s permalink
    December 9, 2010 9:55 pm

    My 10 cup(?) Braun broke. A nice, small machine.
    I like small.
    I tried a Keurig (a Christmas gift), ehh. (or is it meh)?
    I’m “suffering” along with a french press.
    The coffee is fine, I miss the automagic…

  7. Louis M. permalink
    December 18, 2010 7:04 pm

    I don’t think a coffee maker can be judged before it has been seasoned. I have had a few that initially made horrible, though hot, coffee only to make some very good pots of joe a month down the road. This has happened to me more than once after parting ways with a well-seasoned brewer after it met an untimely demise. I hate the first few weeks, but you have to get them ready before they can make good coffee.

    I have found a few secrets to making a damn good cup of coffee.
    1. You can’t make a cup, or two, or six. Coffee is meant to be brewed through all ten-twelve cups. If you only want a cup or two, use a French press or go to a cafe.
    2. Don’t clean your pot or brewer with any chemicals. In fact, don’t clean it frequently either. I know that sounds gross, but it is part of the seasoning process. A bi-annual (6 mos, not 2 years) brew cycle with water and white vinegar does the job just fine.
    3. Weigh your coffee and filter. When figuring out the correct ratios for your coffee brewer, it is important to measure precisely and then make changes accordingly. Especially if the coffee making duties are shared in your household.
    4. If you change the types of coffees you brew, you should do a cleaning cycle before the change. The pot, basket, etc. all hold the taste of the coffee you usually brew. If you regularly like brewing different coffees, it makes sense to keep your brewer for your everyday coffee and use a french press for the new stuff.
    5. I use the same thermos and mugs every day. Yes, those I clean, but the flavor of my daily brew remains to a degree. You should never mix tea and coffee vessels.
    6. After brewing, let the coffee sit for a few minutes before you sprint to the pot. The coffee that comes out first is much stronger than what comes out at the end, it needs time to blend itself.
    7. I’m not entirely sure why, but I won’t use warm or hot water for making food. I think it is disgusting to use hot water that has been sitting in a hot water tank for a day or two. Unless you like the taste of your water heater (I mean, really, who hasn’t licked theirs once or twice), use the cold stuff.

    Don’t even get me started on espresso.

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