Eight years ago when I was working on my first book, I discovered that I do my best writing while sitting at a coffee shop, sipping the largest Americano they can possibly make me. It’s a routine that has served me well for nearly a decade; a catalyst that sets my brain into “writer mode.” While I’ve still managed to work from home relatively successfully, sweet baby freaking Jebus I miss my Americanos so much. Yes, I know that I can make them for myself at home, but I reeeeaaaaallly don’t want to. Some these things just taste better when someone else makes them for you. Fortunately for me, I have children that I can force to do my bidding, and today I am very grateful to The Philadelphia Inquirer for interviewing Matt Scottoline, director of coffee for Philly’s Reanimator Coffee, and compiling a cheat sheet for those of us hoping to train our underlings to pour the perfect espresso.
According to Scottoline, there are six rules to follow to ensure you’re brewing cafe-quality at home. First, make sure you buy whole-bean coffee, preferably from a local roastery where you can be sure you’re getting the freshest possible product. Next, do not grind that coffee until you are ready to brew it; Scottoline recommends purchasing a burr grinder, which produces grounds that are relatively uniform in size.
The third step to a quality cup of coffee: never use water straight out of the tap, which, whether you realize it or not, has a distinct taste, and also contains minerals and chemical compounds that can alter the flavor of your finished brew. But don’t reach for bottled water, either, which is wasteful and, frankly, ridiculous. Instead, buy a filter that can attach to your faucet, or get yourself a charcoal-filter water pitcher, like a Brita.
Much like the ingredients in some baked goods, coffee is better measured by weight, not volume. “All coffee has different densities, so a tablespoon of a coffee from Africa and a tablespoon of coffee from South America is not going to be the same amount,” says Scottoline. He recommends weighing both the grounds and the water, and determining how much coffee to brew using ratios. While he notes that every person will eventually find the exact formula that works for them, a good place to start is between 14 and 17 parts water to one part coffee.
Once the perfect amount of filtered water has been weighed out, you need to heat it. Scottoline says the ideal brewing temperature is roughly 200 degrees, so if you’re using a French press or pour-over device, simply bring the water to a boil, because once it’s added to the grounds, it will come down to the ideal temperature for extracting all that magic flavor and caffeine from your coffee grounds.
The final piece of advice Scottoline offers is to be particular about how you store your beans: always keep them in a dark, cool place where they’ll be safe. Coffee beans can absorb odors from their surrounding environment, so never store them near foods like onions or garlic or in the fridge or freezer where they’re bound to pick up all sorts of unwanted flavors. You can keep them in a tightly sealed jar or in the bag they came in, and you should use them relatively quickly.