Since its beginning in the late 1990s, the third wave coffee movement has given rise to a generation of well-educated consumers. They see coffee not only as a pick-me-up in the morning but an artisanal drink with nuances to be savored. Between 2012-2018, the share of Canadians owning a single-cup coffee system for at-home use increased by over 300 per cent.
How do we make better coffee at home? Chrissy Durcak, founder and CEO of Montreal-based specialty coffee retailer Dispatch Coffee and an ardent advocate for coffee sustainability, knows that good coffee doesn’t have to be expensive or require a sophisticated setup.
Let’s start with the basics, coffee beans. What are the differences between a dark, medium and light roast?
These are more marketing terms than industry jargon – this said, these roast descriptions correlate with the length, development and roast time of the coffee bean. We roast coffee beans because they are not consumable in their raw form. The roasting process adds heat and renders the green bean soluble, and full of aromas, sugars, and acids that are extracted by hot water when brewed.
A light roast, where the bean was not roasted for very long, can result in coffee that tastes somewhat grassy or sour. A medium roast (our approach at Dispatch) will develop the coffee enough so that it is easy to brew, sweet and balanced. The dark roast is very similar to cooking a piece of steak for a very long time – the steak will lose its “meaty” flavors and adopt a burned taste.
What determines coffee’s tasting note?
Coffee’s taste and aromas do not come from just one place, but rather a unique alchemy of biological and physiological processes across the lifecycle from farm to cup. These include altitude and environmental conditions where the coffee was grown, soil quality and nutrients, the quality of the agriculture and harvesting, conditions during exportation, and roasting.
How should coffee beans be stored to maintain freshness?
At Dispatch, we always recommend buying what you need for the month and grind fresh right before brewing. This will ensure a vibrant aroma. For our roasts, we find 10-15 days after the roast date is prime time for brewing. If you cannot grind fresh, we recommend using a commercial grinder at your local coffee shop or grocery store to ensure your grind size is consistent, or use a burr grinder (not the whirling blade spice grinder.) For whole bean storage, place the bag in your freezer with a piece of tape on the one-way degassing valve.
What do you recommend for a basic coffee set-up at home?
It depends how you like your coffee. You can prepare fantastic coffee with very little capital investment. First you need good coffee beans. To me that means coffee that provides some traceability to the producers. From a quality perspective, this means beans that were recently roasted (you should see a roast date on the package) and are of a medium to medium-light roast. This is my taste preference, but for those who love a dark roast, no problem.
In terms of equipment, the rule of thumb is that an espresso machine will cost you four to five times than that of a filter brewing set up. Making the best filter coffee is possible for those on a budget. A setup that would enable the broadest range of brewing methods would be:
- A burr grinder with a range of grind sizes from very fine to very coarse. For espresso, you need to invest in an espresso grinder, which has a smaller range of grind sizes and allows micro-adjustments.
- A kettle
- A timer (phone, watch or stove timer will do if you don’t have a minute timer)
- A brew device. For households that brew more than one cup, I would recommend a large Chemex, a French Press, or an automatic drip machine.
How do brew methods affect the final result?
In general, a brew method that promotes a shorter extraction time and lower ratio of coffee to water (from an espresso machine or a stovetop espresso maker) will yield a more concentrated, strong tasting and full-bodied cup of coffee. A higher ratio of coffee to water and longer brew time, such as filter coffee, will yield a thinner body and provide more volume as a beverage, as well as the ability for more complex and nuanced tastes.
How do we get the maximum flavor out of brew methods?
A good place to start for your brewing recipes is 1:2 coffee to water for espresso (in grams), and 1:15 coffee to water for filter methods. From here you can dial up or dial down the ratio to your preferred taste – a lower ratio will give you more strength.
You do not want to use boiling water. This will scald the coffee grinds. Between 195 degrees Fahrenheit and 203 degrees Fahrenheit is a sweet spot. Higher temperatures will accelerate extraction and draw out the sugars and caramels and heavier compounds quicker. If you are working with a coffee bean marketed as sugary and syrupy naturally, or is a darker roast, I recommend using water of a lower temperature; this coffee will already be highly soluble and subject to over extraction and bitterness with high heat.
Furthermore, using filtered water will improve the clarity of your cup. A cup of coffee is almost 98 per cent water.
How can we spice up our coffee routine?
I must say I am not a fan of flavored coffee, as coffee has so much intrinsic and natural flavor itself. If you are someone used to drinking the same brand of coffee, a simple way to mix it up is try different beans – either a different origin or a different brand altogether.
Explore what your local craft roasters have to offer. Ask your baristas what their favorite coffees are, try to find coffee that provides you with a producer or region of its provenance. Very likely, a roaster who can share this level of information is thoughtful in their approach to sourcing and roasting the product.
What are the upcoming trends in the coffee industry? How will they affect our consumption habits?
One of the fastest growing trends today in the global market is craft coffee and “bean to cup.” This is characterized by a medium to lighter roast, traceability of supply chain to the producer or region, and brewing coffee from whole beans versus single-serve capsules or instant coffee.
The canned coffee and ready-to-drink coffee category will also likely expand exponentially. Our market is seeing massive investments in caffeine-based beverages as alternative energy drinks as well as many iterations of canned cold brew. To me, what is the most important hope for change and trends is more literacy among coffee consumers about the complexity of the supply chain, and more roasting companies moving towards sustainable and equitable supply chains. Most coffee farmers operate their businesses at a loss, and the conventional supply chain emits high levels of landfill waste and greenhouse gases. That only exacerbates how the climate crisis is already threatening the coffee tree’s viability. We need the participation of industry and consumers to solve this crisis.
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