Our Coffee Brew-ology

I ordered an iced americano at Shenandoah Joe’s this afternoon. A Joe-in-training brought the barrista a cup full of ice water and set it down by the espresso machine. “That is not how you prep an iced americano,” the barrista scolded the newbie. I smiled on the inside.

The barrista informed the new recruit that pouring the espresso into ice water cuts the flavor and promotes a bitterness not present in the beans themselves. Instead, she put water into a metal cup and brewed the espresso directly into said cup. She then poured the mixture over ice and gave it the tiniest of stirs. I thanked Master Barrista and left with my second caffeine boost of the day.

Our home runs on coffee.

My current workspace, doubly caffeinated.

We have it when we wake up, when we hit a wall in the afternoon and when we walk by open coffee shops, farmer’s market stands and library K-Cup machines. We take it black, spiced with cardamom or anise, with a shot of Frangelico, or with flavored syrups. It goes in our cakes and puddings, in our peanut butter [see “Bright-Eyed”] and our sugar [Sugar, Chocolate, Coffee Grinder from Trader Joes…this exists]. And who can forget Van Gogh Double Espresso Vodka?

I’ve often heard Shaun tell people he’s at “over ten cups a day.” He’s not lying. But here’s the thing: if I may say so myself, we do coffee right [by our personal standards, of course]. We’ve done our research and have our process down to a science.* Here’s a breakdown of our nuttiness, A.K.A. our coffee brew-ology.**

The Beans:

The almost-exclusive provider of our coffee beans is Shenandoah Joe Coffee, a C’Ville staple. Joe’s has been around almost 20 years [we’ll unfortunately miss the 20th anniversary by just a few months!], and takes pride in sourcing green coffee beans and roasting them on-site daily. Joe’s is a “small-batch” roaster, meaning almost any time you walk in, you’re drinking or buying fresh coffee.

This makes a huge difference.

Rivanna Roast.

If these beans look a little bit wet or shiny, that’s because they’re that fresh. If they don’t, it’s because I’m a bad photographer. Trust me, they’re beautiful to look at.

We buy Joe’s because we can:

  • buy fresh [so fresh that they sometimes create static electricity in our grinder];
  • buy local;
  • support a C’Ville resident; and
  • experiment with lots of beans.

Our usual purchase is a half pound at a time, whole-bean. Currently we’ve got the Rivanna Roast (dark) and the Mexican Chiapas (light, but bold) on tap.

Fresh Beanz.

Half-pound batches don’t quite get us through the week, but they do allow us the flexibility to go all over the map with flavors: Yirgacheffe, Rivanna Roast, Dave’s Blend, Smoky Mountain Roast, Chiapas, and on and on. Buying fresh and locally roasted beans is a habit we’re looking forward to continuing in Phialdelphia by becoming regulars at Old City Coffee – the only local Philly roaster.

For more information on stores and restaurants that provide Joe’s coffee, check here.

The Tools:

Our kitchen is stocked with coffee paraphernalia.

The Coffee Counter.

The Coffee Shelf.

We’re prepared for anything [coffeepocalypse?]. Our prized possessions have to be these guys, though:

Big Mugs.

These ceramic mugs are huge, ensuring we both get our caffeine fix without getting up to pour one billion times.

We also invested in a kitchen scale and thermometer to weigh the beans each morning to grind and ensure the water is at the correct temperature.

Then, there’s the water-boiling tools. We have a traditional tea-kettle, but in a panic this summer when the stove made the house entirely too hot, I purchased a Bodum electric water kettle, which not only cuts down on heat, it also cuts down on boiling time.

And who can forget the french presses? I think we have about 3 at this point in different sizes.

Comes with a timer. Genius.

We should buy Bodum stock.

But these toys would be nothing without the machinery we’ve accumulated, too.

The Machines:

Shaun and I of course have an espresso machine, although this doesn’t get used as much in the summer. For the holidays last year, I bought a conical burr grinder for the kitchen.

So many grinds...

So little time.

Conical burr grinders work better than our old blade grinder for a few reasons. Burr grinders don’t heat up and potentially burn the beans the way a blade grinder does. Moreover, the grind is more consistent than that of a blade grinder – this affects the way the water draws flavor from beans. This burr grinder also allows for different consistencies, from finely ground [for the espresso machine] to coarsely ground [for the french presses].

Finally, the product that may induce many of you to throw your hands up and say, “Ok guys, that’s enough,” is our Hourglass Cold Brew Coffee System.

Yup, we've got that.

Photo source. Let me explain. Cold-brewing coffee creates an extract from the beans that you then mix with water to create a cold coffee beverage. The benefits to this are the fact that the (1) coffee brews over time in the fridge without active participation, and (2) the resulting coffee is significantly less acidic and smoother than traditionally brewed coffee. Your stomach thanks you, since iced coffee is often consumed much faster than its hot counterpart. Coffee extract is also great to have around for cooking and flavoring. And that is how we justify it.

The Process: Our morning coffee routine is as follows:

1. Boil water. Note: Once the water reaches boiling, I take it off the heat for maybe half a minute before adding it to the beans. Coffee water is actually supposed to be below boiling to avoid burning.

2. Weigh beans. The beans go onto the scale [44 oz. for a large french press], and then…

3. Into the grinder. After a few seconds, you’ve got freshly ground coffee and a sweet-smelling kitchen – and you haven’t even brewed anything yet.

4. Brew. The coffee goes into the french press, covered by the water, for four minutes before being pressed. Even Grady knows that the beeping of the coffee timer means his owners are about to be happier people.

5. Chug.

Just kidding, don’t do that. You just spent entirely too much time making coffee. How do I justify the time and attention required for this when Mr. Coffee exists to do everything for me with his magical built-in alarm clock? Because of the results.

The Results:

Freshly ground beans brewed in a french press rather than a filter coffee machine really do taste different. There’s a richness of flavor that is most certainly filtered out when the entire process is done inside a machine. I’ve grown to enjoy the nuances in coffee taste and texture so much that the process of preparation is almost ritualistic – a way to honor the care that went into sourcing and roasting the beans.

Give it a try! You don’t even have to do it at home. Most coffee shops [including Starbucks, I think] now offer coffee-by-the-french-press for dine-in customers, and may even allow you to choose your roast. Barristas are able to help you pick out a bean that’s dark or light or sweet or citrusy or whatever your heart desires, and you can enjoy freshly pressed coffee over a book or newspaper without lifting a finger. And maybe someday, you’ll find a flavor that inspires you to give it a shot at home on a cold morning in your pajamas.

* I’m sure my friend Devan can appreciate the significance of this, since she was there with me the first time I tried to make coffee in a 4$ Ikea french press.

** The writing of this article was fueled by insane amounts of caffeine.


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Categories: Beverages


Courtney grew up in Reading, PA, and has lived in New York City (where she earned a bachelor's degree at NYU), Prague, Philadelphia, and Charlottesville (where she received a J.D. from UVa Law). Courtney and her new husband will settle in Philadelphia following a six-week Euro-trip extravaganza in September of 2012. Courtney's interests include music, writing, criticism, fitness, travel, cooking, and sports. Please enjoy the blog. LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/pub/courtney-marello/1a/375/b30 Tumblr: http://abarrelofoddsandends.tumblr.com/


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  1. Baby Birthday Cake | Ryes and 'Shine - January 14, 2012

    […] birthday to Shaun! My all-star fiance. The one who deals with my whining and mess-ups and is as obsessed with coffee as me and helps me win trivia. We’ll be spending the day out celebrating at Blue Mountain […]

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