Thursday, August 23, 2007

On Top of Old Latte, All Covered in Foam.

After a post awhile back about two coffees, Tango Java and and Sumatran Blue Batak, it hit me. I hadn't given brewing directions. You can't just say "Oh, this is good coffee" and not specify how you mean it's good coffee. If anything, I left out the most important part.

Coffee is a personal obsession. My beautiful counterpart shares a similar obsession with tea... philistine... but we won't hold that against her. The single most important aspect is not the coffee, but the brewing. Pretty much all available whole-bean coffees are good. As long as you buy Arabica, which is pretty much the only kind available, you're safe. (A note on Arabica. The two kinds of widely available beans are called Arabica and Robusto. Robusto is more bitter, doesn't have as strong a coffee flavor, and has significantly more caffeine in it. It's looked down upon in many areas of the world, but I feel it has gotten a bum rap. There are many European blends that use both Arabica and Robusto to achieve unique flavors.)

So brewing is the most important part. And what is brewing but water? SO! The most important part of brewing is the water. If you live in an area with notoriously hard or bad-tasting water, either buy a filter or, you may want to consider, buy big jugs of distilled water at Wal-Mart and use those.

Many people will say the minerals in various kinds of water affect the taste in both positive and negative ways. I actually agree, but still prefer my water as filtered as possible. I prefer to taste the coffee alone, unaffected by characteristics of the water. Water can also have an affect on the strength of the coffee. Water with certain minerals will dissolve through coffee differently. That may prove the be the biggest difference between waters. Consider me on one extreme and bad tap water on the other extreme. Your best bet is to buy a Brita filter or equivalent and make your coffee with that. You always want to start off with cool to cold water.

Second, buy a good coffee machine. You don't have to buy one of those $1,000 espresso machines, but $200 is not insane for a quality machine. My favorite is the recently released Capresso ST600. If you actually care about quality coffee, this is no job for a $9 heap of Chinese plastic from Wal*Mart.

Finally, back to the actual beans. Both of those coffees are very mild, which I've always loved. But they won't go well in lattes or cappuccinos. They're so mild the flavor is kind of lost. If you make your cappu-lattes very dark, the flavor will be fine, but if you add a shot of espresso to a full cup of steamed milk, you might as well just drink coffee milk. The Blue Batak gave me one of the best macchiatos I've ever had.

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