Becoming a Coffee Expert
Millions of people enjoy a cup of coffee first thing in the morning. It has also become a popular drink to serve after a meal or at social gatherings. Coffee can be enjoyed piping hot, chilled, plain or customized with special toppings.
There’s a lot more to coffee than simply popping some grounds into a machine and waiting for it to brew. You can have a variety of roasts, which influences the different tastes and will certainly wake up your taste buds.
You can also have a variety of grinds, which gives the coffee different textures when it’s ground. The type of taste that you’ll get from your coffee is also going to depend on which coffee bean you choose and what kind of coffeemaker that you use.
If you want to know about coffee, you need to become somewhat of a barista – a coffee expert! That’s not to say you’ll be courted by the Food Network for your talents anytime soon, but it helps you avoid coffee brewing mistakes and maximize your pleasure of drinking this soothing drink.
You need to know about the roast types and how they affect the flavor. You need to understand how to select the best machine to make your coffee, and how to operate it. And you need to experience the satisfaction of learning about other coffee flavor tips that enhance your satisfaction of this drink.
The coffee movement is something that’s always evolving. Years ago, no one could have imagined that consumers would be so hungry for information about where their coffee came from, how it could be manipulated into different tastes, and be willing to pay upwards of $5 per cup for it.
Now, there are simple $1 per cup versions for the average person on their way to work who just wants a caffeine jolt to wake him up, and expensive cups of coffee that have art on the surface. It becomes more of an experience than a habit of the morning.
Three-fourths of adults claim to drink coffee ritually every morning. Some consume it all through the day. If it’s a habit that means so much to us, why should be muddle through each day barely being familiar with how to maximize our pleasure from it?
Know Your Roast and Bean Types
Not many people know that coffee beans are green before they go through processing. Coffee beans get their different colors after they’re roasted. It’s also how they get flavored.
During the process of roasting, the oils within the beans flavor the coffee. At the same time that the process is giving the beans their flavor, it’s also giving it the roast type.
The color of the coffee beans will tell you if it’s a light or a dark roast. This signifies the length of time that the beans spent in the roasting process. Depending on where the bean originated while it was being grown, this can also impact the taste of the coffee.
There are four basic types of roasts and this is how the different coffees you can buy are classified. There are light roasts, medium ones, one that’s between medium and dark and then there are dark roasts.
As you can guess, the light roasted coffee beans did not go through the roasting process for the same length of time that dark roasts did. The lighter the roast of the coffee, the less bitterness the coffee flavor has.
The length of time the beans spent in roasting is what you see on the labels on the outside of the bag or can of coffee that you purchase – the light, the medium, the medium dark and the dark. If you don’t like strong, bitter coffee, you want to go with a lighter roast.
In a light roast, because the process isn’t as long, the oils are not freed to the outer part of the bean. This is why a light roast doesn’t taste as bitter when you drink it.
With a medium roast, you’ll get a darker color and more of a strong taste. You still won’t have as much of the bitterness – because there’s not a lot of the oil to give it that bitter taste.
With a medium dark roast, the first thing that will catch your attention will be the color of the beans. This color will be noticeably darker than the light roast and slightly darker than the medium one.
If you hold a single, unground bean up to the light, you’ll be able to see the oil on the bean. When this type of roast is made, there’s a distinct bitterness to the flavor.
Coffee beans that are dark roasted no longer look brown. Because these were in the roasting process the longest, they have a black color. The oil on the bean is more noticeable right away. The taste of this coffee is very bitter. If you’ve ever had an espresso, it was made using these darker, bitter beans.
The type of coffee bean that you prefer to drink is going to depend on the type of roast it is. If you don’t like bitter coffee, you’re not going to be a fan of the darker roasts. If you like your coffee smoother, with not much aftertaste, you need to choose the light roast.
If you like the taste of coffee and you’re not looking for something that’s going to pack a strong taste kick, then you want to take the medium or medium dark roasted beans.
Because beans can vary even within their classifications, what one medium coffee tastes like doesn’t mean that another medium will taste exactly like it. So you may have to try several different varieties of coffee within one grouping to figure out what pleases your taste buds the most.
Sometimes, these beans can even look as if they were burned. That’s what all that oil release in the bean and the time in the roasting process will do to this roast of bean.
Choosing the roast that you like is also going to depend on what else you plan to put in the cup with your coffee. If you plan to drink your coffee straight with no additives and you know you don’t like bitter coffee, stick with the lightest roast that you can find.
But if you somewhat like strong, bitter coffee and plan to put some flavored elements in the cup, it can take the edge of the bitterness off and you might find a blend that you like.
The beans you buy can be chosen from all over the world. Different countries and regions will deliver coffee that has a unique taste. Even how the bean is process initially (picked by hand versus machine) can make a difference.
When you’re starting to shop smarter for your coffee beans, you’ll notice that you sometimes see single origin and sometimes blend. This blend is when the beans are brought together from more than one source.
This can be wonderful, because the flavors are paired together to create a rich fullness in flavor. It can also be great to get one, solid and pure taste of a bean from just one region, too.
Coffee beans are always a choice that depends on individual tastes, but you should know that whatever means you use to grind or make that coffee can affect the taste of the roast as well.
If you’re someone that likes to brew a cup of coffee and not give it a lot of thought, then you may not be looking for a machine that’s going to turn cartwheels when it makes coffee.
You may want something simple where you can press a button and the coffee gets made. But what happens sometimes is that people end up buying a coffeemaker or grinder that’s fairly simple and then they develop a better palate for their coffee flavors and wish they would have purchased one instead with more bells and whistles.
So keep in mind that even the top of the line coffeemakers that have a lot of different features and can make elaborate coffee can also make you a simple cup of coffee. That way, when you want more options, and better flavor, you have it.
Regardless of what roast type or flavor you want, make sure you measure out your coffee before you put it into the machine. Don’t eyeball it. You need precise measurements to brew the best cups of coffee, consistently.
Picking a Coffeemaker That Brews Supreme Taste
Coffeemakers can range from a simple “plug it in, press the on button and it brews a cup of coffee” – to ones that set the water temperature from low to high and practically deliver a cup of it to you in another room (although not quite so advanced).
The type of coffeemaker that you pick will depend on what features you’re looking for. Get the best that you can get. People never regret having options, but they always regret not having them.
So when you’re looking for a coffeemaker, think of it as an investment that will pay you back in taste and enjoyment. Look for a coffeemaker that suits the amount of consumption you know you’ll use.
There’s no use in wasting even a cup of coffee if you know you only like one cup before you leave the house. You can get single cup coffeemakers that can brew some pretty tasty coffee.
Look for coffeemakers that have the best features but won’t sacrifice convenience. Even the most elaborate features need to be easily operated. If you have to spend 8 hours figuring out the instruction booklet, it’s not going to feel like a value.
Coffeemakers that will let you decide which strength of coffee taste you want based on the temperature is what you want to shop for. Fully programmable coffeemakers will let you set the time for it to start and many of them will store your preferred selections.
You want a coffeemaker that lets you set the temperature because this directly affects the taste of the coffee. Hot water extracts more flavor from the coffee beans, but too much and it turns a bit bitter.
Colder water creates a more mild coffee flavor, so if you like a more tame or bland flavor, then you’ll want your machine to have the ability to cool it off a little during the brewing process.
Also when you’re buying a coffeemaker, look for ones that come with the charcoal filters. The reason that you want this is because if your tap water isn’t up to par or it has a distinctive odor to it from the chlorine, that can affect how your coffee will taste.
Sometimes tap water that’s not the best can affect the machine by contributing to build up. The charcoal filter catches chemicals in the water supply that can affect the taste of the coffee so that what drips out is pure and delicious.
Some baristas will recommend that you wet a paper coffee filter in your machine with hot water before you actually run the coffee through. They swear that it delivers a weaker cup of coffee when you allow the machine to dispense hot water over the grounds without a pre-wet filter.
One feature that you don’t want to be without in any coffeemaker is the pause button. This will let you grab a cup of coffee if you’re in a hurry without making you wait until the cycle is done first. Without this feature, when you try to interrupt the cycle, you end up splashing coffee on the burner plate.
You can buy regular coffeemakers that will let you brew the coffee, but won’t give you the option of grinding the beans. If you want delicious, full tasting coffee, you may want to think about getting one that does have its own grinder.
You’ll see these listed in stores and online with the phrase “automatic bean grinder” somewhere on the box or in the description. You can buy it built into the coffeemaker or a separate grinding machine.
Coffee beans start to lose their flavor shortly after the bean is ground up. So it stands to reason that you retain much of the aromatic essence if you have a grinder to process the beans immediately before you brew them into a cup of coffee.
What’s great about these machines that include a grinder is that they’ll give you the choice to use regular, store-bought coffee grounds – so it’s like you get the best of both worlds. It’s always recommended to buy the model that will let you do either one.
Fresh ground coffee beans will also deliver a more robust flavor, regardless of whether you like light, medium or dark roast coffee.
Within the coffee grinder options, you’ll find two types – one that uses blades to grind up the coffee (known as a blade grinder), and one called a burr grinder. This type of machine is preferred by true coffee connoisseurs.
Blade grinders aren’t always consistent in how coarse or fine the coffee bean is ground up. With a burr grinder, the bean is crushed between two elements, so the grind ends up consistently sized.
Another problem many people have with blade grinders is that they sometimes ruin the flavor of the bean, making it taste almost burned. This could have something to do with the speed.
Burr grinders have a slightly slower process, but the full flavor of the coffee bean is retained. If your budget can only afford a blade grinder, it’s still one step ahead of the store-bought pre-ground coffee beans.
Flavored Coffee Beans
Pecan pie. Caramel Brownie. Pumpkin pie. Those sound like rich desserts to serve after a meal, but those are coffee flavors that you can buy for your coffeemaker.
While you can buy some flavors in ground coffee, you get a pure, full-bodied taste when you get these flavors as beans. There are hundreds of different brands and flavors.
When you’re looking for the different flavors, you can buy them in variety packs so that you can try more than one or you can buy them in bags of one flavor. When you’re shopping for them, though, you want to make sure that you see that the bag states it contains whole beans.
Because sometimes, manufacturers will put the words “flavored coffee” on the bag and people assume that means whole beans. In order to get the flavoring on the beans, the beans will first go through the original roasting process.
Once that’s complete, these beans are then mixed with syrup. It’s the various ingredients of the syrup that gives the coffee beans the taste. They’re usually mixed in large quantities and then separated into bags or individual cups.
If you find that any of the flavored coffee bean mix is too strong for your taste, you can mix the flavored beans with regular beans if you have a grinder with your coffeemaker.
By mixing them together, it will tone down the flavor. If you want the flavor to be stronger, then you use a little more of the coffee coupled with a little less water per cup or per pot.
Understanding the Settings on Your Coffeemaker
Most of the settings on coffeemakers are pretty self-explanatory. But every now and then, you’ll get some that you won’t get or you might not understand the benefits that some of these settings make when it comes to your coffee.
Many of the newer models of coffeemakers brew great cups of coffee – but they can also be used to make tea, hot chocolate and even some liquid foods like soup.
This feature is usually found as a hot water dispenser that’s used separately from when you need to make coffee. You can also find settings that regulate the grind function of the machine.
The type of grind that you set will be what determines how fine or how coarse your coffee beans are once you grind them. You have to get this just right because an ultra fine grind can stop up the filter while a grind that’s too coarse won’t give you the right flavor from the coffee beans.
It’s the water running over the grounds that gives you the fullest flavor. So you need this part to be done correctly. Some features – such as a water indicator or a safety lock to keep small children from turning it on and getting splashed with hot water – are pretty easy to understand.
Where most people run into trouble is with the programmable part. This usually contains the clock display, the time, the temperature setting for the pot and the clean setting.
Once you set the display, then you can adjust the temperature setting. Some features call for you to figure out when the cleaning will be done, but many coffeemakers have features that will remind you it’s time to clean the coffeemaker instead.
Doctoring Up Your Coffee
If you like your coffee with a little something extra, you have so many different choices. From creamers to flavoring syrup to toppers – any flavor that you can imagine can be created and enjoyed with your cup of coffee.
Creamers come in powder or liquid form and the flavors of these can be soothing chocolates and caramels to spicier flavors.
Syrup that’s made especially for coffee is another hit with coffee drinkers. These give a more pronounced flavor to the coffee than powdered creamers do and come in flavors like pumpkin spice, hazelnut, and more. Cotton candy flavored syrup also goes well with coffee.
Sprinkles on coffee are also a hit. Adding a sprinkle of cinnamon or nutmeg or pumpkin spice to coffee can ramp up the flavor.
What some people like to do is use crushed toppings to flavor their coffee. These are extremely fine ground toppings such as crushed peppermint.
Some coffee drinkers think that the sweet taste they get from the additional toppings make the coffee sweet enough, but others disagree. So if you want sweetener, you can get sugar packets or sugar substitutes.
If you want to keep all the condiments organized, you can buy a simple coffee caddy or organizer. You can buy organizers that let you store everything – from stirring straws to sugar packs – or you can buy caddies that only hold the actual coffee pods.
When it comes to adding these flavors and condiments to your coffee, you have to understand that as you start to invest is richer coffee beans and machines that handle these grounds better, you won’t need as much doctoring up of your liquid as you do when you’re dealing with sub-par beans and a basic coffeemaker.
So don’t be afraid to wean yourself off of flavoring over time so that you can experience the full flavor of the coffee beans. You might find over time that you start to appreciate a blank canvas – brewing your coffee black each and every day.
Professionals call this coffee cupping, or mouth feel. It’s akin to how wine tasters experience the aroma of the wine first, followed by a sip of the wine to taste. With coffee, you want to sniff the aroma first, then slurp the coffee and see how it tastes on your tongue.
You’re looking for how sweet or bitter it tastes. You want to experience the aftertaste, too. You should do this with a raw cup of coffee, not once it has been flavored with additional creamers, syrups or sweeteners.
Top 3 Coffeemakers You Can Buy
When you’re shopping for coffeemakers, start with whether you want a multi-cup brewer or one that brews a single cup only. When you begin investing in better grounds or beans, you don’t want to be throwing out coffee day after day due to waste.
The bestseller in terms of overall appeal to consumers is the Keurig K45 Elite Brewing System. This is a single-cup option that includes the water filter kit, which we talked about being so important previously.
Even though it’s a single cup maker, you still get to choose how big or how small you want your brew to be. It can create a 7.25 ounce cup or a 9.25 ounce, depending on your personal preferences and how quickly you drink a hot liquid.
The reservoir holds 48 ounces and you can remove it whenever you need to. You can fill this reservoir up and use it until you need to add to it later. It gives you a warning when your water levels are low.
This is considered one of the better single cup brewers on the market. It fits almost any budget, but it brews a better cup of coffee than many of the other standard machines.
When you buy this particular drip coffeemaker, you’ll also get a dozen K-Cup coffees to try out. This is a great way to find out what flavors your tastebuds might appreciate without you having to spend a small fortune on entire packs of beans or grounds.
One thing many coffee lovers appreciate with this machine isn’t just how well it brews their grounds – it’s how easy it is to use and maintain. Clean-up is a cinch. And when you start brewing a cup of coffee, you can use pre-measured K-Cups that leave the guesswork out of the brewing process.
The filter system that comes with it is a carbon filter. This doesn’t filter our minerals that can build up in your coffeemaker, so you’ll still have to descale it yourself every 6 months or so, depending on how hard your local water supply is.
Noise is often a factor for consumers when it comes to coffeemakers, and the Keurig model is extremely quiet
If you use your coffeemaker for entertaining, or even if you and other family members each have differing coffee preferences, you’ll love that this model brews in under one minute – and you can have a caddy full of a variety of K-Cups to please everyone’s tastes.
Next up on the list is a coffeemaker that can handle up to 8 cups at once. It’s the Bonavita BV1800 8-Cup Coffee Maker, which comes with a thermal or glass carafe (BPA-free for your peace of mind), depending on your personal preferences.
The Bonavita model doesn’t leave the saturation of grounds to chance. It has a showerhead feature that soaks the grounds evenly, so that you don’t wind up with a brew that’s too strong or too weak simply because of how the water is dispensed.
The heater reaches 1400 watts and is a thermal block heater that heats up fast and maintains its temperature evenly. It takes a little longer to brew the 8 cups of coffee, approximately 5 minutes, but that’s a good amount for the volume.
Water is released from the reservoir only once it’s at a specific, heated temperature. It doesn’t dump lukewarm water onto your grounds, forcing you to pop your cup of coffee into the microwave just to heat it up a bit more.
Third on the bestseller (and best rated) list is a little single cup coffee maker called the BUNN MCU Single Cup Multi Use Home Coffee Brewer. It makes coffee, but is also great for hot chocolate and tea, too!
If you love the idea of using K-cups, but like this brewer better, you can do that! Your brew will be ready to drink in under 60 seconds, beating the speed of both other top coffee makers.
You can make any sized brew that you want – from four to fourteen ounces. And if you’re a fan of hearty flavors, you can use the pulse option to extract more oils into your cup.
Like the Bonavita model, this coffee maker also has the sprayhead for even soaking of the coffee grounds. And it has a water tank made of stainless steel. It isn’t a bulky machine, either. It takes up very little space on your counter, even though it’s a formidable machine in terms of coffee production.
Becoming a coffee expert is a long-term process. It’s an evolution that’s fun and enjoyable. You get to educate yourself about technology and agriculture, while using your senses to judge products that best suit your needs.
You don’t have to spend thousands of dollars all at once. Take time, experiment with flavors and brands and what will be interesting is when you see how far you’ve come with your expertise after making a few small tweaks and changes.
You’ll notice a huge difference if and when you ever go back to try something from your early coffee drinking days. It’s also fun to share this knowledge with your loved ones and guests whenever they come over to enjoy a freshly brewed cup of coffee!
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