Hacking the Coffee Pot

Coffee is probably a zillion dollar industry, give or take a few billion. Starbucks alone has a market cap of almost 60 billion at the time of this writing. On the home front, I saw a post recently on USA today where 61 percent of all Americans use a drip coffee pot. That’s probably not surprising, but what was is that over 20 percent use the now legendary K-cup machine (or something similar). More astonishing, I’m not really sure what the other 19 percent use. I used to be a Dr. Pepper guy myself, but that’s changed. You ever see what happens to a nail that sits in those 23 secret flavors for too long? Yes, the nail becomes secret ingredient 24.

On the lookout for post holiday sales, toilet paper, laundry detergent and hanging nails (you can find all these items together at only one store), I was meandering around Wal-Mart and saw two different versions of the K-cup machine running between $100 and $130. With each little cup running approximately $0.75, depending on taste and flavor. We have one of these machines in the office, and I will say it’s better than the average cup of joe.

But has anyone really thought about why? I’ll give you a couple of reasons.

Most likely, it controls the precise amount of water used for each cup. Machine precision over and over creates a consistent taste. The traditional drip coffee machine doesn’t come close. Between throwing too much coffee under the hood at an early morning hour and water flow, there is too much margin of error.

And the water is filtered. This makes a huge difference. I visit two local coffee shops. Both use the same brewing method, have identical water filters, same coffee beans, etc., Yet, one brews a better cup. You guessed it, the water tastes a bit better across town.

Besides taste, there is one other benefit in favor of the K-cup. It’s convenient. It is the perfect coffee pot for the office. You toss in the plastic cup, hit a button, and out comes a cup of java in about a minute, give or take. Society loves convenience. It’s in our nature. Today, we even cancel school when it gets cold. Back in the day; well, rarely did we cancel school. You bit your lip and took whatever Mother Nature could dish out.

But what if there was a better way? What if I could show you a means to find a better tasting cup and it even costs less for bonus points?

I present the Pour Over and it can be found in the truly great coffee shops around the country. And yes, you can do it at home. Sure, a Pour Over takes a bit longer. You have to boil water, grind beans and measure out the specific amount of water used. I know this is hard. It’s not a button; however, great things come to those who wait. And great coffee does too.

There are three reasons to give the Pour Over a go:

It’s happens to be the most cost effective brewing method. A Chemex costs about $35 dollars and lasts forever unless you drop it or bang it against the counter. I’m also not including the cost of the teapot and filtering the water. But most people have a teapot and a water filter is a good investment anyway. A pound of good coffee beans runs between $10 and $15. Using the prescribed method below, you can get approximately 24 cups of coffee per bag. Depending on your brewing method, quality of beans, and number of filters used per cup, you are spending less than $0.50 per cup. Doing the math, this blows the doors off of the ridiculous upfront cost of the K-cup. It even puts most coffee machines to shame.

Now, let’s think about maintenance costs. It’s fairly easy to rinse out a glass Chemex and use a new filter. How hard is it to take apart a K-cup machine and put it back together again? I really have no idea. If it breaks, most Americans will probably throw it away because it takes an engineering degree to understand what’s happening under the hood. There is a reason all the King’s horses and all the King’s men couldn’t put Humpty back together again. I’m sure some out there will disagree. The point is that any Pour Over method including French Drip, V60 or Aeropress are the definition of simplicity. Each of these brew a little differently but all are fairly easy to maintain. Rinse. Dry. Repeat.

The best reason of all is the taste. With the Pour Over, you’re not being held hostage by Green Mountain or whatever bean is currently being decreed by Starbucks as the greatest of all time. The best coffee roasters in the country travel the world to find the absolute best beans being cultivated on a hillside near the cradle of coffee’s existence. Wherever that is, I’m sure it involves a shade tree with Tibetan monks chanting nearby. True coffee shop owners love what they do. They do whatever it takes to roast the ultimate bean. Support small. You won’t be sorry. There is a reason even Starbucks is watching this market carefully.

So, what are you waiting for? Drink like a true champion. Understand what coffee was meant to be.

Pour over directions are as follows (Eleven Steps to Coffee Goodness):

  1. The Chemex (it looks like a big, glass hourglass) yields a clean, smooth, and light bodied cup. For two mugs of coffee (hey, you gotta share), use 42g fresh ground coffee per 680g Chemex. On my grinder, I set it at 28. The grind should be coarse, but it’s good to experiment to find what you like best and what gets through the filter in four minutes or so.
  2. Place the filter into the top of the Chemex/glass hourglass. I don’t normally pre-wet the filter but some folks do.
  3. Pour freshly ground coffee into the filter and settle the coffee bed so there are no little hills. Make it even and smooth. Just a shake or two will do the trick.
  4. Place the Chemex onto a standard scale and hit the tare button. I have no idea why tare instead of reset. Really, this takes the scale to zero so you know exactly how much water to the gram to add. This is key to a good cup. If you add too much water, the cup never turns out as good. That’s why drip coffee machines are only so/so.
  5. Start timer and slowly pour 68g of boiling water over the grounds.
    Stop and let the coffee bloom for about 45 seconds, but not long enough to let the scale turn off. This is also a good time to breathe in and take a deep whiff of coffee goodness. Sometimes, this is the highlight of my early morning.
  6. At 45 seconds, slowly pour the rest of your water, up to 680g, over the grounds. Yes, do this like you’re a coffee artist. Take your time and ensure sure your water level stays below the rim. No sense making a mess.
  7. Once you’ve finished pouring, gently stir the coffee bed a couple times in a circular motion. This keeps the filter flowing.
  8. Coffee should finish brewing between three and four minutes. If not, adjust grind accordingly or pour slower/faster next time.
  9. Compost your coffee grounds. They are good in your garden.
  10. Rinse out the Chemex with any left over water in the tea pot.
  11. Drink the cup of coffee God wanted you to. Because if there is an almighty deity, I’m sure it drinks coffee. And God wouldn’t use a K-cup.

If you’re online buying your Chemex right now, might as well try some great coffee while you’re at it. Check out these roasters. They are the best around:

Thirty-thirty Coffee Co.

Verve Coffee Roasters

Blue Bottle Coffee Company

Stumptown Coffee Roasters

Intelligentsia Coffee