How to Brew the Perfect Cup of Coffee

Looking for the perfect Christmas gift for the coffee aficionados on your list?  Here’re some suggestions from Kelefa Sanneh’s article in a recent issue of The New Yorker (“Sacred Grounds”, November 21, 2011).

photo of coffee beansGift item Numero 1.  Fresh, whole coffee beans.  Check out www.ticotimes.com/costa-rica-coffee-retailers for a list of online coffee retailers.  Here’s how the the web site describes Costa Rican coffee: “The Tres Rios region near the Pacific Coast produces coffees that are mild, sweet, and bright.  The Tarrazu region, which is located in the interior mountains of Costa Rica, produces a relatively heavy coffee with more aromatic complexity, The La Minita estate in the Tarrazu region is the most sought after coffee in all of Costa Rica…Other popular Costa Rica coffee varieties are Mondo Novo and Catuai.  The best Costa Rican coffee beans, are grown above 3,900 feet, and are designated as “strictly hard bean”.  The “good hard bean” classification is given to coffees grown from 3,300 to 3,900 feet.”  Geisha Coffee, from Boquete Panama is the Dom Perignon of local coffee and is considered the best gourmet specialty coffee in the world. (a 12 oz. bag can be purchased for $84.95 at www.coffeefrompanama.com)

Don’t store your beans in the freezer or refrigerator – the odors will contaminate the beans and change their flavor!   The beans should be brewed only minutes after grinding, and no more than a few weeks after they were roasted.  According to the Britt Coffee representative at the Auto Mercado, the date of expiration on the package is one year after the roasting date.  I checked some Britt Bags as well as Coffee Milagro (our preferred brand) and all had December 2112 as their expiration date, so presumably they were roasted this month.

photo of coffee grinderGift item Numero 2:  A burr mill.  This is the most important piece of equipment for a good cup of coffee.  Evidently, our electric spinning blade grinder is not actually a grinder but a chopper, and produces uneven grounds or fragments.  “It’s impossible to get an even brew from uneven grounds, and once you have detected the acrid notes in partially over-extracted coffee it is not easy to un-detect them.”  According to Sanneh, a hand-crank burr mill costs about $50, and electric mills start at around $100.


photo of digital scaleGift item Numero 3: A digital scale. Weighing the beans and water is one of the easiest ways to improve your coffee. You should be able to get a scale with a capacity of at least a kilogram for around $20.




photo of ceramic coffee filterGift item Numero 4:  A ceramic cone with a small hole that fits on the top of a coffee mug and paper filters.

Now that you have the right equipment, here’s how you brew.

“Boil water.  Grind eighteen to twenty-two grams of beans.  Fit the filter into the cone and flush it with boiling water – this helps prevent your coffee from tasting like wet paper.  Put the mug onto the scale, put the cone on the mug and put the ground coffee in the cone.  Pour forty grams of water over the grounds, and watch them bloom: if the coffee is fresh, it should swell and release small bubbles of carbon dioxide.  After about forty-five seconds, start pouring the rest of the water, beginning in the middle of the grounds and circling outward.  Pour slowly and pause often: the grounds should never drain dry, but the water level should remain low.  Pour three hundred and twenty-five grams of water, including the initial forty, and remove the cone once the trickle has become a slow drip.  The process should take about four minutes.”

photo of French press Gift item Numero 5:  If this all sounds too technical, try the French press, available from Café Britt at the Auto Mercado.  It’s a classic. Coffee grounds and boiling water are poured into the glass container and allowed to steep for a few minutes. Then a metal mesh plunger is brought down, sequestering the grounds at the bottom of the container.  This makes a rich cup of coffee but the occasional ground escapes the plunger and makes it into your cup. To avoid this, use a coarser grind.

Christina Spilsbury and Rick Macsherry have lived in Tamarindo since 1989. They own and operate Sunset Catering.

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