Thursday, August 27, 2009

Writer's Block: How to make coffee

No, instant coffee doesn't count, unless you're using Bru coffee. But that's another category all together.

What we're talking about is brew. Real brew. Good brew.

I'm not a coffee connoisseur or barista, but there are a few things about coffee that I think real coffee lovers should know and learn.

While most people are content to get the run-of-the-mill Starbucks or Seattle's Best coffee, I prefer to make my own coffee and really only run to those places when I'm desperate for a cup of joe.

On any other day, I make my own coffee. It's not the best, but it's certainly much better than the commercial stuff you get in the average coffee shop.

An intro to Cordi coffee

Yes, I am a bit of a coffee snob -- but with good reason. I grew up in a coffee-producing region that grows some really good Arabica beans. It's an undeveloped industry in the Philippines --except for Batangas coffee/Barako, which more or less found a niche market in the country.

In the Cordilleras however, where farm-to-market roads are still being developed in many mountain provinces, coffee is just something home grown. Only now are they beginning to discover the quality of Cordillera Arabicas, but it will take years before this will even become an export industry.

Cordillera beans come from different parts of the region. A little known province called Kalinga produces a blend that is very similar to Indonesian coffee. It is light in flavor, has a certain aroma and sweetness with an almost fruity accent to it. But it is powerful stuff that is great to have any time of the day.

There is also a coffee from Sagada and Bontoc (Mountain Province) called Fidilisan -- a brew that has been likened to a rare Ethiopian blend. This is a coffee treat and is very hard to get a hold of since this is usually not sold even in Baguio City. I normally ask my friends from Mountain Province to bring me some when they travel there.

In Baguio, the most accessible coffee is the Benguet blend. It's an everyday type of coffee, still superior to the run-of-the-mill commercial coffee. It is not as fragrant, but it is similar to coffee from the mountains of Vietnam. It is a coffee with a bit more body and a subtle nutty/fruity flavor with a punch.

This is why I am spoiled when it comes to coffee.

People ask me a lot of questions about coffee. Non-coffee drinkers normally complain about coffee being too bitter, and don't realize that bitterness really does not equal good coffee.

Why your coffee is 'bitter'

Coffee is a sensitive bean. If it is not made properly, it will be terrible bitter coffee. That's not what you want to look for.

But first, let's discuss why some coffee blends are bitter. One of the few reasons is because the filter isn't clean. Residue from old coffee ground can make a fresh pot of coffee bitter. It needs to be clean in order to get the real flavor out.

Another thing to look out for is the bean's roast. Dark roasts are generally bitter. While not all dark blends are bad -- heavily roasted coffee can mask the true flavor and quality of coffee -- good or bad.

Personally, I prefer light to medium roasts to bring out the right flavor of the coffee.

Coffee beans

Buy beans -- whole beans --and get a coffee grinder. While there are some really good quality grinders out there, not everyone is willing to dish out more than 50 dollars for a grinder. It may not be the best grinder to get the optimal quality you want, but it is still better than buying pre-ground coffee.

One of the best ways to get the flavor (not bitterness, mind you) out of coffee is freshness. Grind it yourself if you can, and keep the beans in a tightly sealed container and refrigerate it.

If pre-ground coffee is all you can get, refrigerate it anyway in a sealed container. The flavor will keep longer. Trust me.

Cold is good for coffee beans. This is also why some (if not all) the best coffees in the world are from the mountains. Cold weather seals in the flavor of the beans --Arabica beans, the champagne of coffees.

Like I mentioned earlier -- coffee is sensitive, so when it is ground up -- the flavor and natural oils in the coffee are released and break down very quickly. By buying whole beans and only grinding enough beans you need for a brew will help preserve the quality of the beans' flavor.

Buying coffee

Try to find a coffee place that allows customers to see and smell the beans. I used to get it from the market in Baguio, because I got to use my senses when I chose my beans. Trust your senses.

Look at the roast, smell the beans. If you don't know -- ask. You'll get the hang of it.

It is also ok to combine Arabicas with Robustas to get the flavor and body you may be looking for. Robustas are not necessarily bad. Blended right with Arabicas, it can produce a really great concoction.

For more coffee-brewing tips, here's a great article I came across from the experts.