This covered different ways of making coffee at home without an espresso machine – but don’t be fooled into thinking that it’s any less exacting for that. In fact, it’s wonderfully geeky and precise, as you will see.
We start by sharing a carafe of cascara (a tart, fruity tea made from the discarded cherries of the coffee beans) and some delicious cakes from Bittersweet Bakers. Krysty, our tutor for the night, takes us through the process – and I discover straightaway that I haven’t even been getting the water right.
To make a cup of coffee, you just fill the kettle and boil it, right? Well, wrong, especially if you live in a hard water area like the South East of England. Hard water is full of tiny particles of calcium, which are usually invisible, but which make themselves known over time by forming limescale in your kettle (softer water has these particles too, but in smaller quantities). Meanwhile, coffee is made of water full of dissolved solids from the coffee beans. To put it incredibly simply, the more calcium there is suspended in the water, the less room there is for coffee. Hard water, therefore, is verboten, but bottled mineral water is no better. Your best bet is to use a Brita filter or similar to remove the solids from your water before you boil it.
Next, the coffee. The enemy of ground coffee, Krysty tells me, is oxidisation (the process of the coffee absorbing oxygen from the air), which slowly robs the coffee of its full range of flavours, and turns your bright, fresh cuppa into something stale, bland and dusty. This starts to happen as soon as the coffee is ground, and so it’s best to grind-on-demand at home (only enough for what you’re brewing at that moment), and to use up the beans as soon as possible after roasting, but definitely within two weeks.
Grinding at home doesn’t sound that simple in the first place, but it’s worth noting that many of the grinders on sale are no good whatsoever in the eyes of the coffee connoisseur. Any grinder with revolving blades just chops up your coffee unevenly, and that means you lose your control over how it behaves. The ideal grinder makes the grouts as spherical and regular as possible (preferably with variable sizes of grind), for even extraction that gets the most out of your beans. This means that you need a ceramic conical burr grinder – the sort that has two bits that rub together to break down your beans. Unless you’re embarking on some kind of a bizarre grinding-based fitness regime, it’s a good idea to buy an electric one. If this is all sounding a bit pricy to you – well, yes, it can be; but you can also pay the same amount for a bad grinder. It’s more the case of knowing what you’re looking for rather than upgrading to the next level.
Krysty shows us how to make coffee using a French press (or cafetière), an Aeropress and a pour-over filter, and each of them has their own adherents, and will produce slightly different results. However, I’m going to focus on the French press here, because it’s by far the simplest method, and it’s the piece of equipment that most people will have at home (and also because the pour-over method involved pouring a measured quantity of water from a special little kettle for exactly three minutes, and, frankly, I was at the back of the queue when patience and the will the live were handed out).
So, let’s make a pot of coffee. First of all, everything should be warm. Next, you need to weigh out 30g of coffee for a 500ml press (yes, I said ‘weigh’). This ratio is followed for all brewed coffee – 60g per litre of water used. It should be coarsely-ground because it will sit in the water for a relatively long time, and you don’t want it to over-extract.
Now, boil your (filtered) water, and leave it for a minute after it comes to the boil, so that the temperature drops to 96°C. A good indicator of this is to wait until any bubbles stop rising to the surface, but you could, of course, use a thermometer. Dump the water violently over the grounds so that they’re totally saturated, and then stir. Leave this to brew for four minutes exactly.
During this time, a foam will form on the top, which is called a ‘bloom’ in the trade. It’s created by carbon dioxide leaving the beans, mixed with some of the fats and oils from the coffee. If all your grouts rise into this foam, it’s a sign that your coffee is stale.
When the four minutes are up, you should plunge and decant your coffee into your warmed coffee pot.
The resulting coffee is fascinating. For a start, it’s a translucent brown colour rather than dense black, and the surface is scattered with little flecks of oil, which are released by the freshly-ground coffee. They add to the mouth-feel and aroma; Krsyty has a bottle of pure coffee flower oil to hand, and it smells extraordinarily narcotic, and ripe with notes of jasmine and banana. In my brewed coffee, it’s far more subtle, but you can trace its lineage in a certain fruitiness that I’ve never really noticed in coffee before. The drink is soft in the mouth, almost silky, but also just acidic enough to be juicy. There are strong whiffs of raw tobacco.
It’s a completely different drink to the coffee I’m brewing at home: cleaner, lighter, fruitier. It’s less astringent, and there’s hardly any bitterness to speak of. It feels mild and gentle, although there’s still a definite hit of caffeine. In many ways, it’s nearer to drinking good, black tea than espresso. I’m actually a little bit confounded by it; I think I was expecting to be taught to brew coffee so that it tasted more like a machine-made espresso, but instead I’m tasting something far more delicate and subtle, which seems aimed at showcasing the full spectrum of flavours in the beans rather than giving you an early-morning jolt.
Curators Coffee are in the city of London. Their brewed coffee classes cost £15 (including cake and coffee) and run roughly twice a month.0