Home Coffee Brewing 101
I remember the first time I walked into a Peet's Coffee store in San Francisco in the mid-1980s. It felt so exotic, and wow, you could buy bags of beans to take home! I was between my freshman and sophomore years in college, and a new coffee drinker, starting my day off with a tantalizing cup of Maxwell House brewed automatic drip-style, served with one teaspoon of Carnation Coffee-Mate and one Sweet-n-Low. I remember packing a bag of beans in my suitcase to share this way-cool California coffee with my mother.
Back East, we didn't know much about coffee, except the oft-burned brews that were poured at the local diner or bakery, and Peet's would remain a fond memory years before I ever set foot in a Seattle Starbucks store in the early 1990s. (A few interesting worlds-colliding tidbits in West coast coffee history: When Starbucks opened its first store in 1971 in Seattle, it served Peet's-roasted coffee. Starbucks co-founder Jerry Baldwin would ultimately buy Peet's in 1984 and sell his piece of Starbucks in 1987.)
Unless you've been living under a rock, you know that the notion of a good cup of coffee has completely transformed in this country from an exotic rarity to a 24/7 phenomenon that translates into mega bucks, as in $12 billion. No matter what you think of Starbucks, there's a good chance there's a green-lettered sign within a mile of your front door or office (6,000-plus locations in 30-some countries). We have become a nation of coffee drinkers with higher brewed standards, but the funny thing is, when it comes to making coffee at home, we haven't made much progress.
Compared to Starbucks, Peet's has far fewer stores -- 136 in six states -- but instead has focused its efforts on this home-brewed demographic by penetrating the grocery store circuit. Here in Washington, Peet's is now available at Giant and Safeway stores, where you can find at least four different varieties, says Peet's coffee educator Erica Hess, including Major Dickinson's blend, House blend, Italian Roast, French Roast and single-origin Sumatra. (Prices for 12-ounce bags will vary, $9.95-11.95.)
Last month, I met with Hess, who's traveling the country spreading the word about these new developments and how to make a good cup of coffee at home. We spoke over several pots of French press (natch) and pastries at CafÃ© du Parc at the Willard Hotel.
First things's first: Good beans are key (and Hess of course has a preference), but they aren't enough -- you must know what to do with them in order to yield a good cup of joe.
For every six to eight ounces of water, you need two tablespoons of coffee, says Hess. If that seems too strong, go easy and use the eight-ounce ratio to start.
How you store your beans is also key, says Hess. The ideal scenario is to keep them in an airtight container on a counter. Never, ever freeze the beans, despite what your neighbor tells you. Plan B, she says, is store the beans in the fridge, but not in the original bag, which invites condensation and absorption of whatever's in your fridge. Use that trusty airtight container once again.
Water should be cold and ideally filtered, says Hess. Use water that you like drinking because if you don't, no coffee bean is going to make it taste better.
For those who use an automatic drip, water boiling is not an issue, but if you use a French press, which is Hess's preferred method, you want your water to be just under a full boil -- 195-205 degrees. She also recommends allowing the water to rest for about 20 seconds, to minimize "burning" of grounds.
And lastly, says Hess, brew what you're going to drink. "You don't want coffee to be sitting around. It cooks, and then it burns. Transfer your coffee to a thermos or insulated carafe -- which is good for about an hour. Or try a French press!"
Happy sipping, y'all. And please share your caffeinated thoughts in the comments area below.
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