Serious Eats: Drinks
A Coffee Makeover Makes Mornings Magical
With a house full of candy-grabbing kids, my parents knew they could safely leave one dish of candy out on the appropriately named coffee table: Coffee Nips. Oh, I loved the smell of coffee brewing, but somewhere along the line I'd had a sip of the stuff and become forever squeamish about coffee flavors—in candy, ice cream, and anywhere else.
Or so I thought. Fast forwarding about forty years from that first sip, I began watching my partner do her morning pourover ritual and wondering what it was all about. Intrigued, I tried a cup (no surprise that it was better than my parents' Sanka, or their splurge for Maxwell House), and saw that it offered a nice bitter contrast to something sweet. But it wasn't an obsession for me—until my neighbor enticed me with a latte from his fancy espresso machine. His quest for quality beans was both curious and compelling. But I wasn't making anything near this delicious at my place.
Reading Liz Clayton's Serious Eats reports on ways to brew better coffee at home, I decided to submit myself to a coffee makeover, placing my future as a java junkie in the hands of coffee expert Edwin Martinez and Hario retailer Roustabout Products. What would it take to improve my coffee ritual? Could I, a Seattleite who'd ignored the rise of Starbucks and the appearance of small-batch roasters in town, become a coffee obsessive?
Like most makeovers, the before-and-after change has been amazing.
Pre-makeover, I was using a Krups electric grinder to get my beans down to size. I'd measure about 2-1/2 tablespoons of beans, throw them in the grinder, and then whirl away for an indeterminate amount time until it looked right, even though the results were uneven. Little did I realize that the blade was essentially chopping the beans haphazardly and mercilessly.
Martinez recommended that I use a Hario V60 Drip Scale to accurately measure the weight of the beans, which I then pour into a retro-cool Hario Coffee Mill Roman N. With ability to adjust the size of the grind, I hand-crank, and the ceramic burrs drop the now-consistent particles into a pull-out drawer. Maybe it's not as fast as an electric grinder, but it's not shrieky loud, and the hands-on process is smooth, successful, and satisfying.
My pre-makeover setup involved a plastic Melitta drip cone that would hold the coffee grounds. It's a fine, inexpensive product that does what it needs to do.
My new swanky Hario V60 02 Ceramic Dripper feels like an upgrade. While Hario also makes a plastic model that's lower cost (and, according to some, has more articulated ridges to produce a slightly better brew) and a glass one, the ceramic dripper is solid in the hand, and alleviates any concern about using plastic in the coffee-making process.
My old Le Creuset kettle would boil eventually on the stovetop, but it took awhile, and without even a "v" notch in the spout, that kettle would pour wide and fast, spilling water uncontrollably—sometimes with more on the counter than in the cone.
Martinez fixed me up with a Hario V60 Buono Power Kettle, which plugs into an outlet to bring up to 800 mL of water to boil quickly, with an automatic off switch plus "boil-dry protection" to prevent heating when empty. The best part is that it sports a fine gooseneck spout which provides precision of pour. I can correctly aim for the center of the coffee grounds and circumference out, controlling the speed to get better and more consistent extraction, without any mess.
I'd drip straight into the coffee mug, continually lifting the cone to see how much of the mug had filled.
Switching to a Hario V60 Range Server makes it possible (and fun) to watch the drip. The Hario V60 Drip Scale also has a timer to precisely measure the bloom time and the elapsed time of extraction. Sitting on the scale and completing the makeover is a Hario Drip Station, an acrylic stand designed to hold the server and the dripper, equipped with a stainless steel drip tray.
It's a pretty simple setup, actually, and the simplicity has drawn me in: I've become attuned to the small details, challenged to continually improve the coffee I brew. Post-makeover, I've found it easy to get all geeky about it. I'm now tinkering with desired bean weight, size of the coffee grounds, amount of water and time for the bloom, water temperature, and pour time and technique. It's all become appealing to a numbers guy like me.
More importantly, I've come to simply relish this part of my mornings. I like the hands-on approach of my new pourover process: it's a full sensory experience. I enjoy the feel of the beans in my hand, like Amélie dipping her hand into sacks of grains. I like turning the handle of the grinder and feeling the burrs do their work, watching as the beans drop and fall. Those beans smell good in the bag, but even better when I open the wooden drawer and inhale the grounds. I like the quiet moment as the coffee grounds bloom in the cone, as I stop thinking about anything else to watch and listen as the liquid drips into the server.
Not lost in the process is the taste. Now that a corner of my kitchen looks like a mini-barista station, the quality of my coffee has improved immensely. I'm enjoying a growing appreciation for the richness of coffee, and the richness of a new meditative ritual that grounds (get it?) me in my life.
About the author: Jay Friedman is a Seattle-based freelance food writer who happens to travel extensively as a sex educator. An avid fan of noodles (some call him "The Mein Man"), he sees sensuality in all foods, and blogs about it at his Gastrolust website. You can follow him on Twitter @jayfriedman.
Thanks to Roustabout Products for providing Hario equipment for testing in this piece.