Refining your
brewing technique

So you've found a brewing method you like and you've become quite proficient at it. You're using good quality coffee. and grinding it yourself to the proper consistency. You've installed a water filter and and never pour boiling water over the grounds. And the resulting brew tastes pretty darn good. Now what?

Now's the time to refine your technique, tweak the equipment and and make a try for that most elusive of goals, the perfect cup of coffee.

Prewarm your brewing equipment
Water temperature is critical in brewing good coffee. Temperature is also critical at the drinking stage. Even if the water goes into the brewing equipment at the proper temperature, it can quickly cool-especially in wintertime-so that by the time you are ready for your first sip, the coffee is already below its optimum drinking temperature.

If you are drip brewing, try prewarming the pot, cup and filter basket in hot water. Brewing directly into a prewarmed vacuum bottle or insulated carafe can also keep the coffee at optimum drinking temperature.

You can also 'prewarm' the coffee grounds by pouring a small amount of hot water over them and allowing them to 'bloom' for 30 seconds or so before adding the rest of the water.

Some folk also briefly stir the grounds during brewing to break up any lumps that may have formed, and to ensure that no hot or cold spots develop along the sides of the filter basket. But don't continue stirring, as this will break up the layer of grounds that is naturally deposited on the sides through which the hot water passes, extracting coffee flavor as it goes.

Prewarming is also critical for French presses, as the press sits exposed to the air on all sides for 3-4 minutes. If the press starts out cold, it can quickly bring down the temperature of the water inside.

Espresso also benefits from prewarmed cups and filter holders, especially as the smaller portion cools more rapidly than a standard portion of brewed coffee. In the wintertime, it can be critical to producing good crema.

Use a gold-mesh filter
Paper filters are designed to trap the sediment produced by the drip filter method. Unfortunately, they also trap the aromatic, flavor-rich oils that are produced during roasting. The resulting brew may be sediment-free, but it can also be rather dull and thin. Some people can even taste the chemicals used to make the filters.

Gold-mesh filters allow the oils to pass, have no chemical residue, and do a pretty good job of trapping sediment The resulting brew is both flavorful and aromatic.

Why use gold? Gold is inert. It won't corrode or combine with anything else, and so has no effect on the flavor of the coffee. It is also easy to keep clean. And it will last for years.

Some people don't like the extra 'body' in the form of fine sediment. If this bothers you, let the coffee sit in the cup for a few minutes to allow the sediment to settle to the bottom.

Gold-mesh filters can be found in many coffee specialty shops for not much more than several boxes of paper filters. And with a gold-mesh filter, you will never again miss your morning cup-or be tempted to use tissue or other inappropriate papers-because you ran out of paper filters.

Keep your brewing set clean
I have heard of people who don't clean their teapots for weeks or months at a time. "Ruins the flavor," they say. Well, coffee is not improved by old deposits, so keep your coffee pot and ALL of your coffee brewing equipment sparkling clean. If you see any kind of brown residue on any part of the equipment, remove it. If you use an automatic brewing machine of any sort and live in an area of hard water, you may need to descale the machine; check your machine's instructions.

Don't rewarm it, store it.
Avoid leaving a pot of coffee on a warming plate. These are often billed as a 'feature' of automatic coffee makers, but using one is probably the worst thing you can do to a pot of coffee. If you aren't going to drink the coffee right away, put it in a vacuum bottle or other insulated container.

What's the difference, you ask? Try this experiment. Make a pot of coffee. Pour half into a vacuum bottle. Put the other half back on the warming plate. Wait 30 minutes. Take a sip from each. Which sip made you gag?

For the same reasons as above, don't zap cold coffee in a microwave. Good coffee is so easy to make, why bother? Especially now that you have refined your brewing technique.