How to Make a Cup of Coffee

I recently saw a funny blog post titled a “Tech Guy’s Version of the Perfect Cup of Coffee.” It wasn’t meant to be funny, but it wasn’t very knowing. The author buys Peet’s grocery store coffee beans, uses a mediocre grinder, and pours distilled water (from a pot that keeps it hot all day) over one of the Chemex filter drip pots that science geeks used in the ’70s.

When I want drip coffee, I heat reverse osmosis filtered water to the right temperature (201 F) on demand in a digital electric Pino kettle and pour it over a measured pile of grounds in a $15 Clever Coffee Dripper with a nice Filtropa filter in it on a gram scale. The critical part is the coffee, which I roast myself. Peet’s is an over-roasted blend that’s designed for high profitability; the darker you roast, the less caffeine in the cup, so the more coffees you can sell a given person. That’s nice work if you can get it, but any home roaster can do better with a little experience. Most of the coffee I drink is espresso and cappuccino, however.

It all starts with your coffee beans. Every couple of months, I pick up a batch of green coffee beans from Sweet Maria’s, an Oakland coffee importer run by Tom Owen, a man the New Yorker called a “mad scientist” and a member of the “coffee dream team.” His palette is impeccable, as they say, and green beans are well less than half the price of roasted ones.

I roast a batch once a week or so in a Behmor 1600, an economically priced home roaster with a capacity near a pound, about what I drink in a week. Once you know what you’re doing, it takes 20 minutes to roast a batch, probably less time than it takes to drop by a good coffee shop for some roasted beans. Roasted coffee doesn’t keep more than about ten days unless you freeze it at -10 F anyway (that’s deep freeze temperature, not freezer in the fridge level) so it’s a weekly chore to top up your inventory for most people anyhow.

I keep track of my inventory and roast history with a program called “Roaster Thing” developed by a coffee geek named Ira that has an optional USB-connected temperature sensor. One day, Roaster Thing will control the temperature in the Behmor and I’ll be able to create custom roast profiles for each batch (heat curves that squeeze the full flavor out of each batch.) An alternative is the pricier HotTop, but it’s only a half-pound device and isn’t computer-integrated.

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