Coffee is one of the most popular beverages
on the planet and needs no introduction. But beginners need to know a few
things before they start their coffee journey. Of course, you could make coffee
by dropping some instant coffee in hot water. But if you want to enjoy coffee
and experience its subtle and nuanced flavors, it’s worth going the extra mile.
Here are some things a beginner should know.
Know Your Coffee Gear And Appliances
There are expensive coffee machines and appliances available that will cost you a few hundred dollars or even a couple thousand bucks. While they do serve a purpose, expensive gear isn’t a necessity for good coffee.
It is possible to brew great coffee with inexpensive equipment. Coffee gear like a French Press and pour-over coffee makers are famous for brewing great coffee – and they clock in at affordable prices. Simple as it may seem, not all coffee equipment is created equal. It is a good idea to check a coffee gear buying guide to see what differentiates different coffee brewing gear and appliances, and what you should buy.
Coffee Beans – Things You Should Know
Good coffee beans are the foundation for good coffee. However, coffee beans vary greatly by the type of beans and the region of cultivation. Specific growing conditions and regions add a touch of their own to the flavor of coffee. That’s why you’ll often hear terminology very similar to that used for wine, and coffee flavors can indeed be more complex than wine!
Several varieties of coffee plants are grown across the globe. Coffee drinkers don’t need to dive into the entire range of coffee plantations but can be content understanding the major varieties.
- Coffee Arabica: These plants produce a milder, more flavorful coffee bean. Coffee Arabica is generally the bean used for gourmet coffees and even for most coffees intended for consumers. These flavorful and delicious beans are in high demand.
- Coffee Robusta: These are more “robust” beans with relatively higher caffeine content. Robusta beans lack the subtle taste notes and flavors that coffee lovers so admire. Also, the brew tends to go on the bitter side. Robusta beans are often used as a blend with Arabica beans to balance flavor and taste.
- Chicory: This is not a coffee! Chicory is used as a coffee substitute and often makes its way to different coffee sellers. You’ll often find pre-ground coffee with chicory being sold. It is worth a shot and several coffee makers know how to make a great product with coffee and chicory blend.
You’ll often find blends, for beans as well as pre-ground coffee. These can be mixes of various arabica beans, arabica and robusta, or even coffee and chicory. Blends are masterfully prepared to highlight flavors, tastes, and yes, to bring down the price of coffee.
For beginners, I’ll suggest against taking the dip to expensive gourmet coffees. Try out some other nice coffees and blends to develop an appreciation for the flavors. Then, you can make a better choice based on your coffee experience. Don’t forget to experiment with different coffees and origins!
The Coffee Terminology
Understanding coffee terminology can help beginners make an informed choice. As noted earlier, coffee can have terminology (and flavors) more complex than wine. A beginner doesn’t need to know all the terms, but some commonly used descriptors are useful to know. These are:
- Aroma: The senses of taste and smell are tied together. The aroma (or smell) coming out of your coffee will often decide the taste perception even before the brew touches your lips. Take a moment to check the aroma of your coffee and you may find an appetizing sense and taste notes to look forward to.
- Acidity: In description, this is far from the literal meaning of the word. For coffee, the acidity also means the richness of flavors to be expected from the beans. Coffee with “bright acidity” often means the taste notes are more noticeable and palpable. Gourmet coffees grown at high altitudes often have bright and vibrant acidity.
- Flavor And Taste Notes: Coffee often has taste notes that offer subtle flavors to enjoy. You may find your brew has taste notes of chocolate, or maybe even vanilla, caramel, or honey. Some coffees also flaunt fruity and winy taste notes. There is a variety of taste notes available with various coffees, and they are incredibly enjoyable.
- Coffee Body: There is no clear way to define the “body” of the coffee. In a way, it is the mouthfeel of the coffee that people express as its body. You might find the coffee described as “heavy-bodied” or “light-bodied”. These decide the aftertaste from your coffee. In a general sense (for context), these could be considered as the difference of texture between whole milk and skimmed milk.
Coffee Roast And Grind
While the region and conditions of growth can give coffee its flavor, humans can modify it to our preference through roasting. Coffee beans are roasted before they reach consumers. How long they’re roasted and the temperature play a big role.
There’s a large number of available roasts, but beginners can limit themselves to considering light, medium, and dark roasts. Light and medium roasts usually highlight the inherent taste notes and flavors of the beans. Darker roasts give the coffee a bolder, stronger flavor and are often accompanied by taste notes of dark chocolate.
Beginners should consider a medium-dark roast.
When brewing coffee, the grind will matter as well. French press, pour-over, and drip coffee, all prefer medium to coarse grind. Espresso and Moka pot are partial to fine ground coffee.
If you asked a connoisseur, they’ll always suggest buying freshly roasted whole bean coffee and grinding it right before your brew. Freshly roasted beans are available through subscription services or artisan roasters.
Beginners may be more comfortable with buying pre-ground coffee off supermarket shelves. There’s nothing wrong with that, just know there are better brewing options available!
Coffee Brewing Temperature
A mistake beginners often make is adding ground coffee to boiling water. This often results in coffee tasting bitter or singed. The recommended brewing temperature for coffee is 195-205 degrees Fahrenheit.
If you don’t have a kitchen thermometer, simply let water sit for 30 seconds after it has boiled. This should bring down its temperature to the recommended range. After this, you can pour the water into the French press, pour-over coffee maker, or other coffee brewers. Electrical machines usually handle the water temperature themselves.