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The Manual’s Guide to the Perfect Cup of Coffee for National Coffee Day

Coffee bag and Aeropress, perfect cup of coffee
Image used with permission by copyright holder
Drip, French press, espresso, Americano, latte, cold brew, or cappuccino? From the lightest breakfast blend to the darkest Italian roast, we want you to break the chains of corporate coffee and start brewing your own, much more delicious cup of brew. We sat down with our friends over at Rose City Coffee Company in Sellwood, Oregon for a conversation on roasting, brewing, and stay caffeinated.

The Beans

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No matter what part of the process you’re considering, one of the keys to the perfect cup of coffee is freshness at every step. Skip the rows of coffee bags on the shelf, and instead find yourself a local roaster that lets you see the beans, ask questions, and get scoops of the perfect roast for you. Steven Morrison from Rose City Coffee recommends a single source bean, if you can find it. Knowing your beans are all from the same region will give you a more consistent flavor and aroma, and will help you start to discern the difference between roasts and varieties.

The Roast

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Unroasted, or green, coffee beans arrive at the roaster and need to be dried and heated before they can be used for coffee. The roast directly affects the flavor, aromas, textures, and even caffeine content of the coffee that it produces. Like finding a local brewery you like, there are lots of roasters and it’s important to find one that prepares coffee the way you like it. We like Rose City Coffee Company because they roast in small batches, and use single source beans, pairing the proper origin with the right roast and blend, and they roast every day so it’s always fresh.

Freshness is a part of the process here, too, since you want to use your beans within a few days, 72 hours or so, of exposing them to air. You might not notice it if you can’t see the grounds while you make the coffee, but when the hot water is first introduced to the grounds you get a bloom. The bloom is just what it sounds like, a swelling of grounds and foam that’s a reaction to the oils and particulate that dries out with time. The best part of brewing a nice cup of coffee is when the bloom expands into a beautiful marbled foam, letting forth a burst of aroma and flavor that you can’t help but hold your nose over.

The Grind

coffee grounds mug and bag
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Using a coffee grinder will ensure fresh quality grounds. You can ask any coffee enthusiast and they’ll all tell you that a burr grinder is the only way to go from beans to grounds. While you can get a standard blade grinder for less than$20, you’ll find that not only is the grind not as consistent as you want for a really nice cup, but you also won’t have much control over how fine the end product is. If you don’t mind spending a few minutes doing it, you can use a hand burr grinder. The Hario Skerton is a ceramic home grinder that comes highly recommended, and if you’re looking for something a little more portable, the

Porlex JP30

 fits neatly into the Aeropress for storage.

It’s important to remember that freshness is key. Grinding beans with a burr grinder exposes as much surface area as possible for a greater saturation of the product, but this is a double-edged sword, since the grounds will dry out faster due to greater exposure to air. You want to grind only as much as you need, and only grind right before you’re ready to brew. You’ll get a much fresher taste, with a more fragrant bloom.

The Brew

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There are so many different methods for brewing coffee it’ll make your head spin faster than it does after a triple latte. Your brewing method is largely based on what you want out of your coffee. Generally, two factors contribute to the bitter taste that most people associate with coffee: the first is using water that is too hot, which will simply cause the coffee to burn without extracting the oils and flavors, and the second is letting the coffee sit in the water for too long, which will cause a bitter taste due to over extraction of those same oils. For our purposes, we’ll look at two different brewing methods that produce clean, strong coffee that will challenge the way you think about your morning.

If you’re all about the perfect pour and have a stopwatch and gram scale handy, then a pour-over is the classic option. There’s a challenge to it, a tangibility that a lot of people find very appealing, that with a little work will turn your perfect cup into muscle memory. The

Chemex coffeemaker

is an evolution of the drip coffeemaker that looks modern, but was actually created in 1941 with the intention of creating a glass coffeemaker that wouldn’t impart any of the material flavors into the coffee. The device is still in heavy use today, and owes the high quality of its coffee to a number of factors, including the specially designed filters and the wider hole so the beans don’t soak for as long.

The French press is a tried and true method for brewing delicious coffee, but it isn’t without its drawbacks. While some people prefer the grittier mouthfeel of French press, and the heavy taste you get from a long extraction, those aren’t always appealing to us first thing in the morning.

Aeropress

When it comes to precise control over your coffee, there’s no beating the pourover, but it has a learning curve before you can start pouring a perfect cup. Among the advantages of the Aeropress is the ability to push the perfect amount of water through your coffee in a precise amount of time, limiting the coffee’s exposure to the water. It’s surprisingly easy to use, but leaves a lot of room to learn, as evidenced by the World Aeropress Championship, a tournament series designed to find the best recipe for the perfect pour. The results from these tournaments are a great place to find timings and measurements to brew different strengths and varieties of coffee, but one of our favorites is super easy, and it’s creator, Jeremy Moore of BonLife coffee, took home the gold with it at the 2014 United States Aeropress Championships.

While a number of the recipes involve specific numbers of stirs, and carefully measured and sifted coffee, Moore’s relies on the bean’s natural flavors and the clean taste the Aeropress provides. The recipe included in the instructions for your Aeropress will work really well, but if you want to impress the stingiest of your coffee drinking friends with a really top-notch cup, use Moore’s method, courtesy of the US Aeropress Championships.

Rinse the filter with hot water
Rinse the filter with hot water to remove any paper taste. Image used with permission by copyright holder
Add 17 grams of fine to medium ground coffee
Add 17 grams of fine to medium ground coffee. Image used with permission by copyright holder
Slowly pour 260 grams (about a cup) of 202 degree water over 46 seconds.
Slowly pour 260 grams of 202 degree water over 46 seconds, then give it one stir. Image used with permission by copyright holder
Set the plunger in and wait another 47 seconds, then plunge for 48 seconds
Set the plunger in and wait another 47 seconds, then plunge for 48 seconds. Image used with permission by copyright holder

The Sip

If you followed our Aeropress instructions, or you have your own way of getting there, you’re hopefully staring at a mug with two beautiful shots of dark, fragrant espresso. What you decide to do with that espresso is as important as how your prepared it, but has a lot more to do with personal taste than ratios and timing.

The Americano

Unless you’re a fan of drinking straight espresso, this is probably the easiest option for drinking your freshly brewed coffee. If you boiled more water than you needed during the Aeropress process, you can simply pour it over your espresso to cut the thickness of the espresso. How much water really comes down to taste, based on how strong you want your coffee and how much cream and sugar you add. If you want to up the fanciness a little more, you can slowly pour the espresso shots on top of some hot water to preserve the crema, the creamy foam top created when you brew espresso, for a creamier variation known as a “long black.”

The Latte

The fancy level of the latte falls somewhere between the Americano and the Cappuccino, and is prepared in much the same way as the Americano, but with steamed milk instead of hot water. Normally to create steamed milk with foam you would need an espresso machine with a steam arm, but there’s an easy trick that you can use to make it in your microwave. Fill up a microwave-safe jar with a lid up to less than halfway with cold milk, put the lid on, and shake until the foam fills the jar. Take the lid off, pop it in the microwave for 30 seconds or so, and you should have rich, creamy milk foam. Hold a spoon at the edge of the jar to slowly add as much milk as you want to the espresso, then spoon some of the foam on top of your drink.

The Cappuccino

Impress your friends and loved ones with your ability to pour the perfect Cappuccino. This tiny-mugged classic preparation eschews full cups of hot water or milk in an effort to preserve the taste and consistency of the espresso. The process is almost the same as the latte, but only pour a little bit of milk in, and one healthy dollop of milk foam on top for a beverage so beautiful you won’t want to drink it.

The Shot in the Dark

Depending on where you are in the country, this drink may also be known as a sledgehammer, a black (or red, or dead) eye, or a black hole. All these names are just ways of pointing out that what you’re about to consume is going to hit you like a brick in the face. The process is simple: brew yourself a big cup of drip coffee using your normal coffeemaker, add cream and/or sugar to taste, then dump in two shots of espresso. That’s all there is to it, just don’t plan on sitting still any time soon.

You can find out more about Rose City Coffee Company and order coffee from their website, or stop by their location in Sellwood, Oregon. The Aeropress is available on Amazon and directly from the Aerobie website.

Brad Bourque
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Brad Bourque is a beer and sneaker writer, retired fantasy football commissioner, and devout Portland Timbers. On the…
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