Coffee Research Institute
Espresso My Espresso
I Need Coffee
The Bean Scoop
The Coffee FAQ
The Art of The Shortcut
You don't have to be obsessive to make great
coffee, but it helps.
Let me just get this over with right up front... I have a natural tendency
towards laziness. [This comes as no surprise to those who know me well.] I
view this not so much as the stuff of the seven deadly
sins [for the record, that would be sloth, not laziness] but
instead as an entirely human tendency to seek out a way that's easier than
what's generally prescribed. Call it ease engineering--the art of
It's only natural, then, that I would apply my best engineering efforts to
my love of coffee. Natural though it may be, it just doesn't work.
Every attempt I've made to shortcut any part of my coffee production--from
roasting to brewing--has resulted in failure. Not catastrophic failure,
mind you. The house hasn't imploded, and the dog doesn't slink away in
shame... but the simple fact is that shortcuts lead only to an inferior
cup. Here's a sampling of shortcuts that just don't pay.
Shortcut #1: Rushing from roaster to brewer. To rest, or not to
rest... it's a question that's debated still by some of the most
knowledgeable folks in the coffee trade. It's a pretty safe bet that
nearly *any* coffee benefits from a brief rest period after roasting.
Brewed too soon, the coffee's outgassing CO2 can disrupt coffee
extraction, and can even create carbonic acid [yuck] in your brew. My
tastebuds say, too, that resting definitely improves the flavor of the
cup, particularly dark-roasted and blended coffees.
Shortcut #2: Cupping? But I know it's good! Commercial coffee roasters
cup their coffees for a number of reasons... to determine which coffees
they want to buy, and again to ensure that the coffee they received
is of the same quality as what they paid for. A roaster also cups
to determine the best roast profile for a given bean, to create the best
possible coffee blends, and to ensure consistency. In general terms a home
coffee roaster is less concerned with that first round of quality
cupping--I've yet to receive anything less than excellent coffees. But in
failing to cup to figure out how best to roast a given bean, I've later
discovered a new roast that really popped. And once--taking advantage of a
coffee dealer's closeout--I snagged ten pounds of Sumatra that I intended
to use for blending. Five pounds later I discovered that my closeout
special was a far better origin cup than another Indonesian I'd bought
at three times the price!
Shortcut #3: Defects? What defects? Even the best coffee has
defects. Black beans are shriveled and dark--they fell dead from the
coffee tree. Quakers [or blights or floaters] are beans that were never
fully developed on the tree. They only show their true colors after
roasting--they're pale, yellowish or tan, and they taste like a #2 pencil.
Pitch 'em! [Roasting a wild Ethiopian or the like? Leave those lighter
beans alone.. they add part of this coffee's character.] Finally, while
you're poking around your just-roasted beans, keep an eye out for pebbles
and stones, particularly in dry-processed coffees. Your grinder won't care
for them much.
Shortcut #4: Hey! It's clean, already! Roasting, grinding and brewing
coffee can be a dirty business... and dirty equipment can ruin your cup in
ways that you might not have thought about. Frustrated with increasingly
inconsistent roasts, I recently found a build-up of coffee oils and dust
in my roaster's chaff collector. While almost invisible, it had partially
choked the roaster's exhaust, changed the temperature in the roast chamber
and caused my darker roasts to stall. Now I use a stiff nylon brush to
clean my chaff collector after each roasting session... it's easier to
clean while it's still a bit warm.
Great coffee doesn't require obsession... just attention to the details.
For real obsession, we could talk about espresso....