Do you like coffee?
I love coffee. I’m always trying to quit drinking it though because I find I’m pretty sensitive to caffeine, but man do I love drinking it.
It’s likely a sentiment many of you share with me.
But just like many things we consume—not all coffee is created equal. I figure if we’re going to drink coffee, we should be drinking the best dang cup of coffee we can afford.
So what makes a good quality cup of coffee?
I reached out to Madeleine Pengelley, Owner of Birds & Beans to get her take on coffee and why quality is so important.
1. Why is the quality of coffee that we drink important?
Quality coffee is an amazing beverage with more flavour molecules than wine! Quality coffee is an affordable way to delight our pallets. Simple pleasures are great!
2. What should we look for when buying coffee either at a coffee shop or to make at home?
To take home, freshness is important. It is best to purchase beans that have been roasted in the last week or two and grind just prior to brewing. This yields the most flavour in the cup.
When purchasing coffee by the cup, the cafe should have a policy for how long the coffee stands prior to serving. Cleanliness of the brewing equipment is important so that the rancid oils of old coffee do not cumulate and transfer into the cup.
For espresso drinks, I always make sure they keep the porta filters hot in the machine, that the milk is never reheated, and that the barista is tamping the coffee with a tamper.
3. What’s the difference between instant coffee, a coffee like Folgers and organic, fair trade coffee?
Instant coffee is an industrial process that can be done to any coffee. It loses most of the good flavour in the process, but in recent years it has become possible to purchase Fair Trade Organic instant coffee.
“Canned” coffees and low-priced packaged coffees typically have a high proportion of low quality Robusta coffee. Robusta is unpleasant in flavour, but is easier to grow and has higher yield. Its only advantage is that it is cheap. In recent years it has become possible to purchase Fair Trade Robusta coffee.
All high-quality, flavourful coffee is Arabica, which is available in several grades. All grades are available in Fair Trade and Organic. The highest grade is Strictly High Grown specialty grade arabica coffee.
Note that Fair Trade Organic does not actually indicate quality. However, it is usually the higher grade coffees that can command the Fair Trade and Organic premiums, so there tends to be a loose correlation.
Birds and Beans purchases only High Grown or Strictly High Grown, Certified Organic, Certified Bird Friendly fairly traded Arabica coffees.
4. What is the best way to prepare and store coffee?
The best way to store coffee is not to store it long!
There is no way to keep coffee fresh more than about 6-8 weeks after roasting. Never store coffee near anything with an odour as it will absorb them and pass them to the cup. For this reason, refrigerators are a bad place for coffee.
Freezers are even worse because frost free freezers (all home freezers) cycle to above freezing to below. This cycling temperature brings the moisture and the flavour molecules to the surface of the bean where they stale more easily.
The best place to store coffee is in a sealed container at room temperature.
Preparing coffee could be several blog posts! The most important thing in preparing coffee is to start with high-quality freshly roasted beans and grind them just prior to brewing (within four hours according to the Specialty Coffee Association of America). The correct temperature is very important: between 195F and 205F.
Maintaining clean equipment is important as is using the correct grind for the preparation method and using the most beneficial quantity of coffee for the particular roast and blend.
5. What’s the difference between a light and dark roast?
This one is deeper than is generally understood. They are not as deterministic as is generally believed. The colour of a roast is most closely correlated with the final temperature of a roast… how hot it gets. But it is as important how the coffee arrives at its end temperature as what the end temperature is.
Some of us recall a decade ago dark roast was popular. All the independent roasters charred their beans and they tasted burnt… because they were burnt. Now it is popular to roast blond roasts. This has tended to swing in the opposite direction and now many coffees are sour and undeveloped.
An expertly roasted coffee is “right roasted.” It spends the right amount of time at each temperature during its roast profile to develop the most interesting and balanced flavours available in the bean. Flavours like chocolate, caramel, spice, berry, and nut. These correlate little with a colour of roast. That is why we post our “bold” coffee instead of a “dark” coffee.
6. Now a personal question: how do you take your coffee?
Unspoiled of course!