The average coffee drinker is usually subhuman before stumbling into the kitchen, pouring a cup of liquid ambition and imbibing those first few drops of dark magic.
The panoply of bean choices, devices and methods can be just as confounding as the early call to the kitchen rituals of awakening. Ryan O'Rourke, founder of Ironclad Coffee Roasters, offers advice for the overwhelmed and undercaffeinated on how to brew cafe-quality coffee at home.
Richmond has roughly a dozen roasters in the city or nearby. Local outfits are more likely to sell beans closer to their roast date, ensuring a level of freshness and flavor long departed from a canister or bag shipped ages ago and lingering in grocery-shelf limbo. O'Rourke says the peak time to grind and drink coffee beans after roasting usually falls within four days to four weeks, making it harder to get that golden range from national brands or out-of-town roasters.
Buy Whole Bean
It's better to grind the coffee immediately prior to brewing. "If you're paying for nice coffee, get the most out of it that you can," O'Rourke says. "Grinding per use will help. If you buy it pre-ground, you've probably cut in half the ideal time in which to enjoy the beans." Also, make sure you store those beans in the dark, away from direct sunlight. But O'Rourke recommends against storing in the freezer or fridge — the temperature fluctuations can introduce condensation, which can be a real buzz kill for the beans.
Choose Your Origin and Roast
Decide if you want single origin or a blend. Single origins give a good sense of the terroir — the flavors of coffee based on the soil, elevation and climate where it is grown. Blends offer creativity to the roaster by mixing and combining beans. On roast, be aware of where your taste falls on the spectrum and be open to new things. "Overroasting kind of takes out the flavor and complexity," O'Rourke says. "It can bake off the sugars and introduce bitter components as the byproduct of the chemical reactions." Ironclad's style is not dark, he says, but he can usually point customers to something they'll enjoy.
O'Rourke recommends ditching your blade grinder for a quality burr grinder. You can find them on Amazon for around $40 and the hand-powered device will ensure a nice, even grind on your beans, which helps even out the amount of flavor extracted from the dissolved solids during brewing.
Choose Your Method
There's more than one way to make rocket fuel. If you use a drip machine at home, O'Rourke recommends investing in a device that brews at the range of 195-205 degrees Fahrenheit. For one or two people, he says a pour over is an ideal way to create clean, flavorful coffee in smaller portions. There are also AeroPress and French press systems. Here's where your preferences come into play. Some people prefer the muddiness of a French press, with the longer immersion time and abundance of dissolved solids. AeroPress devices have a shorter immersion time, and work similarly with a little less mud.
Add Hot Water
"Our water is actually spot on in the city of Richmond," O'Rourke says. "This water is made for brewing coffee. In terms of the mineral content, we're squarely in the good range." He still recommends filtering water with a simple carbon device for coffee, but O'Rourke can't sing the virtues of Richmond's hydrology enough. If our mineral content was outside the desirable range, it would mean significantly greater costs for professional coffeemakers.
"The best compliment we can ever get is when people say they can drink our coffee without cream and sugar," O'Rourke says. "We also hope people will come in and ask our baristas as they explore and learn more about what methods and coffees they enjoy most."