Black Gold – The Guide to Making a Good Cup of Coffee

Via U.S. Army.
Via U.S. Army.


In honor of Manweek, I have decided to share a skill that I feel that every man should master, and that is to brew a decent cup of coffee.  It’s an everyday skill that should be passed down from father to son, like shaving or mowing your lawn. It’s a manly ritual providing both utility and comfort.  Unfortunately, if you asked most men today for a cup of coffee they would either cast a worried, “help me!” glance at their lady or crank up the jet engine on their latest instant coffee contraption, capable of grinding, purifying, and outputting unnatural amounts of brown acidic liquid, tasting something akin to lava, but definitely not coffee.

Now, I don’t profess to be an expert barista, but I give you the following guide to making great coffee, as one man helping another.  It’s not perfect (anyone who loves coffee knows there’s always more to learn). But through much trial and error, this process has produced consistently great coffee and brought me the enjoyment of creating something with my hands each morning.  Here we go:

The Prerequisites

1) Buy Decent Beans – It really doesn’t matter how you brew your coffee if the coffee itself sucks.  Let’s be clear right off the bat. If the best part of waking up is Zoégas in your cup, let me encourage you to expand your horizons. There’s better coffee out there.  Now, I realize that taste is a very personal thing, so if you absolutely love the huge bins of dry, cheap coffee that keep you supplied for a year, please don’t let me steer you away (please let me steer you away).

Asking one to name the best coffee beans is very similar to asking one to name the best wines.  It is a highly subjective endeavor at best.  However, there is one key component that separates the wheat and the chaff in terms of beans — freshness.  Buying freshly roasted beans, as opposed to those packaged and stored for months at a time, is a sure way to make your coffee experience more favorable.  Find a coffee shop nearby (Kahls, Lilla Kafferosteriet) that either roasts their own beans or has them delivered daily or weekly from a roaster nearby and begin sampling.

Try lots of different roasts and ask lots of questions.  Most coffee shop employees are eager to let you in on their favorite beans and brewing methods.  Soon you’ll find beans that suit your tastes whether it’s dark, light, complex or simple. Just make sure to buy FRESH!

Via Paper Chick.
Via Paper Chick.

2) Grind the Beans Yourself – After you’ve bought some high-quality, freshly-roasted beans, the next step is to keep them fresh.  One of the best ways to do this is to buy whole beans, store them in an airtight container, and grind them just before brewing.  By doing so, you’ll help keep the flavors of the beans locked in until you’re ready to taste them. Finding a decent grinder is fairly easy, most major retail stores and coffee shops sell them.

3) The French Press – Also known as a press pot, this simple coffee making device is said to have originated in France during the 1850′s.  The press is normally a glass cylinder with a “plunger”-like device that fits tightly into the circumference of the cylinder.  The plunger features a handle with some sort of wire or nylon mesh that pushes the coffee grounds to the bottom, trapping them there after a few minutes of brewing.  If you’re serious about coffee, ditch your automatic coffee maker and try the French press.

Why you ask, would you want to take a step backwards in history and technology when your current coffee maker can brew 53 cups of coffee in 3 minutes?  Quite simply, coffee brewed in a French press tastes better for 2 reasons:

  • The coffee grounds are fully steeped and saturated at the beginning of brewing.
  • This method retains the natural oils of the coffee that are normally absorbed by the paper filter.

The French press not only helps make a great pot of coffee, there is something very meditative in the whole brewing process.  The “set it and forget it” ease of most drip coffee makers definitely have its advantages: speed, less work for the user, the ability to brew larger amounts of coffee. But while you gain efficiency, you lose a connection to the coffee.

How to Brew Coffee with a French Press

1. Grind your beans, leaving them a bit more large and coarse than you may be used to seeing.  You will want approximately one tablespoon of grounds per cup.  Dump them into the bottom of the French press.

2. Use a kettle to boil your water.  You want to let it sit for a couple of minutes after boiling before adding it to the press.

3. Pour the hot water into the French press, slowly covering all of the coffee grounds as you fill it up.  Immediately stir the grounds to give the mixture a nice uniformity.

4. Add the filter on top and let the coffee steep for about four minutes.  After the time has passed, press the plunger down and you’re ready.  A perfect cup of coffee awaits you like a loyal friend.

If you’re feeling a bit more hardcore, I recommend another method: Pot coffee. Out on the trail, coffee was a staple among cowboys. Piping hot coffee helped a cowboy shake off the stiffness from sleeping on the hard desert ground, and it was also a good beverage to wash down the morning ration of baked beans. But cowboys didn’t have the luxury of fancy coffee brewers or french presses. They had to pack light, so all they usually had was a metal coffee pot, sans filter, to brew their coffee in. No matter, a cowboy could still make a decent cup of coffee. Here’s how.

  1. Bring water to a near boil over your campfire.
  2. Throw your coffee grounds right into the water – That’s right. Filters are for city slickers.
  3. Stir the coffee over the fire for a minute or two.
  4. Remove the pot from the fire and let the coffee sit for a few minutes to allow the grounds to settle at the bottom of the pot. Add a bit of cold water to help speed along the settling process.
  5. Carefully pour the coffee into your tin cup so that the grounds stay in the pot.
  6. Stand around the fire with your left thumb in your belt loop and your coffee cup in your right hand. Take slow sips and meditate on the trek ahead.

It might not be the best cup of coffee you have ever had the first time you make it – but remember: Practice makes perfect.

/Jesper Sjödahl



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