Tag Archives: Coffee

Coffee Corner – Tasting Coffee – Rajjat Gulati

Most consulting jobs I’m called in for require that I set up the coffee practice – from bean to machine to extraction to training. It wasn’t till my latest assignment that I realised that, more often than not, I act as the final (and sole) determinant of the final product. At best, my customer – usually the owner of a restaurant looking to round out their offering – is equipped to judge the coffee as acceptable or good but I have never worked with someone who could discuss the nuances of coffee with me.

What this means is that I’m, more often than not, busy with the mechanics of coffee and seldom have the chance to discuss what the destination should look like; what elusive ideal we are chasing when we demand the best beans, the best machines and the best people?

And, I’ve realized, I have managed to make the same mistake in this column. We’ve discussed French Presses and Aeropresses and Cold Brews but I haven’t addressed the one question this is all designed to answer. What’s worse, I haven’t even raised the question yet. That changes right now.

“It’s the question that brought you here. You know the question, just as I did.” – Trinity, The Matrix (1999) My last consulting assignment was unusual, though. How? Simple. My client asked me The Question directly.

He had the coffee. He wanted to know how it stacked up against the competition.

“What is good coffee? What are we looking for when we judge coffee?”

Well, there isn’t one simple answer. But there are two guiding principles:

  1. There is no one ideal so, to each his own
  2. Before you go breaking the rules you have to know the rules

So, what are the rules? There is, actually, just one rule – Make the coffee shine. Spare no effort to highlight the best things about the coffee. For instance, there are more than a thousand chemical compounds in a roasted bean of coffee and they all contribute to the characteristics of the final cup. Not all get equally extracted, though. Polar compounds are more water-soluble than non-polar ones so they are over-represented in a brewed cup. Knowing the effect each of these has on the final brew can help us design a process to selectively highlight the characteristics we want to showcase. The finest nuances of coffee involve elaborate chemistry but, for most of us – including for the experts – we can substitute most of that with trial and error. A lot of trial and error, unfortunately.

First things first. There are several variables that determine the outcome for a brewed coffee. The bean, the grind and the brewing method are the main ones. We need to control two variables at a time to be able to run our “experiments” like real scientists. So, fix a grind size (or get pre-ground coffee) and use the pourover method ( minus the ice) or the Aeropress method as standard. We can even use espresso shots as the base, though I would recommend diluting to a “lungo” or “americano” with hot water. We can change the grind size for our next set of experiments, if needed.

Professionally, coffee is evaluated through a process called “cupping” that involves ceramic cups, silver spoons and pouring hot water on to the grounds directly in the cup. The grounds float to the top and create a crust that is broken with the spoon and warm coffee is slurped (yes, slurped) from just below the lips into the mouth and evaluated.

We won’t “cup”. Cupping works when freshly-roasted and ground coffees needs to be evaluated with respect to each other or when a new coffee is judged to create profile notes; all high-falutin exercises that we won’t involve ourselves with. Nonetheless, we will apply the same metrics that cuppers do to evaluate our coffees. Here’s how.

Aroma – How the coffee smells; to me this is 90% of the coffee experience. Unfortunately coffee never tastes as nice as it smells and the reason is that the aroma comes from the most volatile compounds in the coffee which escape as gases almost immediately. It is important to put words to the various aromas you get because it helps create a mental vocabulary for the smells. First, identify the intensity of the aroma. Descriptions could include “delicate”, “moderate”, “strong”, “rich”, “fragrant” or “complex”. Then, start deciphering the individual components of the bouquet. This will be hard at the beginning, but as with most things, it will get easier with practice. While there is a set of words commonly used (fruity, floral, straw, citrus) feel free to create your own associations. I tend to use a lot of colour names, for instance. The only rule is that you take copious notes so that you can build consistency and expand your vocabulary.

Acidity – This refers, not to the pH of the coffee, but to its “sharpness” and palate-cleansing ability. Coffees low on acidity tend to taste flat, a medium acidity adds life to the coffee and inordinate levels of acidity makes the coffee “sharp” and unpleasant. Acidity levels are correlated with how quickly the taste disappears from the mouth.

Body – This describes the weight of the coffee. Does it pass through the mouth like water or does it linger, like syrup? Full-bodied coffees tend to coat your mouth.

Flavour – Flavour represents the sum total of how the coffee is perceived once inside the mouth. Surprisingly, tase – what we experience on the tongue, is a miniscule part of this. Our tongues are able to perceive just the four major tastes – Sweet, Salty, Sour and Bitter – and all other perceptions of flavour are the result of the aroma receptors in the nose which are accessed via retronasal olfaction. As you take in the coffee slurp so that air gets mixed with the liquid. This releases the volatile compounds and, as they travel to the nose from the back of the mouth you get a richer sense of the bouquet the coffee has to offer. This process is very similar to how wine gets evaluated and, as with wine, practice makes perfect. The vocabulary for flavour encompasses that of aroma and adds its own words like “bold”, “subtle” and more.

If your go-to method for making coffee is the espresso you have one more metric to consider.

Crema – The layer of micro-foam on top of the espresso shot is called the crema. It is the result of the oils in the coffee being extracted by the high-pressure steam of an espresso machine. A nice crema is honey-coloured but may have flecks of Orange or Red. A lighter crema usually indicates an under-extracted shot. The thickness of the crema will depend on the cup used but, given that as standard, Robusta beans tend to produce more crema than Arabica. Since the crema is oils emulsified with air it tends to spoil (go rancid) very quickly and it is imperative the espresso be drunk as soon as it is prepared or the bitter notes of rancid oil will start to dominate.

Variables that influence each of these factors include the species of bean – Arabica or Robusta, the roast and grind of coffee, and the method of preparation. Those are all points for another column, though. Get started on your tastings, take lots of notes and get lots of practice. Hit me back with updates on your progress. All the best!

Rajjat Gulati

Coffee Corner: Cold Brewing by Rajjat Gulati

[vc_column width=”1/1″]Over the years – and over the course of running my own cafes – I have gathered a vast array of coffee-making paraphernalia and am spoiled for choice when it comes to making my personal cup of Joe. There is an espresso machine lying around that I stopped bothering with once I realized that espresso wasn’t my favourite style of coffee. A moka pot and a french press jostle for shelf space somewhere at the back of the kitchen. An Aeropress, my de-facto coffee maker, headlines. For now.

In subsequent columns we will discuss the merits and demerits of each of these methods and more. Today, however, as an ode to lazy weekends and lazier-still coffee enthusiasts (me) I want to talk about the method of making coffee that has the highest Rate-of-Return for the amount of effort it requires. In short, minimum fuss, maximum taste. It’s called cold-brewing.

Cold-brewing involves steeping coffee grounds in cold – or room-temperature – water for extended periods of time. Without getting too scientific about it, while hot water does release more volatile organic compounds from the coffee (read: flavour) it also ups the acidity of the coffee and damages some of the oils. This has the double disadvantage of making the coffee bitter and shortening its shelf life – I have agonised so many times about bad baristas letting my espresso go rancid while they are preparing the rest of the order. Cold-brewed coffee, then, is ideal for making once and savouring over a longer period. I have made concentrates that keep for up to a month with no degradation in taste.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″]Let’s get started.

Ingredients and Equipment – both ingredients can be scaled up or down

  • 112 grams (about a level cup) of medium ground medium roast coffee.
  • 800 ml of filtered water at room temperature.
  • A lidded jar or large-mouthed bottle in which to steep the coffee.
  • A way to strain the coffee before use.

At the bare minimum we need whole roasted beans. If we are to have any hope of getting good flavour from our coffee we need whole beans. Start with a medium roast and adjust based on taste. Also, ideally, we would use a burr grinder but you can use a dry grinder that uses blades. While cold-brew is forgiving, that way, I would highly recommend this one upgrade. I use a Hario Slim Grinder that I couldn’t find in India but a clone of the Hario Skerton is available here as are vintage grinders. Set it for a medium grind to start and adjust with taste.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″]Method

  • Put the ground coffee in the jar or bottle and pour the water over it.
  • Stir to ensure that all the coffee grounds have been wetted.
  • Cover lightly and leave in a cool dark area. Your kitchen counter should work fine. If you plan to leave the brew for longer than 16 hours I recommend you put it in the refrigerator.
Steeping for 16 hours
  • After 12 hours – I found no discernible difference between steeping for 12 or 16 hours so do what is convenient – strain the coffee. For straining coffee filters are ideal. Cheesecloth or muslin lined in a large metal sieve will be just fine. Use a clean (not for long) T-shirt as a last refuge. I started by using cheesecloth but am tempted to buy small muslin bags that I can drop the coffee in and pull out later. Think of them as handmade, re-usable teabags for coffee.
Straining
Straining

And, that’s it. What you should have now is a strong coffee concentrate that you can dilute 1:1 with milk or water, hot or cold, for a flavourful cup that should showcase the subtle notes in the coffee and will have none of the acidity that turns most first-timers off coffee.

 

Bottle it and it should keep for up to a month though I never, personally, let it survive past 24 hours. Cold-brew is also a way to salvage slightly older beans so it is especially suited to off-the-shelf buys.

By Rajjat Gulati[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Coffee Corner – Inverted Aeropress – Rajjat Gulati

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I’ve written about the Aeropress before. I have mentioned that it is my favourite method of brewing coffee. I may or may not have praised it to high heaven as the ultimate coffee maker; I’m not sure. I have outlined the basic method to using the Aeropress but, like I pointed out, that was but the start. The Aeropress opens up an entire world of methods and results for the enterprising and discerning user. I have been exploring that world for a few years now. I return with wonderful tidings. This Christmas season I give you….the absolute best way (in my experience) of using the Aeropress to get a cup of warm coffee that highlights all the strengths (and weaknesses) of the bean involved. Nothing can hide any more; all is revealed. For that reason be careful what bean you use with this method – you may fall in love or you may grow oh so distant. From the bean I mean. I’m definitely talking about the bean.

But, before we approach the deep end we must leave the kiddy pool that is the standard Aeropress technique (discussed earlier) and dip our toes into the adults’ pool with the (standard) inverted Aeropress method.

Why invert the Aeropress if it works so well straight up? Well, mostly, leakage. In a straight up Aeropress the bottom layer is filter paper so there is always going to be some water dripping through. For most people this is just a nuisance and no more. But, for us discerning coffee drinkers, this dripping water is water that has not had the coffee steeping in it for the right amount of time. This, then, is dilute (and sub-optimal) coffee. We can do better.

Inverting the Aeropress means that the bottom layer now is the rubber seal of the plunger and there is no chance of any leakage or sub-optimal brewing. So that’s it, really. The Inverted Aeropress method comprises the following steps:

  1. Insert the plunger into the open piston of the Aeropress and invert the setup so that the top of the plunger rests on the counter
  2. Put the desired amount of coffee (usually 18 grams) into the piston
  3. Pour 30ml 82ºC water onto the grounds and stir to ensure the grounds are wet. Give it 30 seconds to bloom (release CO₂)
  4. Fill the piston to the 1 mark on the Aeropress (inverted so 1 is top and 4 is bottom) with 82ºC water
  5. Wet a paper filter (preferably with warm water) and insert it into the cap. Put the cap on the piston and seal into place by twisting
  6. After about a minute invert a cup onto the inverted Aeropress and invert everything the right side up. Press down on the plunger and extract the coffee over a 30-second period
  7. ??
  8. Profit

Keep in mind the various weights and temperatures are, merely, guidelines and it is recommended that you play around with the variables to get what tastes best to you. Also, the inverted method is best suited to a slightly coarser ground than the regular Aeropress method. That said the Aeropress is very versatile; and forgiving.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″]Now, onward and upward. Let’s get to this Exciting New Method™ that I have been talking about. We are making 4 main changes to the method.

  1. We are increasing the amount of coffee
  2. We are reducing the temperature of the water and increasing the steeping time for the grounds
  3. We are adding a whole session for steeping for the soluble parts of the coffee
  4. We are doubling the paper filters to minimize the fines that come through into the cup

[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″]Here’s the method

  1. Invert the Aeropress 01 The Aeropress - Inverted

[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″]2. Put in 24 grams of coarse-ground coffee. This equates to about a full scoop plus a third of the standard Aeropress measure

[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″]3. Wet the grounds with 80ºC water and stir to ensure the grounds are wet

[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″]4. After 30 seconds fill the Aeropress to the 1 mark with 80ºC water but don’t close the cap just yet

5. Wait 4 minutes (gasp)

6. After 4 minutes the crushed grounds would have all accumulated at the top of the Aeropress. Using a spoon remove them. The technical description of this procedure would be “punch down top and skim”.

7. Wet 2 paper filters with warm water and insert into the cap. Put the cap on the piston and seal into place by twisting

8. Wait 10 minutes (wuh?)

[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″]9. Invert a cup onto the setup and bring the system the right way up. Press out over 30 seconds

10. Heaven

15 Manna. From Heaven
15 Manna. From Heaven

[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″]If you started with great beans I can guarantee you’ll have in your hands the most flavourful and balanced cup of coffee you have ever had. With mediocre beans, though….

It has been just under a month since I discovered this method on a coffee forum on Reddit. This 14.5 minute brew is now my go-to method; time permitting, of course. I have been actively proselytizing to all who would give me their ear. At the end of a description of the method I am often met with incredulous or vacant stares. Understandably so. Let me try and do a cursory analysis of the method; specifically, how it differs from the standard Inverted Aeropress Method.

The extra coffee? Well, coupled with the slightly cooler water it gives us more flavour. We also need a longer extraction time to get at all that extra flavour. The longer extraction is also necessitated by the lower temp. But that explains the 4-minute extraction. What about the 10-minute extra stage?

Once we remove the grounds that have accumulated at the top we are left with smaller particles – some of which have dissolved in the water and others that are suspended. They are still imparting flavour to the brew. We want to get at this flavour – this is what the entire exercise has been about – but we must get rid of the larger pieces because the flavour they give is mostly bitter. Note that by skimming off the top we have also removed most of the oil (the crema) that gives the bitter kick to coffee. This is also the component that goes rancid first with extended exposure.

The double filter makes sure that the absolute minimum amount of fines make it into the cup and, more importantly, traps what little crema was left in the brew.

What we end up with is a cup that has pronounced top, middle and bottom notes. Coffee made this way has never been cold enough or strong for me to need hot water to dilute it; always just perfect.

Give it a go. Let me hear what you think.

Rajjat Gulati[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Coffee Corner: Japanese Cold Brew by Rajjat Gulati

We have discussed cold brewing in a previous edition of this column. Cold brewing is the lazy coffee enthusiast’s best friend – requiring little to no oversight and giving a substantial reward at the end. However, coffee brewed this way is not without its shortcomings. The cold temperature of the water involved tends to under-extract the more subtle and the more volatile compounds from the coffee grounds. Plus, the prolonged extraction times tend to pull out most of the oils and some of the base notes that are earthier. Result? You get a flatter coffee that tastes metallic and oily – not quite the invigorating pick-me-up one needs in the hot, muggy weather that August brings.

The main factors we need to consider are Solubility and Volatility.

  1. Solubility is the extent to which the various components in the coffee grounds dissolve in the water. We know that solubility is higher at higher temperatures – the way sugar dissolves faster in hot water than in cold. For coffee the ideal temperature for extraction is around 90°C. At lower temperatures a large number of the compounds that give coffee its characteristic flavour remain undissolved – the resulting coffee isn’t just light on these flavours; it completely lacks them. Lesson learned – Brew Hot.
  2. Volatility is the tendency for compounds to escape as gases. Humans are terrible tasters. Most of our sensation of flavour comes from our sense of smell. It is, in fact, these volatile compounds that give coffee its complex flavour. As you sip coffee these compounds enter your nose from the back from your throat (you did know that the ear, nose and throat are connected, didn’t you?) and creates the “bouquet”. At higher temperatures these compounds escape into the air more quickly. We know that coffee smells and tastes better when it’s warm compare to when it’s cold. The problem is that coffee kept warm loses these volatile compounds and, hence, flavour, quickly. Coffee kept cold creates and loses these volatile compounds much more slowly. Takeaway – Store Cold.

So, our perfect cold coffee needs to be brewed hot and stored cold with a quick change in temperature. Fortunately, there is just such a method. It’s called the Japanese Cold Brew.

I thought about writing a basic tutorial but, luckily, I got beaten to it by a new friend. Ron wrote to me from Boston telling me about his morning coffee ritual and, it turns out, he uses the very method I wanted to discuss in this column. I have reproduced his mail to me below.

-*-*-

Hi Rajjat,

Glad to meet you. I’m also a huge coffee nerd.

In Boston, its really hot and humid this time of season, so I’ve been focusing on making iced-coffee before work. I’ve tried many methods, but the method I’ve settled on is a pour-over iced coffee method. I find that it produces vibrant floral notes and the least amount of acidity. This method produces a very refreshing and floral coffee- perfect for the summer.

I use Costa Rican imported beans from a local coffee roasting company. They get the beans while still green, and roast them every day. This is important to retain the more delicate flavors. I use a Hario hand-operated grinder, and grind fresh every day. I find that burr-grinders are better suited to flavor extraction than blade grinders. I use a 1:12 ratio of coffee to water, and the water is warmed to 91 degrees celsius. I typically make 25g coffee to 300g (ml?) water. I brew the coffee just as I normally would using a hot pour-over method, with one major exception:

I pour the hot coffee onto ice cubes made from the previous day’s coffee. These ice cubes are sitting in a Chemex coffee vase with cheesecloth to prevent the ice cubes from falling into the vase. I always make sure to make enough to bring to work, and a bit left-over to freeze for the next day’s coffee. I use a Hario v60 to pour the water over the ground beans. Below is a photo of me making my iced-coffee:

Ron at Work

Cheers!

Ron

Blog: https://medium.com/@0xadada

Footnotes:

  1. I use a 14oz OXO Travel mug so the coffee won’t spill (and remains cold) during my bicycle ride to work –
  2. This is the ice cube tray I use for the cold-brew ice cubes:

-*-*-

Thanks, Ron.

When I make this coffee at my end I use 31 grams of coffee, 250 ml of water at 92°C and 250 grams of ice to maintain a 1:16 ratio of coffee to water. I use a Hario Slim Grinder and the Kalledeverapura Pulp Sun Dried coffee from Blue Tokai who roast twice a week. Try this method with a pour-over or even an aeropress. The results are truly worth it.

Rajjat Gulati

Coffee Corner: Plume of the Peacock by Rajjat Gulati

It seems ironic that Matt Chittaranjan’s in-laws drink instant coffee. Ironic because Matt and his wife Namrata run Blue Tokai Coffee – a roastery that is part of the vanguard of Third Wave Coffee in India. Matt’s in-laws’ instant-coffee fixation is an interesting segue into the habits of India’s coffee drinkers, though. For anyone associated with the gourmet coffee business it can be exasperating to have well-meaning people declare they love coffee when all they have ever had is the instant kind.

Matt Chittaranjan of Blue Tokai
Matt Chittaranjan of Blue Tokai

Matt has a suggestion.

“I get that instant coffee is very convenient but I think that if people saw they type of coffee that goes in to those crystals, they’d reconsider drinking it.  People in the speciality coffee industry (myself included) can tend to focus on brewing that involves fancy and expensive equipment that most people would rightfully baulk at using. But really all you need is a tea strainer and a bag of good coffee to make a cup that will blow any instant coffee away.”

 

Matt and Namrata’s is an Internet-based coffee roasting and delivery business. They source single estate and small lot beans from various growers across the country and roast them to different profiles. They accept one-off and subscription orders over the Internet and deliver all over India via Fedex. Matt is quick to point out that there is a lot of scope for improvement in the entire chain of growers, roasters and, even, customers. Says Matt,

“Coffee is such a complex beverage that it seems like every day we are learning something new.  Whether its growing, brewing, roasting, tasting, serving, I feel like we’ve just scratched the surface in terms of coffee knowledge.”

Matt is being modest. Having sampled their coffees I can safely say that they stand head and shoulders above other roasters in India. In fact, I vote for them with my wallet. I am a regular customer, with a subscription to their Yellikodige Organic coffee in an Inverted Aeropress grind. Their coffees are fresh, diverse and great value-for-money given the great quality. Blue Tokai uses only Arabica beans and a computer-controlled roaster for consistent roasting across beans and batches. Beans are roasted twice a week and dispatched via courier the same day.

Matt’s go-to is the Nachammai Estate made via the Pour Over method. He explains that he finds this particular coffee the most nuanced and, given how often he needs to brew multiple cups for himself and company, pour over is the ideal method. The Aeropress, the Vacuum Syphon and other brewing paraphernalia stare at us, unused, from the cupboards all around us as we drink our coffees.

Click here to watch Matt make us a cup of coffee.

Changing customer mindsets is the greatest challenge Matt and Namrata face. There are some individual customers who are willing to pay extra for really good coffee. But these customers are few and far in between. Most sale is still wholesale – to the hotels and restaurants Matt and Namrata have managed to convince of their coffee’s superiority.

Set up in an extension of their family home Blue Tokai Coffee has invested a lot of time and effort to be where they are and be headed where they are headed today. High standards were set and met. Individual estate owners were met and their coffees examined. Overall, Matt is happy with the quality of Coffee in India. He scores it in the mid-80’s compared to, say, 90+ for some of the finest coffees around the world. The processes in India, though, leave a lot to be desired. There is only one coffee harvest a year, compared to 2 in other parts of the world. Storage and Transport are also poorly managed resulting in much higher loss-to-spoilage. At one point Matt and Namrata put their metaphorical foot down and insisted their suppliers change their ways. All green beans now come to Blue Tokai in GrainPro™ bags that enhance the shelf life of the delicate green beans. That isn’t the end of the headaches Matt faces.

I’ll let him explain:

“India ranks in the bottom quarter in ease of doing business for a reason.  Complying with all of the laws and regulations is a huge headache.  On top of that, finding reliable suppliers is a big challenge.  For something as simple as a cardboard box, we’ve cycled through more than 5 companies and constantly following up with courier companies to get people their deliveries is the least enjoyable part of my day.”

Don’t, for a minute, think that it’s all bad, though. Blue Tokai now has over 2000 customers. They have had to upgrade the site to keep up with demand. From the 10 Tonnes of green beans they bought last year they expect to move up to 18 Tonnes this year. Word is spreading and, as connoisseurs of good coffee we wish them the very best.

Rajjat Gulati

Coffee Corner: Instant Coffee by Rajjat Gulati

The over-arching thought behind this column is to try and democratize Coffee and make a good cup of Joe accessible to everyone. We started at what, we thought, was the beginning – the cold brew – a method of preparation that requires no specialized equipment. We were mistaken. Our shortcoming lay in the assumption that even the most mildly enthusiastic coffee aficionado would find a way to score high-quality beans and the rest would follow. This was naive, at best.

Take my own case, for instance. My morning cuppa is a ritualised affair with much hand-cranking to grind fresh beans and constant monitoring of the temperature of the water. The steeping of the grinds is timed as is the press through the Aeropress into a pre-warmed cup. But, when I get to the office my choice is limited to the swill that comes out of the vending machine and whatever else I can manage at my desk. So, yes, I drink instant coffee.

That’s not a total cop-out, however. There is instant coffee and there is Instant Coffee. Actually, there are several more levels of nuance in there. And, this column is here to help you elevate your instant coffee game to the next level. First, we choose our coffee wisely.

1.    Coffee-Chicory Mix (think Sunrise, Bru or Filter Coffee) is, as the name suggests, a mix of spray-dried coffee powder and ground, baked chicory root which serves to bulk-up the coffee and adds a bitter taste and more mouthfeel. While it is well-suited for Filter Coffee, or for adding to milk, we will not be concerning ourselves with this variety.
2.    Spray-dried coffee (think regular Nescafe) is prepared by brewing ground coffee beans in highly efficient extraction equipment across a broad temperature spectrum to fully extract the various flavours. This extract is filtered and concentrated and then “dried” by spraying it as a fine mist through hot air at 250°C. The water evaporates and the fine powder is “agglomerated” by wetting the surface to cause the particles to adhere in larger, more manageable clumps. Throughout the process Oxygen is removed to prevent loss of flavour and the various volatile gases given off are recovered and added back to the coffee during packaging.
nescafe_gold_coffee__22458_zoom3.    Freeze-dried coffee (think Nescafe Gold, Davidoff Cafe) is prepared similarly to Spray-dried coffee but for the drying process. The concentrated coffee liquor, instead of being heat-dried, is cooled and converted into a slushy which is further dried and, under the influence of a vacuum the water in the concentrate sublimates (goes from solid to gas without passing through the liquid phase).

A careful consideration of the similarities and differences between spray-drying and freeze-drying should tell us a lot about what to expect from a resulting cup. The fact that both coffees get subjected to high temperatures during extraction warns us that the coffee has been “cooked” once before being packed. The aromas are all there when you first open the pack – they were recovered and added back – but this coffee will only be a faint outline of what a freshly brewed cup could have been. That said, the big boys of coffee have access to beans that we, retail consumers, do not and it might still be worth your while to try them out.

The crucial difference is in the drying process. Because spray-dried coffee gets significantly abused during this stage (it is, effectively, twice-cooked by this stage) it will forever be the impoverished cousin to Freeze-dried Coffee’s more authentic flavour. And, since freeze-drying better preserves flavours this process also tends to get used for the better (and more expensive) beans. This a double whammy in favour of freeze-dried coffee. Not only are better beans usually freeze-dried but their flavour is also better preserved with this method. And, while freeze-dried may cost twice what spray-dried does, it is worth the extra.

We have established that pure coffee is better than a coffee-chicory mix and that within pure coffee, freeze-dried is better than spray-dried. Are there distinctions with freeze-dried coffee too? You betcha! Coffee can be freeze-dried quickly (30-120 seconds) or slowly (10-180 minutes). Quick-drying results in lighter-coloured granules and a commensurately more delicate cup of brew. Also, what mixture of beans has been freeze-dried is of paramount importance. Single-origin coffees sit at the top of the heap followed by pure Arabica blends which, in turned, are followed by Arabica-Robusta blends. Now you know what to look for at the supermarket.

Now comes the part where you, the drinker, can influence the taste of the brew. Here’s my go-to preparation method for instant coffee – spray or freeze-dried.

In a large cup add filtered water to fill the cup a fourth of the way. On to the water drop one rounded teaspoon of instant coffee of your choice. Do not stir! In a kettle bring to boil one cup of water. Once the water reaches a boil take it off heat. Wait 30-60 seconds so that the water reaches a temperature of, approximately, 95°C. Now tilt the cup and pour the hot water down the sides of the cup in a slow, steady stream. Your coffee is now ready to drink. A good visual indicator that the coffee is prepared well is a swirl of white crema at the edges of the cup. This is the oil in the coffee and the white indicates that the oils haven’t been burnt. What you should have now is a good coffee free from the bitter taste we associate with bad coffee.

Disclaimer: No spoons were damaged in the making of this coffee.

Rajjat Gulati

Coffee Corner: Aeropress by Rajjat Gulati

Jpeg
My Aeropress set up

To say that I couldn’t imagine my life without my Aeropress would be a bit of an overstatement. Of course I can imagine my life without my Aeropress. It’s just that, without my Aeropress, my life would be dull grey and full of suicidal thoughts. My Aeropress makes me happy. It makes me want to get up in the morning and sing, take the day by the horns and, then, do it all over again the next day.

 

Why this enthusiasm for the Aeropress, you ask? Ah, let me count the ways.

  • The Aeropress fixes the single biggest complaint most people have with coffee – that of bitterness and the associated complaint that it gives them heartburn. Coffee made with the Aeropress is one-fifth as acidic as drip-made. That takes care of the bitter and lets the subtle notes shine through. Plus, less acid means there’s less acidity to deal with later.
  • It’s cheap, portable and rugged. At $26 (http://www.amazon.com/Aeropress-Coffee-and-Espresso-Maker/dp/B0047BIWSK/ref=sr_1_1) the Aeropress is one of the cheapest ways to discover great coffee. Plus, if you’re like me, it’s very tempting to keep one at home, another at the office and reserve one for when you’re on the road.
  • Most of all, though, the Aeropress is very forgiving. Not sure of the temperature of the water? Or the grind? Or the dose? Or, all three? No fear. The Aeropress has your back. This, in fact, is the Aeropress’s greatest virtue. Instead of following a set recipe the Aeropress welcomes you to experiment with different beans, methods and extraction temperatures. Most of the fun in using the little device is figuring out my favourite method for every new batch of coffee. My favourite illustration of this fact comes from the World Aeropress Championship Recipe list (http://worldaeropresschampionship.com/recipes/) where the Top3 recipes over the last few years have diverged greatly on just about every parameter that contributes to making coffee; be it dosage, water temperature, steeping time or even, for that matter, whether the Aeropress is stood straight up or inverted.

In summary, then, the Aeropress is the most bang-for-your-buck method of making gourmet coffee.

What is the Aeropress, exactly? Invented by Alan Adler, president of Aerobie (http://aerobie.com/) – makers of the Aerobie Flying Disc (http://aerobie.com/products/pro.htm – another must-have), the Aeropress is a coffee maker that comprises 2 cylinders in a piston-like arrangement where one copolyester cylinder fits inside the other. The inner cylinder has a rubber plunger that creates an airtight seal while the outer cylinder has a lid that is fitted with a paper or metal filter through which the brew is pressed out.

In the “regular” method a filter paper is fitted into the detachable plastic cap, wetted and fixed onto the outer cylinder.

This cylinder is placed atop your favourite cup with the filter paper at the lower end.

Approximately 15 grams of fine-ground coffee is put into the Aeropress.

30 millilitres of water at (approximately) 80C is poured into the Aeropress and stirred gently to completely hydrate the coffee. This hydrating of coffee so that it lets off CO2 and ensures an even extraction is called a bloom.

After about 30 seconds for the bloom water at 80C is added to the Aeropress till nearly the top.

The cylinder with the plunger is inserted so that the pressure inside holds the water in place.

After about a minute the plunger is depressed, slowly and evenly, extracting the coffee into the cup below till about 50ml of content is left inside. The cap is unscrewed and the remains are discarded.

What is left is one heavenly cup of coffee. Dilute to taste with warm water. Better yet, don’t.

Heaven
Heaven

Again, none of these instructions are sacrosanct. Feel free to experiment with every variable to discover your favourite style.

And that is our first foray into the wonderful world of the Aeropress. In subsequent pieces we will look at the variety of techniques and recipes that the Aeropress can deliver. Here’s to many great cups of Joe.

Rajjat Gulati