I’ve been drinking copious amounts of coffee for more than 20 years, so I know exactly what I want and need from my joe. But if you’re just starting out on your journey, you may not know your arabica from your robusta.
I thought I’d put together a quick cheat sheet of beginner’s tips to point you in the right direction. Finding your ideal coffee combinations will take a little trial and error, of course, but you’ll have a lot of fun along the way.
Let’s start with the basics…
Roast date is important
When you buy your first bag of coffee beans, you need to check the roast date, as this will give you a strong indication of the coffee’s quality. Roasted coffee degrades over time, which changes its flavour and aroma profiles. To ensure your coffee is as good as it can be, make sure it was roasted no longer than a month ago. If the bad doesn’t state a roasting date, avoid it at all costs.
Don’t buy pre-ground
The second you grind coffee it starts to degrade and emit gases. These process change the flavour profiles over time, and change the joe that ends up in your cup. Only ever buy beans. Invest in a small, bladed grinder, and grind to order.
Do some research
Take a look on coffee blogs, forums and discussion boards to find recommendations on the best coffees for the best brewing methods — and where to buy them. If you’re serious about coffee drinking, the cheapest way to buy coffee is by subscription. Yes, there’s a minimum monthly spend, but if you’re drinking coffee every day this is the most cost-effective purchasing method.
Get the fundamentals right
The four main variables of great coffee are dose, water, heat and time. If any of these issues aren’t adhered to, your coffee just won’t taste right. Choose a brewing method that works for you, and do your homework on how to perfect the process. Heat, dosage and time are crucial parts of the brewing process that most people know about. However, using quality water is something people forget about, as they simply take it straight from the tap. My advice? Invest in a basic water filter.
Make small batches
I often see tar-like coffee sitting out in offices for hours at a time. Huge gallon containers of joe simply burn away all remnants of flavour and aroma over time, yet people seem to accept this. But there’s no need for you to make huge batches of coffee in your own home. Grind coffee to order, and make a small batch you know you’re going to drink. I’d never keep coffee warm in a carafe for more than a couple of hours.
Start your coffee journey with the French press
You’ve probably read about many different brewing gadgets, but don’t run before you can walk. I still say that the French press is the most effective way to make a great cup of coffee. You place coffee grounds in direct contact with hot water, wait a while and press the grounds down. And that’s it! You can pick up a French press for around a fiver, which means you don’t need to break the bank before you’ve actually decided whether serious coffee drinking is worth investing in.
Don’t interfere with the flavours too much
My advice to beginners who are searching for their ideal coffees is to hold back on the additives. Let’s face it; put a ton of sugar into your coffee and dilute it with cold milk, and it’s going to taste like sweetened gloop — regardless of how good the actual coffee is. Get used to drinking coffee in its purest form. If you simply can’t, stick to a little hot milk and brown sugar.
If you find that the coffee you’re making is unpalatable without milk and copious amounts of sugar, review your brewing method, and make sure the four variables of coffee making are all present and correct.
Not every coffee you try will float your boat, but you’ll have a great deal of fun during your journey. During my coffee education as a young coffee shop manager, I remember being blown away by the sheer volume of information available. Brewing great coffee is a science, but so is the process of tasting it.
The great thing about coffee is that there’s no real wrong or right involved. If you find a combination of flavours, brewing processes and additives that you enjoy, who am I or anyone else to say that’s wrong? Yes, I recommend keeping additives to a minimum, but I only say this to beginner’s because it’s the only way to assess a coffee’s qualities accurately.
If you’ve already taken the journey of coffee discovery, please let us know how you take your coffee in the comments section below!