Does coffee have as much depth and flavor as wine? Intelligentsia coffee and tea barista Michael Phillips thinks it has even more. “Coffee has amazingly intricate flavors and is really just hitting its stride in taste exploration,” Phillips explains. “With a really nice coffee, it takes four months to a year for the coffee to end up in your cup but it only takes the last six minutes of preparation to screw it up.”
Phillips would know and has the cred to prove it. He won Barista of the Year at the 2010 World Barista Championship in London, which could best be described as one of those reality cooking competition shows for those in the coffee world. For fledgling coffee connoisseurs who want to make Intelligentsia caliber joe in the privacy of their own homes, Phillips recommends focusing on two primary areas: what type of coffee you buy and the equipment you use in those critical six minutes between brewing and sipping. Here are a few recommendations to get you started:
What should you look for when purchasing coffee beans?
MP: The roast date. High-end coffees will have the date the beans were roasted. If this date is longer then a week from when you purchase the coffee, it will lose a tremendous amount of flavor. If there is no roast date, then it usually means the manufacturer is afraid to print it. But if they print the info, then they are being transparent, which is a very important thing. Also, don’t buy blends. These extra flavors are often used to cover up the taste of bad coffee.
How important is grinding the coffee?
MP: Simply put, if you can’t grind your coffee beans down correctly then you won’t be able to brew it correctly. Try the reliable Baratza Precisio grinder which may end up being the single most important piece of equipment for brewing coffee at home.
How about the actual coffee maker?
MP: It depends what type of coffee you drink. If you’re into a classic cup of coffee, check out the Chemex Brewer. Chances are your grandparents had one. If you are a French Press fan, the Eva Cafe Solo Brewer makes a cup of coffee with great body but also a nice articulation. If all you want is one quick cup, go with a coffee drip like the Hario Ceramic coffee dripper. It will make you one easy cup of coffee with no mess or fuss.
Any other basic equipment suggestions?
MP: Cleaning your coffee brewer is integral. Nothing says “I dont care about you” like serving someone coffee made in a dirty brewer. Coffee oils are stubborn so use a tough coffee specific detergent to get them off your gear. Don’t use soap! It leaves a bad taste.
How about drinking that cup of coffee? Any techniques you recommend?
MP: Interestingly, most people drink their coffee when it is piping hot, at about 180 degrees on average. However, most of the flavor of a good coffee comes out when it cools a bit to about 130 degrees. Coffee, like wine, needs to breathe.
Sam Feeder is a poet, writer and photographer who works primarily in Los Angeles, California and Austin, Texas. Feeder is a careful observer and tries to experience as many different aspects of life as possible, ranging from travels all over the world to discovering that hole-in-the-wall restaurant or bar no one knows about
Feature + slide show images: Jacob Arden McClure
World Barista Championship images: Courtesy of Michael Phillips
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