The 2012 U.S. Barista Champion Katie Carguilo -- I didn't even know there were barista competitions -- explains, in this article on Slate, how to make the most amazing cup of coffee ever, turning a regular brewing session into something akin to a secret science experiment.
most coffee professionals prefer what's often called the pour-over method. Carguilo used a Kalita Wave in our demonstration. (They can be a little hard to find -- the Hario V60 is easier to locate.) These drippers are inexpensive -- usually between $20 and $40. Less pocketbook-friendly is the burr grinder that Carguilo believes is essential for really spectacular coffee. "Coffee loses its aromatics within 10 minutes of being ground -- if you don't have the aromatics, it's not going to taste flavorful, so you can't grind it at the store." Blade grinders are less expensive, but they "indiscriminately chop the coffee so you get big pieces and really small pieces, and you can never brew well." A burr grinder, on the other hand, mills the coffee to a relatively uniform grind profile, which is important when the water moves through the coffee. A good electric burr grinder can cost around $150, but hand grinders are available for as little as $35, and you can take them on camping trips.
In our demonstration, Carguilo used a Bonavita electric kettle (also available in a stovetop model), which has a gooseneck spout. The thinner pouring stream allows for more control when adding water to the coffee grounds, but it's not absolutely essential.
The key ingredient, of course, is the coffee itself. It should be fresh: "You can't make a great coffee if the coffee is old and stale," Carguilo says. "When coffee is stale, the aromatics and the gases that are inside of the beans are seeping out, and if those aren't there, it doesn't smell good and it doesn't taste good. It's got to be within a month of roasting. If you buy from a good company, ideally they're going to put the roasting date on the bag." You can't cheat on freshness by storing coffee in the freezer. Unless the package is vacuum-sealed, there's a chance that moisture will get into the beans, and coffee takes on odors very easily. Most of all, experiment with different coffees to see which ones you enjoy. Carguilo recommends "if you're going to spend money on coffee, buy from companies that give you a lot of information on the bag. Things like variety and farm and process. That way you can start to gather what it is that you like about coffee. If you like washed vs. natural coffees, for instance."
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