Friday, August 27, 2010

Why Doesn't It Taste Like It Did in the Cafe?

If the coffee you enjoy at home just doesn't taste like it did in the cafe, it might be your grinder. I've owned four home grinders over the past decade. All of those grinders have produced a substantial variety of particle sizes, and that's made it very hard to brew good coffee at home.

Particular brew methods are designed to extract desirable soluble and insoluble flavor compounds without extracting undesirable bitter flavors that leach out of the bean later in the brew cycle. If coffee particle size varies significantly, then your brew will be extracting at substantially different (and unpredictable) rates, resulting in a coffee that is partly under-extracted, partly brewed right, and partly over-extracted. Flavors that popped in the cafe are fogged, and your brew may taste a somewhat flat or bitter due to over-extraction of particles that are too small for your brew method.

An ideal (non-existent) grinder would grind 100% of the particles to exactly the size. Professional quality grinders are developed to grind as many particles as possible to the same size. Ordinary home grinders are designed to break up the beans into small pieces, but not necessarily accurately. Here's what the difference might look like:

Wealthy home aficionados can tighten up that bell curve with a shop-quality grinder at home ($1000+). Depending on the state of your palate and your wallet, a slightly less accurate home grinder might also do the trick (about $200). The rest of us must make do with the grinders we have. Here are a few tricks:

  • If you have a blade grinder, and the grinding chamber floor is flat, tilt the grinder as you grind to avoid re-chopping already ground particles. Here's a blade grinder pictured in a great grinder review over at Gimme! Coffee. 
  • If you have a hand burr grinder, keep an eye on the wobble in your handle over time. As you crank on that handle morning after morning, you'll start to put pressure on the metal axle itself and on the fittings that align that axle. Over time, your burrs will wobble more and more, generating an increasingly erratic grind size. has a great article on maintaining the axle of the popular Hario hand grinder.
  • Alter your brew methods to suit your grinder. It sounds odd, but if your grinder can produce a decently consistent turkish coffee grind, but only pebbles and dust in the French press range, learn to brew turkish!
  • Finally, cheap grinders wear out. Replace your grinder when you can't stand it any longer!
Other tips? Please below and let the rest of us know!

    Monday, August 23, 2010

    N’Orleans Coffee Comfort in Seattle

    One of the perks of launching a new product (cue: The Coffee Catcher) is anticipating the day when a stranger on the street starts telling you about “this handy new gadget” they discovered - and you wait a couple extra seconds to tell them that it’s your gadget and yes, you agree that it’s handy.

    That day arrived recently for one of our Kaffeologie cohorts as she visited Seattle’s new Creole-style soul food truck,“Where Ya At Matt?”  Alongside their (delicious) Po’ Boy Sandwiches this mobile-eatery features made-to-order beignets doused with a healthy amount of confectioner’s sugar.  Of course, as a native of New Orleans owner Matt Lewis knows that beignets aren’t complete without the proper brew.  Enter Herkimer coffee.

    Thanks to Scott Richardson at Herkimer, WYAM is brewing up a smooth yet fierce cup of coffee that, sitting next to a bag of beignets is enough to make you homesick for New Orleans - even if you’ve never been.  We tried sipping the coffee black and also doctored it up cafe au lait style - both ways it’s delicious mellowness finishes with a bit of bite.  (The bite is really what makes the brew fit so perfectly next to the beignets’ sweetness.)

    Delicious beignets. Photo from Seattle Met.

    Naturally when considering coffee + New Orleans, the French Press came up in conversation...and it was only moments until: “Have you heard about this new gadget...”

    Oh yes.  Yes, we’ve heard about it.