Cairns Recipe Blog Cooking in Cairns, an amateur cook with an emphasis on baking


Beyond Espresso – or – Coffee Snobbery 101

Too often I meet people that decry how hard it is to make good coffee at home, when asked why, they begin to discuss how expensive coffee machines are ($200 isn't expensive, believe me). When I ask their preferred style of coffee it is almost always latte and cappuccino styles (heavy on the milk, and often sugar).

Now, the rest of this is pretty much an opinion piece so if you disagree with me, then thats clearly your right, and you're welcome to your own opinion, however before you rake me over the coals, please, try following my advice a little and experience something that you may not ordinarily otherwise try.

Firstly, lets get equipment out of the way. While espresso produces an intense coffee flavour, its not always the best way to enjoy some coffee beans. While most coffee shops have their "house" blend (typically a blend of arabica and robusta, as well as different roasts) some are now finally beginning to recognise the "Single Origin" markets that allow roasters to maximise the virtues of one particular bean variety, region and often right down to a single farm, or plantation section (mountain vs valley).

Technically to be "single origin" the bean should only come from a single farm, although with some regions like Ethiopia where there is a regulated Coffee Market it can be very difficult and often impossible to trace beans to a single farm, so often regions can be classified as single origin. Anyway, to prevent this post from blowing out to an essay, lets just say the point is that coffee is finally achieving its rightful status as becoming comparable to wine in that its flavours are now being (in some cases) more complex than wines themselves.

Just like grapes, coffee has a number of cultivars and varietals. Most people recognise arabica and robusta instantly (the cultivars), while less know about Typica, Bourbon, and various others, including the fabled "Blue Mountain" varietal. It is these varietals that are becoming more distinct and markets are taking advantage of this distinction and capitalising on it at the consumer level.

So, armed with this knowledge, whats the point?

Well, I would like to encourage more people to stop focusing on expensive espresso machines to enjoy coffee, and instead turn to older (and some newer) methods of making coffee which do an amazing job of exposing the nuances of each of the single origins out there. But before we begin, a quick tip on roasting. Most roasters roast for espresso, typically the medium to dark range, this is because a medium roast can still be put through an espresso machine without its body suffering too much. Unfortunately a light roast suffers in an espresso machine because the complexity of the flavour is too muted by the pressure and you end up with a range of unpleasant flavours which can only be counteracted by longer brewing times, coarser grinds, and cooler water temperatures.

So join me in the chorus of encouraging the roasters out there to begin taking risks with smaller batches of light roasts (typically if it goes too far past first crack, 210C, the bean should be taken to 2nd crack for espresso use).

So how do we enjoy these single origins and whats the point in all this effort?

French Press: Everyone knows these, they're those cheap plunger style coffee makers, simply throw in the grinds, add water, brew, push, and drink. Well, with a light roasted coffee bean, and a coarser grind, the french press actually makes a very respectable cup of coffee. Go for a slightly cooler water temp (say 90C, boil it on a stove with a thermometer) and go for about a 4 minute brew time.

Aeropress: This is a relatively new device, thats actually quite cheap. It can be classified as a cross between french press and an espresso machine. Its a large fat syringe style cylinder with a rubber plunger at one end, and a filter at the other. Add the grinds (finer than french press) brew, and press out the coffee.

Clever Coffee Dripper: This is a cross between a brewed coffee and drip. It has a valve underneath that prevents the coffee from coming out, you add the grinds and water, allow it to brew, then sit it on top of the cup and let gravity pull the coffee through.

Moka Pot: Those little aluminium stove top espresso brewers, they are coming back, and some single origins really shine through them. Go for a medium grind and you shouldn't be disappointed.

Pour Over: The pour over is like the Clever Coffee Dripper with an open valve. A finer grind is required, but the coffee drip rate should be quite slow, enough that a slow trickle of water maintains flow.

Cold Drip: This can be done quite cheaply with an Aeropress, Pour over, etc, basically you suspend a container with a needle hole above the coffee grinds on a filter, as the ice melts, it drips through the coffee, it makes a very bright and complex flavoured iced coffee, fantastic in the summer.

Chemex: This one is also making a comeback, similar to pour over with a slightly different filter, it has a relatively slow drip rate, and makes a nice clean cup of coffee.

Cold Brew: This one is fast becoming one of my favourites with this hot weather. You need a fairly coarse grind of coffee, however you put the grinds into a jug, add cold water, seal, and put back in the fridge for up to 24 hours before filtering it out. This produces one of the nicest coffees I have ever tasted.

In the coming weeks and months I will be exploring these methods much closer, including beans and other hardware.

For now though, I strongly recommend getting your coffee from Five Senses in Perth, Tosca's in Cairns (both Cairns Central, and Earlville) can get it for you, if you are feeling particularly adventurous hit them up for some of the Back Room coffee from Five Senses on their next orders.

Before doing anything though, get a good burr grinder. Most of the better quality ones, such as the Sunbeam Cafe series, or better will do a more than suitable job for home use, or if you're particularly adventurous scour Ebay/Gumtree etc for a second hand coffee grinder. I will be honest, the coffee grinder is by far and away the single most important piece of equipment you will buy for making coffee, which is why I have three of them ... more on that another time though.

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