Taking stock of the current coffee culture is a quick way to become overwhelmed. French press, pour over, drip or moka pot; burr, blade or conical; extraction, aggregate and bloom--at first glance, it appears you have to learn a whole new language just to make a meager cup of joe. There is a mind-numbing array of tools, tips, and methods for brewing the 'perfect cup of coffee at home.' An onslaught of information awaits the researcher and, as if that weren't bad enough, you're left feeling inadequate before you even start.
Options are good, right? Sure. But, if your brain requires a cup of coffee just to help it consider executing the daunting task of making one, it might indicate things have gotten a little out of hand. We believe that coffee can be good and uncomplicated, always a boon and never a burden. Furthermore, we give you permission to stop wondering whether your percolator is good enough or if your red Melitta cone should be replaced by an expensive ceramic version. Unless you're brewing your coffee in an oil can, we're pretty confident that what you've got is just fine. The key to good coffee, at least in our opinion, is to master the skills necessary for your chosen method, considering only the variables that are important and disregarding the rest. A decent cup of coffee in a great setting is preferable to a great cup of coffee in a lousy setting, keep your eyes on the big picture: coffee is the means to an end, whether that end is a quiet morning ritual or a rousing banquet toast. If there's too much obsessing over the process of brewing a cup of coffee, the occasion, or the end, will be marred. We're advocates for a balance, one where knowledge and passion work alongside the realities of life. Coffee brewing should be an experience lacking in stress and abounding in pleasure.
There are three basic things, as far as we're concerned, necessary for coffee that'll keep you coming back for more: a grinder, a scale, and quality water. Used skillfully and paired with a bag of favorite beans, these three simple tools will take you far on your quest for exceptional coffee.
First, the grinder. There are many types of grinders on the market, ranging from ridiculously cheap to ridiculously expensive. We recommend a burr grinder because it guarantees a precise and even particle size. Blade grinders, which tend to be the cheapest, are nice on the pocketbook but murder on coffee beans. Instead of grinding, they chop, creating uneven particles which leads to uneven extraction which leads to a noticeably subpar cup of coffee. Burr grinders, while pricier, will give you a consistent grind and extraction, and therefore, a better cup of coffee every time. Hand-grinders are an inexpensive, though time consuming, version of a burr grinder. Alternatively, you can have your coffee pre-ground at whatever shop stocks your favorite bean. Believe us when we say that it is always better to make coffee from beans that have been pre-ground in a shop's burr grinder than with beans ground fresh in a blade grinder.
Matching your grind size to your brewing method means you'll get a better cup of coffee. A coarser grind requires that the water be in contact with the bean longer than that of its finer ground counterpart. Espresso, which requires the finest grind available, spends a fraction of the time in contact with water than a french press grind and for good reason. Steep espresso in a french press, what pours forth will be bitter and, frankly, undrinkable. Not to mention, you'll need a sledgehammer to press it. Likewise, if you force water fast and furious through an ounce of coarsely ground beans, you'll pour yourself a mug of brown-tinged hot water. Grind size matters. In general, grind on a coarse setting for french press, medium for pour over or drip, and a fine setting for espresso.
Because the coffee to water ratio is also paramount to a consistent brew, a digital scale is a critical tool, at least initially. Whether measured in ounces or grams, a ratio of one part coffee to 15 or 16 parts water is a good rule of thumb and allows you to easily brew a single cup or a whole carafe without worry. If daily use of a scale seems cumbersome, figure the weight of a scoop of coffee and, so long as you use the same scoop each time you brew, you can leave the scale aside. When using a manual method of brewing such as pour over or french press, weigh your water, too. If you use an automatic drip machine, weigh your water the first time so you aren't left to rely on the machine's inaccurate cup markings for future brews.
Last, but never least, the water itself. Can you brew coffee with any water? Of course. But coffee is mostly water, 98% water to be exact, meaning the quality of your coffee is largely dictated by the quality of your water. Ever wondered why you can happily drink a cup of black coffee from your favorite shop but your homebrew requires a heavy dose of cream to tolerate? We'd wager that your water is to blame. Ideally, everyone would have an artesian well right outside their front door. Or, a cold mountain stream trickling through the backyard. Realistically, most of us have chlorinated city water or mineral-laden well water to choose from and while these will still work for brewing, they can impart a less than desirable taste. The solution, short of moving, is to purchase either the water itself or a filter that purifies what you already have. If you have access to a water station, fill and purchase your gallons with a ratio of 5 parts filtered to 1 spring. If this is not option, filters like those made by Brita work great too. A third option, new to the market and rather exciting, is a product called ThirdWave Water. The capsules, when dropped in a gallon of distilled or reverse osmosis water, add just the right amount of calcium, magnesium, and sodium, creating the ideal medium for coffee. Find the solution that best fits your budget and lifestyle and give it a try.
Water temperature is worth noting, too. Too hot and your coffee will essential over-steep, resulting in a bitter, unfortunate beverage. Not hot enough and, well, you'll be sipping tepid, tasteless brown water. Shoot for 200 degrees or, if you don't have a thermometer, water that is just shy of boiling. Water that is just shy of boiling looks like sparkling water. Think tiny, fizzy almost but not quite bubbles.
It may seem overkill to arm yourself with a scale, a scoop, special water, and perfectly ground beans every time you want a cup of coffee. But knowing and mastering the variables allows control, taking the guesswork out of something that, above all, should be enjoyable. And once you get a system down, it becomes simple.
Remember when we said your brewing method doesn't matter? Well, we lied. Because it does matter but not in the way you might think. Abiding by all the rules we laid out, those of grind, water, and weight, no method is better than another. But if your method doesn't match your life, it's not the right method. Coffee is not immune to real life and shouldn't be brewed like it is. In other words, brew your coffee in context with the rest of your life, whatever life looks like at the point of brew. It's like this: when you get up in the morning, you pick clothes appropriate for the day's weather or work. Do likewise with your brewing method. Because coffee, if nothing else, ought to enhance your day not hinder it.
By way of example, we'll give you a little glimpse into our homes and the coffee creating that goes on there. Now, we don't know about you, but at our houses, some days are carefree and easy. These are our lazy days. They're usually in the middle of winter and often on a weekend. On these days, we brew in our pour-over glass Chemex, lingering to enjoy that irresistible scent wafting up from the grounds as they bloom. Maybe we froth a little milk to dollop in our mugs. Maybe we brew a second pot to sip with the muffins that just came out of the oven, this time drizzling a little maple syrup into the milk before we froth it. We love those kind of days. Slow days mean slow coffee.
But then there are the other days. The kids are late for school, the dog hasn't been fed, and then someone drops a full carton of orange juice on the kitchen floor. We make it out the door, but breakfast is toast not muffins, our shoelaces are untied, and no one did ever feed the poor dog. Believe us when we say there is no lingering over the Chemex on these days. And there certainly isn't frothed maple milk. But, there is good coffee. Typical days in our house call for a fast and efficient brewing method, like a drip machine that brews while you brush your teeth. And, if it's got an insulated carafe, what's left can easily come out the door with us. Could we have brewed with our Chemex on this kind of day? Sure. But no amount of caffeine, no matter how high-quality and delicious, is worth the stress of forcing your day to match your coffee. Make your coffee rise to the occasion, not the other way around.
Those hectic, orange-juice-on-the-floor kind of days, tend to be the norm for us. Just ask our dog. Stack enough of those stressful mornings on top of one another, and the temptation is to just hang it all and go camping. Lucky for us, there's a coffee for that too. In Norway, they have a word for this kind of coffee--turkaffe. Turkaffe literally means "hiking coffee," or the coffee you drink while out in nature. More than just the literal cup of coffee consumed while enjoying the great outdoors, turkaffe is a ritual, a necessary element of the adventure and is considered as important as remembering the tent stakes or the portage map. Part of the intentionality of an excursion in the wilderness, turkaffe is always brewed with a slow flame and a slow mind. Sipped with gratitude for all that nature offers, turkaffe celebrates the stillness, solitude, and scenery of the wilderness. Turkaffe is part of the allure, the respite and the reason for an escape, whether it's a week-long BWCAW trip or an hour-long snowshoe through the woods.
Whatever your adventure, make sure to keep your turkaffe brewing simple and space-saving. Pack your hand-grinder or pre-grind your beans and package them in baggies, enough for a pot in each. Boil your water in whatever pot you brought for cooking and brew cowboy style. It's rudimentary, waste-friendly, and darn good. Especially with fresh caught walleye.
Coffee, brewed thoughtfully and with context in mind, is up for anything. Served at weddings and funerals, pancake breakfasts and dinner parties, coffee is never inappropriate. Possessing an uncanny ability to always better the situation, coffee is the perfectly timed joke, the sympathetic ear, the ice breaker, and the icing on every cake. At a millionaire's gala or on a wilderness canoe trip, coffee feels perfectly at home wherever it is and always does its best to make the one drinking it feel at home, too.
Maybe that's why we love it so much. From dirt huts in El Salvador to high-rise hotels in Dubai, hospital waiting rooms to tattoo parlors, there are not many places in this vast and varied world that have been spared the uniquely human art of drinking coffee. The way we brew our coffee at Fika will look different from the way you brew it at your house and the way you brew it at your house will look different from the way the El Salvadorian brews hers. But in the end, it's all coffee and we're all humans. And you might drink yours from a Yeti, in your car on your way to work while the El Salvadorian drink hers from a dented tin cup as she walks to market with a basket strapped to one shoulder and a baby to the other, but it's all coffee and we're all humans. Humanity is unified by this simple thing, this beverage that's no more than hot water and the fruit of a tree. Coffee that can bring together what so much else seeks to divide is exceptional coffee, the kind of coffee we should all be living for.