Serious Eats: Drinks

Coffee Chronicles: Serious Eats Office Coffee Meta-Makeover!

And how you can make over your office coffee, too.

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The sad, sad Serious Eats coffee program before its makeover. [Photos: Liz Clayton]

The great crusade of the coffee nerd is to try to get the good word across to the food people. It should be so easy, right? Sure, these people understand flavor, nuance, deliciousness, and think about all that farm-to-table blahbetty blah all the time. So why are they drinking stale deli coffee?

As Serious Eats: New York's coffee columnist, I took it upon myself to quietly inquire as to how the SE core office crew enjoys their caffeine on a daily basis. The answer was not as bad as it could have been, but it wasn't pretty. As you see above.

Poor Serious Eats coffee program, relegated to a card table next to a microwave and an empty desk. Surely there's a way to get these enthusiastic people on board with an affordable, high-quality office brew bar, with preparations just as easy as filling up a Mr. Coffee basket, and rewards infinitely more delicious?

And surely there's a way to make your daytime coffee better, too.

Before

Let's see. The current SE coffee bar includes, um, a stapler... and at least features a grinder—an optimistic sign—though it's a whirlybird style blade contraption, the kind that produces uneven particle size that isn't doing you any favors in the long run. [Ed. note: We hadn't ever used that grinder, either.] Coffee of undetermined origin is being kept warm in the pot when I arrive, but I'm hoping a quick run through some of the simplest manual brewing devices will lure the staff away from the constant and distracting inflow of pizzas and sandwiches.

It works. And all I needed was an electric kettle, plus the gadgets below.

What Gadgets Can Replace An Office Coffee Pot?

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#1: Aeropress (pressurized space-age tube extraction; many methods)
I lay out the gear alongside some of Cafe Grumpy's Finca El Aguila coffee from El Salvador, ground at two different levels of coarseness to yield the best extraction out of our different devices. Maggie Hoffman wants to try the Aeropress first, surely one of the strangest looking brewers popular today, a syringe-like device inexplicably invented by the Aerobie corporation.

It's light, it's weird, and it produces a concentrated but complex cup of coffee. We use 2009 World Aeropress Champion Lukasz Jura's recipe for preparation (specifying water and coffee amounts and brew time), though the Aeropress is nothing if not versatile, with myriad possibilities for tweaking how you brew.

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#2: Chemex (blown glass pourover cone and carafe, drip method)
Maggie and Carey Jones both like the Aeropress after they've tasted the results—though they find they have to put a little back into it—but they like the Chemex's stylish pourover even more. Its super-simple functional beauty produces a clean, delicate cup, though its detractors find the coffee lacks the fuller body of other methods. I always find it seems like forever to wait for a Chemex to finish brewing—though Carey reminds me that their automatic drip machine takes just as long. So far, the '50s kitchen classic is in the lead.

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#3: French Press (metal-filter steeping method)
Next up I haul out a standby that even the just coffee-curious have long been onto: a French press. Most New Yorkers seem to have one of these kicking around their kitchen somewhere (or at least they think they used to). French press is a reliable and low-maintenance way to make very full-bodied coffee, though it may come at the expense of delicacy of flavor and clean taste within the cup. Our French press brew kicks in at the bottom of the list.

#4: Clever Dripper (full-immersion drip brewing with paper filter)
Finally, we decide to give the Abid Clever Dripper a go: though I don't really love putting hot things through plastic, this unusual cone dripper really makes a delicious cup. It combines the principles of both steeping and pourover via a gravity valve at the bottom of the cup, allowing it to retain the grounds immersed in water for 3-4 minutes before releasing it gently into your coffee cup through awesome magic.

coffee117010-5.jpgAnd though they thought their hearts were won by the Chemex, quickly the gang turned to our lightweight, inexpensive, clever little friend: we brewed another dripper's worth, and began to draw a crowd, with even the non-coffee drinkers in the office standing up to taste it. Hoffman found the depth of flavor richer from the Clever brew, remarking that they were "both better than the French press," her current method at home.

So, Can We Make Some Easy Improvements?

Definitely, said Jones and Hoffman, who, after tasting more than four cups of coffee, were full of crazy talk like "We're going to sample new coffees every week!" and "Which grinder should we buy?" (I recommended the Baratza Maestro or Maestro Plus as good conical burr grinders with at least slightly approachable price points.)

Plans are now afoot to outfit the SE bar with both Chemex (available all over, from coffee shops to even Fairway) and Clever dripper. "There's such an intuitive simplicity to them," said my ever-patient editor Jones. "It's just putting water over coffee."

It didn't take long—or too many deliciously influential cups of coffee—to persuade the office that having viable, low-cost options for beautiful tasting coffees would be darn near just as convenient as making mediocre brew on the auto drip. All you need is a grinder, an electric kettle, and any one of the gadgets above.

When office need is high, a Chemex can serve several—when one's fixing their own cup, a Clever brew can be shared, or just as easily hogged to oneself. Will the convenience-for-taste tradeoff of taking a little time to brew manually versus reaching for that ever-heated pot be lasting? Jones and Hoffman think it can be. Let's check back in, in a few weeks, and hold them to it.

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