There is a scene in the movie Elf where Will Ferrell, as Buddy the Elf, barges into a diner in Times Square after observing a window sign to congratulate the occupants on serving the “World’s Best Cup of Coffee.” We assume that the sign’s message is an exaggeration. Most of us have been disappointed by diner coffee before. But what if I told you there really was a way to enjoy the world’s best cup of coffee (or close to it) at home, in your kitchen, every day. Read on coffee lovers because you are in for a treat.
There are two dirty secrets about coffee that few people know. These both affect the quality and taste of your coffee. The first is this – coffee that you buy in your local grocery store is stale, typically months old, or more. Coffee tastes best when fresh and should be consumed ideally within 30 days max after roasting. The second secret is more sinister. As a by-product of the roasting process almost all commercial coffee contains trace amounts of hydrogen sulfide (H2S). Hydrogen sulfide is absorbed by porous coffee beans as they roast in the exhaust fumes from gas used in the roasting process. Hydrogen sulfide is water soluble and becomes sulfuric acid (H2SO4) when mixed with water as you brew your coffee. This can be a health issue for some people, causing adverse reactions (acid reflux, headache, sour stomach, etc.). These factors, along with sometimes lousy brewing practices, can make for bad tasting coffee (think gas station coffee heated and re-heated throughout the day, or your Uncle Joe and his aluminum percolator from 1966).
So, how can you get fresh, good tasting, healthy coffee? Or how can you enjoy the world’s best cup of coffee? It’s actually very simple. If you are willing to expend a relatively small amount of effort, you can brew amazingly delicious, fresh coffee every morning in the comfort of your own home by following these steps.
First, you will need to roast your own coffee. Here are the basics. Start by using a hot-air popcorn popper. Many companies catering to home roasters offer these. Using a popcorn popper is the cheapest and fastest way to start roasting coffee at home. If you can master the basics, this will give you fresh, delicious air-roasted coffee that is clean with no gas residue. Once you master your popcorn popper, I recommend trading up to a small table-top kitchen roaster (FreshRoast makes a good one). You can roast coffee other ways (on your stove in a skillet, over a campfire in your backyard), but a small hot-air roaster is best.
Next, you need to buy green coffee beans. These are readily available online. Look for specialty organic coffee (these are the highest quality beans, exactly what you want to brew your best cup).
The roasting process is simple. Heat your beans (make sure beans are constantly moving so they don’t burn) while watching and listening. Beans will turn from green or gray to yellow, and then brown. Listen for first CRACK. As beans expand, they will crack (sounds like popcorn popping). You determine your desired roast level, but anything after first crack is drinkable. I like to roast my beans to the beginning of second crack (beans will crack twice – listen carefully). Also watch the color of your beans as they roast. Shoot for a chocolate brown and you should be good. Beans roast quickly and are easy to burn, so be careful. A coffee bean fire in your kitchen is no fun!
Once you have a supply of roasted coffee, store in a vented container away from light (no glass jars). Coffee bags that can be sealed with degassing valve are best (bags and heat sealer can be found online for modest cost).
Grind coffee right before brewing for best taste (do not grind ahead of time). And use good water, not tap water (filtered, bottled, or spring water is best). Bad water equals bad coffee.
Finally, choose a brewing method. I prefer a French-Press (course grind, amount of coffee to taste, steep for exactly four minutes – best to use a timer). Boil water, then take off heat for 30-45 seconds before using (ideal temp for brewing coffee is 195-205 degrees F).
After coffee is brewed, pour and wait five minutes. Coffee flavor is best if slightly cooled. If all has gone well, you will be drinking perhaps the best cup of coffee you have ever had…enjoy.
© 2023 Jody Dyer
Hope you enjoyed this guest column! JODY DYER is a columnist, author, and former teacher. Described by some as a Renaissance man, he is a baseball fan, coffee roaster, and accomplished feral hog trapper. He likes to read, appreciates the outdoors, and is good with dogs and children. He is the father of three, and lives with his wife in Texas. He will be writing for us from time to time in his column Typewriter Weekly.