Thursday, September 17, 2009

Confessions of a Coffee Snob

I am a coffee snob.  And I know I'm not the only one.  In fact there were about 650,000 hits for "coffee snob" on google.

Being a coffee snob does not mean buying a cup of non-fat, decaf, double-whip, triple venti froth frappe, capay, whatever from Starbucks on my way into school every morning.  The vast majority of coffee snobs don't actually shop at Starbucks.  In fact there are over 3 million anti-Starbucks hits if you google "anti starbucks."  I'm not going to join the legions and tell you that they're evil.  However I feel they over-roast their beans and they usually taste burnt and bitter to me.  And after paying a Euro for each fabulous cappuccino in Florence and Rome, it's nearly impossible for me to justify paying four times that for a burnt espresso State-side.  When I go to Starbucks, particularly if I'm out and about and desperate for a caffeine hit, I usually buy their drip coffee, which isn't nearly so objectionable.  It's alright.  I'll even go as far to say it's just about as good as McDonald's coffee, which garnered a better rating with national taste tests.  

I have my own drip coffee maker at school that I take with me back and forth to the lunch room during coffee o'clock every day.  I just can't bring myself to drink Folgers, Maxwell House or Chock Full O' Nuts unless extremely desperate to stay awake.  I typically buy an HEB morning blend or Seattle's Best Blend 39, when available.    They're inexpensive, smooth, and available at the local grocery store.

Being a coffee snob means being very picky about how I like my coffee.  It's strange, but most Americans believe that they like their coffee very dark and very strong.  However, as Malcolm Gladwell demonstrates during his TED talk (embedded below), taste tests conducted on average Americans indicate that we actually prefer our coffee to be of a medium roast with medium strength.  And most Americans add cream, sugar and flavorings to their coffee, which cuts the bitterness of the extremely dark coffee they think they want.  So for the record, I like a medium roast of medium strength with no added flavoring or cream.   I only drink 1-2 cups of coffee a day so I like to make it good.

So what's the best way for this coffee snob to make coffee?  A french press.  A french press allows coffee to be brewed in such a way as to preserve the volatile oils and flavor compounds that add body and character to the drink.  Drip coffee makers tend to hide more delicate flavors and, in some cases, can burn the grounds with over-temperature water.  

Here's how I make coffee when I'm at home:
1. Add water to electric tea kettle.
2. Grind the beans (I buy pinion coffee from New Mexico Pinion Coffee Company in 5 lb bags) with a course grind.  Just enough beans for the amount of coffee I'm making.  Beans are stored at room temperature, in the dark, aka in a kitchen cabinet.
3. Add one scoop beans per mug of coffee.  Notice I didn't say "cup."  The cup designations on the sides of coffee makers are for cups far smaller than the average coffee mug.  If you add that much grounds you won't be able to taste anything other than grounds.  This isn't delicious.
4. When the water boils, turn off the kettle and wait for it to stop bubbling.  Then add water to the french press until just before the top.
5. Wait 3-4 min.
6. Stir the grounds and water then put the top of the french press on and push down the plunger.
7. Pour coffee and enjoy.  

The resulting coffee is full bodied, rich and flavorful with nutty notes from the piniones.  And an average french press carafe makes just about 4 coffee mugs full.

By this point most of you are probably just thinking that I'm completely nuts.  Coffee is coffee, right?  Well, not so fast.  Much like variations between wines, there is tremendous variation in flavor between different varieties of coffee beans, blends and roasts.  Roasts range from very light cinnamon to very dark Spanish roast.  And just as wine grown in different parts of the world has different flavor profiles, so too does coffee (in the regions in the picture to the left).  Kona does not taste like Sumatra or Arabia.  And, also just like wine, the price of coffee beans ranges from very inexpensive to extremely expensive, with devotees on all ends of the spectrum.  

So here's my challenge to you. If you are the type of person that typically only drinks instant coffee or Folgers/Maxwell house, go out and pick up a bag of Seattles Best Blend 39 (about $8 a lb at the grocery stores here).  Brew it in your normal coffee maker, which ever variety you have, with no more than one coffee scoop of grounds per coffee mug of water added.  Then let me know what you think.  If you hate it, well, go back to your normally scheduled coffee, tea, Mountain Dew, etc.  If you like it...welcome to the club.  

Note: the images in this post came from Wikipedia and a Google image search and are not my own. 


  1. If you were a true coffee snob like me you would mail order coffee from here.

    They are in the village in NYC and have really good sales and coffee.

  2. It must also be said that I'm a foodie on a budget. I'm not likely to be buying cervil coffee, either, even though I've been told that it's all that and more. :-)