Coffee makes me a better teacher. I really believe that. After slogging down my morning cup, ideas and inspiration pop out of my ears, and I am genuinely more cheerful. It’s beautiful stuff.
Back when Mr. Suburban and I got hitched, we received a fabulous coffee maker with all the bells and whistles. It ground the beans, had a timer and everything. Once a month — okay, maybe longer — I’d clean it with vinegar to keep the funky build-up at bay. Several years later, though, I noticed that no matter how often I cleaned that thing, the coffee never tasted good anymore. I started to think it was my tastebuds.
I reached out to friends for advice and people enthusiastically recommended their favorite brewing methods. The one that appealed to me the most, however, was Chemex, probably because it was the simplest. (Thanks to my UMass bud Dave for that suggestion!) I bought the classic 6-cup model.
This method takes slightly more effort that our previous push-the-button machine. But, oh people, the coffee is perfect every time. And the cleaning? Just swish it out with water, or if you want to get super fancy, use a standard grocery-store brush sponge.
Here are the basics for creating a fine cup of joe:
In the diagram above, I neglected to include how much ground coffee to use. On the whole, I use about 12 or so tablespoons per 4 cups of water. That equates to around 3 tablespoons per cup. We like it strong in our household. It took a week or two of toying around with amounts to figure out the measurements that satisfied. (We get our filters here. We tried using typical coffee filters once and they comically broke, creating a chunky mess of glop.)
Also, when you pour in the hot water, you’re supposed to just wet the grounds with the first trickles of hot water to let the flavor of the grounds bloom. (You let it sit wet for about 30 seconds, then add the rest of the hot water.) I don’t know if this truly makes a difference or not, but I always do it.
Here’s the disclaimer. The cord that goes around the wooden handles is made of leather. I was pretty bummed about that, and perhaps I should have returned it. This month, I am writing the company asking them to make future models out of that funky nylon-y ropish material they use on tents. (I’ve been meaning to do this forever.) We shall see how their response plays out. Fingers crossed!
We buy the whole beans and grind them right before brewing. I’ve tried many kinds of coffee I liked, but it wasn’t until a few months ago that I started to learn more about fair-trade coffee and what that means. (I only ever had a vague idea.) Basically, it ensures that the people who do the hard work of growing and harvesting the coffee get paid fairly. Which can make or break a family. So I started scouting around for coffees that had the Fair Trade symbol on the front.
Behold the brand Birds and Beans. Not only is it fair-trade, but they get their beans from farms that preserve bird habitat. Also, it is really, really yummy. I found it at Whole Foods and it was a little pricey (around $15 a pound), though when I thought about it, I realized that the decreased cost of other brands does come at a cost. Maybe not to my family. But to someone else’s. (It kind of reminds me of an old Twilight Zone episode where this couple would get money if they pushed a button. But in pushing it, they would ensure the death of someone they did not know. Ca-reepy episode!) So I decided that the higher cost was very much worth it. Further, I discovered yesterday that the cost is substantially lower — about $12/lb — if you order directly from the company. Woo-hoo!
There are a couple of documentaries on fair trade coffee that I want to see. The first — the one that got me looking at this idea in the first place — was one put out this year called Dukale’s Dream. Hugh Jackman goes to Ethiopia, meets Dukale and his family, learns about their coffee, and witnesses how the coffee world as a whole functions. Over a period of time, Jackman takes steps to make the coffee trade more fair across the planet. I’m very excited to see this! (You can purchase it on itunes, but I also contacted an independent theater near us and begged them to show it. I think a lot of us could benefit from seeing it.)
Black Gold is a similar documentary that exposes the coffee industry and its effect on Ethiopian farmers. (You can download it on Vimeo, or purchase the DVD.)
I’ll update this post when I’ve seen both of these films!
So, lovelies, assuming you are coffee drinkers, do you have any of your own secrets to great coffee? Any brands you want to give a shout-out to?
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