I really love coffee. I desperately need it to get me going in the morning. But sadly, I'm kind of a coffee snob: I have friends that work in Corporate Coffee Houses of Doom and I've fallen under the siren call of overpriced java. Home brewed stuff just doesn't taste the same.
But I've also coffee-jockeyed (not for the green mermaid) and I know that the differences between store and home-brewed coffee are so minor that even when you are too groggy to find your own toes, you can make a good cup. You can use a fraction of the money saved by eliminating the latte factor on your set-up, and soon you'll be making mocha-choka-latte-yayas with the best of them.
First off -- start with decent beans. Most major grocery stores carry a selection of whole beans under their own label, along with specialty brands like from the Green Mermaid. So if you're attached to a specific blend you can generally find it. Of course, you can always buy coffee in bulk from any coffee shop. I am a firm supporter of Fairly Traded Coffee, like Equal Exchange. The pricing on these can be a few dollars more per lb than the grocery store blends, but are on par with the coffeehouse blends. But as a pound of coffee goes a loooong way, I think it's worth the extra $$ to provide the farmers with a sustainable crop and wage.
Once you've gotten your beans, DO NOT GRIND THEM. Whole roasted beans keep their potency for (I think) a few weeks. Ground beans lose theirs after a few days. Most people get a pound of premium roasts, grind it, keep it in the freezer and use it for a month, but that doesn't stop the oil oxidation that occurs after the beans are split**, and you're left with a flat-tasting product that isn't as appetizing.
So you have two options: get a week's worth of ground coffee at a time. Or buy a little grinder and grind each pot fresh. This is what the coffee shops do: the coffee for each pot is premeasured, stored in an airtight container (in a cabinet) and then ground right before brewing. I think it's unwise to store the grounds in the fridge or freezer because they absorb odors.
It's unnecessary to get a fancy-schmancy ones grinder: unless you are making espresso, you can do fine with a regular one. If you are making espresso, there are plenty of online sites that can guide you through the home-brewing process. This can require you to be more careful with your grinding and brewing equipement, but it's still cheaper (in the long term) if you've got a cup-a-day habit.
If you're really feeling adventurous, you can always roast your own coffee -- this gives the freshest taste, and can be a good economical and ethical option. I've never done it, but it looks pretty easy and fun (you can even use a skillet or the stove).
If you like the speciality drinks, you can typically find the syurps for sale in the shops (or their equivalent in the supermarket.) These are typically artificially flavored and full of corn syrup, so if you channel your inner Martha and make your own flavorings, you can get an even better tasting (and better for you) result.
** oh yeah: the coffee oxidizes more quickly once its ground for the same reason ice melts more quickly once its crushed: more surface area (relative to volume) exposed to the air.
Works for Me Wednesday: Coffee Tricks
July 26th, 2006 at 06:35 am