Sometimes I look forward to that cortado like nobody’s business, I can almost taste it on my way to a cafe. That first sip can turn my day around.
I grew up in Europe so my standards for a croissant are extremely high (at 7-Elevens in Sweden, for example, croissants are baked on the premises each morning. No individually-bagged, week-old dry croissants, even at the corner store). I love being able to pull the flaky layers apart one by one, savoring each buttery bite.
And seating, that’s an obvious choice. If I want my coffee to go, I generally just make some at home. If I can afford the luxury of time, I love to linger and sink into a seat at a cafe and stay a while. People-watch, read the local section of the paper, get some work done in the company of others.
Great coffee, a comfortable place to sit, and a soft croissant.
When those three ‘needs’ are met, you will likely see me time and again, getting lost in a good book or catching up with a friend.
[Point of clarification: There are certain pastry flavors (think blueberry or cinnamon) that can really complement coffee, but more often than not I go with a simple savory bite – I relish the occasional sweet treat but I also like to stay balanced and not waste my workouts 🙂 Plus, Lauren and I are suckers for alliteration so croissants and cortados were the obvious choice!]
Do you have your favorite pastry vendors and their partner cafes memorized like I do? What is your perfect trifecta and where do you find it?
Three brew methods explored: Aeropress, pour over, and immersion.
When I first got into coffee as a hobby (yes coffee can be a verb ;)) I didn’t think I’d get much into the nerdy coffee brewing side of it. I just wanted to enjoy my craft cappuccino in a cozy café and let someone else figure out the math – I’d seen the pictures on Instagram of people weighing out their coffee and measuring the temperature of their water and it wasn’t for me.
Then, while working up in Maryland I started listening to podcasts during my commute. The one that really caught my attention was “I Brew my Own Coffee,” hosted by two coffee enthusiasts who usually have a guest on their show and cover a multitude of coffee topics. Curiosity got the best of me because I dug out my old French Press and blade grinder that I used for spices and started playing around with whole bean coffee that was gifted to me the Christmas before.
It was awful.
The beans were old, they were unevenly ground, the coffee was too dense for me. But I started changing some variables.. I got a $15 hand grinder – hilarious the first time I cranked that thing for a few tablespoons of coffee. Within a few iterations it got easier though :). I started employing a food scale I already had. And of course I purchased fresh coffee. A while later I made the plunge (pun intended) for my first Aeropress. Already a steal, I scored at Compass Coffee with a great military discount. Home brewing hasn’t been the same for me since.
When it became clear that my enjoyment of coffee was turning into some serious enthusiasm we upgraded our home brewing station with some nicer gadgets (my birthday and mother’s day fall within days of each other- for the win!)
Here are three common types of home brewing methods that you’ll often find the coffee enthusiast using: Aeropress, Pour over method (like Chemex or V60), and Immersion (Aeropress is immersion but here I refer to one that just uses gravity, like the Clever Dripper or Yama Silverton). All the ‘recipes’ I use have a 1/16 ratio of coffee to water (so 1g of coffee needs 16g of water. 15g of coffee (for a small cup) uses 240g of water). I also pre-wet the filters.
Our first blog post was about Aeropress – it sort of has a cult following for its unique innovation and ease of use. It’s plastic and easy to travel with, and doesn’t take much extra equipment to make a good cup. You simply put in your freshly ground coffee, add water, stir, and plunge the water through the base. The Aeropress comes with a set of filters and standard recipe.
I did mention the cult following because people have come up with countless unique recipes (double filter, inversion method, espresso, etc.), and obviously started competing with Aeropress (on a National level even). It’s my go-to when I’m at the office because it perfectly brews a single cup – even if I do look like a mad scientist.
Most cafes in the area sell them but the only ones we can think of that serves them are Zeke’s and Vigilante.
My go-to recipe: The one that it came with!
Coffee: 15g, finely ground (about 2 tablespoons)
Water: 175 degrees F (bring water to a boil, wait a minute or two. I also just microwave water at work). 240 g (or to just above the “4” mark on the Aero).
Stir for 10 seconds.
Plunge for 20 seconds.
The most popular/common pour over methods you might hear about are Chemex, Hario V60 and Kalita. Many cafes around town use the Kalita, like the Wydown and Maketto. Dolcezza and Compass Coffee use a Chemex. Peregrine uses the Beehive dripper. They are all pretty nerdy and require a scale, a timer/calculator, and they fare best with a gooseneck kettle for a controlled pour.
My first cup of specialty coffee was served as a pour over and the Barista kept one hand behind his back as he expertly swirled the water over my grounds in timed intervals. It’s an artistic method of brewing coffee and though it can be intimidating, can make a great cup.
My go-to recipe: the 10/30 method. It’s 10% of the allotted water for the bloom, then three increments of 30% of water for the rest.
Coffee: 21g, medium ground
Water: 204 degrees F (just shy of boiling), 336g
Pour 33 g of water for the bloom, to release the gases. Wait 20-30 seconds.
Add 101g of water in a slow, circular motion to cover all the grounds.
Wait until most of the water has dripped through, then repeat, twice.
This method is pretty fool proof and with the Clever Dripper being so affordable, a great place to start home-brewing. The ground coffee and water are combined, left to steep for short period, then all the water is released at once. This is actually how La Colombe serves their ‘pour overs’ (using a Yama Silverton). Killer E.S.P. in Alexandria uses the Clever Dripper.
My go-to recipe:
Coffee: 20g, medium ground
Water: 198 degrees F, 320g
Pour 30g of water for the bloom, to release the gases. Wait 30 seconds.
Pour 290g of water over the coffee.
At the 3:00 minute mark, release the coffee. It should all be poured out by about 3:45 minutes. If it goes too fast, grind your coffee finer; if it goes too slow, grind your coffee coarser.
I’ve completely become that nerdy home brewer I used to mock! Ha, I’m constantly asking my baristas questions about water temperature and grind size (I’m told to start with the coarseness of Kosher salt and work up and down from there – Matt from the Coffee Bar once sent me home with a tablespoon of coffee, ground to their coarseness they use, so I could compare to mine.) Water can make a big impact and I’ve brewed with spring water to see if my water pipes are affecting my brew. I donate all the coffee over 14 days past roast date to my husband’s office who have just started noticing the difference between good coffee and Folger’s (I also donated my blade grinder to them, which makes them feel like coffee connoisseurs!) Yep, I’m my own worst enemy.
Well we all have to have hobbies and this is mine. I have a harder time drinking ‘bad’ coffee now than I did before but as Ethan from La Colombe once told us, there is still something to be said about drinking the indistinguishable coffee from the drip brewer at your mom’s house. It probably has a timer so that it’s brewed by the time you wake up in the morning. Plus, it’s time shared, memories made, and a cup to warm your soul.
How do you drink coffee at home? We love to hear from you!
What is a coffee blog without an introduction to the subject matter itself? Coffee is a beautiful, complex thing. Some of us need it to wake up in the morning while others simply drink it for the taste. Many only indulge in it on occasion while others (myself included) ingest multiple cups throughout the day. It can be prepared and enjoyed in numerous environments and in various ways; yet, there is still so much to learn and discover when it comes to this black beauty. As I personally evolve in my caffeination education, I think fondly of the following quote by author Alfred Mercier: “What we learn with pleasure we never forget.” Now grab yourself a cup of coffee, and let’s get to it!
Legend has it that the coffee bean was first discovered by “dancing” goats. In the 9th century, Ethiopian shepherds noticed their goats extremely active and unable to sleep after consuming coffee cherries. While I will choose to believe in the story of the dancing goats, the first credible historical account of the discovery of coffee was actually in Yemen in the middle of the 15th century. The popularity of coffee spread at an accelerating rate throughout the Arabian Peninsula during the 15th and 16th centuries and reached the European continent in the early 17th century . When it was first brought to Venice in 1615 it was condemned by local clergy, forcing Pope Clement VIII to make a ruling on the matter (don’t worry, he gave it two thumbs up). Coffee reached the United States by way of New York (then known as New Amsterdam) later that same century; however, it did not become popular until after the Boston Tea Party as many Americans vowed to avoid drinking tea and British imports decreased.
An Agricultural Product
The coffee plant is grown between the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn, also referred to as “The Coffee Belt.” As insinuated earlier, coffee beans are found inside the pit of a coffee cherry, making it a fruit (yay, I’m healthy!). The two main species of the coffee plant are Robusta and Arabica. Robusta is the easier strain to grow as it is not as temperamental, and it can be found mostly in canned and instant coffees. Though that might be a turn off to some, it does contain more caffeine than Arabica. Arabica, on the other hand, represents 70-75% of the coffee produced every year and is found in most coffee shops, especially those that are independent.
From Bean to Brew
So what has to happen for you to get your fresh cup of coffee every morning? Once coffee cherries have ripened, they are picked, either by machine or hand, and processed. The environment in which they are grown and the method in which they are processed signify some of the greatest distinctions between different varieties of coffee beans. The first processing approach is the dry method, which is used in many areas where water resources are scarce. The coffee cherries are laid out to dry in the sun, turned on occasion to prevent them from spoiling; this might take place for several weeks, until the moisture content of the cherries nears 10%. The second is the wet method, which is a little more complicated.
First, the beans are stripped from the pulp of the cherry, left only surrounded by parchment skin. They are then transferred into water-filled fermentation tanks for anywhere between 12 and 48 hours to remove the slimy layer still attached to the parchment skin. The beans are then rinsed and dried, either by spreading them out in the sun or with the help of a machine. After going through the wet process, the coffee beans are hulled, polished, and sorted before making their way to your favorite roasters. Beans are stored green before roasting. As they are exposed to the heat of the roasting process, up to 550 degrees Fahrenheit, they become dark brown and fragrant, giving off that “coffee aroma” that we are all familiar with. Roasters advise you to brew your beans as quickly as possible following the roasting process to ensure freshness. There are numerous methods to brewing coffee with new techniques and recipes being discovered all the time. Almost everyone is familiar with drip coffee; however, there is also the pour over, Chemex, Aeropress, French press, siphon, and espresso (I am sure I’m leaving out some).
The major differences between these brewing methods, other than the equipment, are the ground size and time of extraction, meaning the amount of time the grounds are exposed to water, bringing out all that yummy goodness. Then voila! Your coffee is ready to enjoy black, with cream and sugar, or however else you choose to prepare your cup o’ joe.
This only skims the oily brown surface of this magical thing we call coffee. However, we don’t want to give it all away at once! What’s the fun in that? Be sure to follow along as we continue to discover and learn more about this wonderful (some might say miraculous) drink we all know and love and its place in our nation’s capital.
Fast fun facts:
The world consumes on average 400 billion cups of coffee per year.
Coffee is the second most traded commodity in the world behind crude oil.
125 million people depend on coffee for their livelihoods.
A single coffee plant produces about one pound of coffee each year.
It takes approximately 100 beans to make one cup of coffee and 42 beans for an espresso.
There is more caffeine in your regular cup of coffee than in your average espresso drink.
When coffee first came to Europe it was referred to as “Arabian wine.”
Hawaii is the only state in the U.S. that commercially produces coffee.
Brazil is the top coffee producer, producing nearly 40% of the world’s coffee.
Finland is the top coffee consumer with the average adult drinking 4-5 cups a day.
Dark roasted coffees contain less caffeine than lighter roasts.
Decaffeinated coffee still contains the slightest amount of caffeine.