Coffee Brewing Stirs Questions


April 14, 1996|By ROB KASPER

How dense do you like your coffee? Do you prefer it to be as transparent as one of those trendy gauze skirts? Or do you like it so thick that it can support a spoon?

My coffee doesn't support a spoon, but I am a big fan of density. A few weeks ago in this space I passed along my favorite coffee-brewing proportions. I got them from "The Joy of Coffee," a new and thorough book written by Corby Kummer (Chapters Publishing, 1995). I use six scoops of ground coffee and 32 ounces of water to produce 24 ounces -- three to four mugs -- of brewed coffee.

Several readers reacted to this recipe with disbelief. If 32 ounces of water went in my coffee maker how come I ended up with only 24 ounces of coffee, they asked. Where, they wanted to know, did the 8 ounces of liquid go?

The answer was in the grounds. Ground coffee retains a lot of water. It surprised me to see exactly how much water the grounds soak up. But after carefully remeasuring the before and after level of the liquids, I saw just how thirsty those grounds can be. They did indeed soak up the 8 ounces of water. That is probably why wet grounds feel so heavy when it comes time to toss them out.

Other readers questioned the amount of coffee I used. They thought six scoops, or 12 tablespoons, was excessive. "Does the coffee walk?" one anonymous correspondent asked. My answer is, "No. The coffee doesn't walk. But after a cup or two of this rich brew, you are ready to fly."

I did not realize just how "dense" I was until I compared my brewing proportions with those used by a few other serious coffee drinkers scattered around Maryland.

Gayle Nelson of Baltimore told me she likes some substance in her cup. "If you are paying $1.25 for a cup of coffee and you can see through it, then somebody is making money off you," she said. Nelson is sales manager of Key Coffee Roasters, the Fells Point enterprise that roasts coffee beans and distributes them to various restaurants and shops, including its affiliated retail coffeehouse, the Daily Grind.

The coffee at the Daily Grind is made with 2 tablespoons of coffee for every 6 ounces of water, Nelson said.

But the mix gets thicker when she or owner David Key makes a pot for personal use. "We use a lot of coffee, something like 3 1/4 ounces of coffee for a 10-cup pot," she said.

At the Imperial Hotel in Chestertown, the coffee is brewed following the procedures set down by its supplier, Starbucks Coffee Co. Starbucks' ratio is 2 tablespoons of coffee to 6 ounces of water, said Robert Kimbles, the hotel's food and beverage director. That's the same as the proportion followed at the Daily Grind.

That is too much for Sue Berndt. She is one of the owners of Cuppers, a Pikesville coffee emporium that roasts its own beans. Berndt said she prefers coffee made with 1 tablespoon of grounds per 6 ounces of water. When I told Berndt of the amount of ground coffee I use to get a cup, roughly three times as much as she does, she reacted by saying "Ugh!" Or maybe it was "Ewwwwwh!"

Despite her noises of disapproval, Berndt and I were able to agree that the texture of one's cup of coffee is a matter of personal taste. And we were able to agree that a good cup of coffee is not just a matter of whether it is thick or thin. The type of beans used, the way they are roasted, and the texture of the grind also play big roles in a good cup of coffee, we agreed.

In addition to talking with others about brewing proportions, I have also been experimenting with the way I grind my coffee beans. According to Kummer's book, the general principle of grinding is to use finer grinds for coffee drinks that spend a short time in contact with hot water, like espresso, and to use progressively coarser grinds for coffee that spends more time in the water. Coffee brewed in an electric drip pot, for example, would have a coarser grind than espresso, but a finer grind than the chunkier grounds used in a plunger-style coffeepot.

To grind my beans, I use a propeller grinder -- a device with a small, spinning, two-sided blade.

Following tips outlined in "The Joy of Coffee," I have been whirring away. To avoid lumps in my grinds, I have been putting no more than 4 scoops of coffee in my propeller grinder. To avoid overheating the beans I have been grinding them in bursts, rather than at one long stretch. I have even been following a timetable for propeller grinders passed on to Kummer by Bruce Mullins, a coffee roaster from Portland, Ore. For beans used in an electric drip coffee maker using a gold filter, Mullins recommends a grind of 13 seconds.

Sometimes I ask myself if this coffee rigmarole is worth the effort. Then I taste the stuff. For me and other dense coffee drinkers the answer is, "You betcha!"

Pub Date: 4/17/96

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