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How to Make Coffee Like the Experts

Jan 13, 2014

How to Make Coffee Like the Experts

Immediately upon greeting me at The Brooklyn Roasting Plant cafĂ©, situated on an cobblestone street near the water in Brooklyn's DUMBO neighborhood, sharp yet relaxed owner Michael Pollack handed me a cup of steaming coffee. While he didn't advise me not to put milk or sugar in it, he also didn't gesture toward the area holding all of the traditional coffee accompaniments. Fine by me. I've been drinking it black for years, and I know that in many elite coffee circles, it's frowned upon to alter the coffee's taste by adding the aforementioned accoutrements. 

Off we went to a quieter corner of the cafe (not easy to find on a bustling Monday morning) to discuss the very important matter of how to make coffee like the pros.

"What am I drinking?" I asked as I brought the cup he'd handed me first to my nose and then to my lips. I learned that it was a coffee from Rwanda that had been brewed through cloth. "It's the oldest modern method," Pollack explained. Although the original cloth brewing methods produced an "unrecognizable cup," before the invention of the metal percolator and the French press, decent coffee went through the original Ethiopian way, and today Pollack's company uses specialized cloth filters to create a shockingly good cup of joe. 

The pour-over method came later and has grown in popularity much like the French press in recent years. Since most of us know where to find a perfect professionally made cup of coffee in just about every neighborhood in New York, I urged Pollack to fill me in on the dos and don'ts of brewing the addictive stuff at home. 

For starters, he told me that the large majority of people have no need for a fancy espresso machine, and Pollack, who has owned eight different varieties, does not recommend that even the most passionate coffee lover invest in one. The best machine and special espresso grinder will set you back about a grand, and unless you are very committed and don't mind dealing with a messy contraption, you're better off sticking to the French press, which Pollack calls "convenient, handsome and controllable."

A regular drip coffee maker (guilty as charged!) that uses paper filters will taste remarkably different from a pressed cup. Whereas paper filters may (negatively) alter the taste of the brew, a French press cup retains the bean's natural oils, resulting in a richer flavor. The pour-over method, which Pollack approved of, produces a subtler cup with a "clean mouth feel" and some "tea-like" qualities.

Whichever method you choose, Pollack was clear on a couple of things. First, he said the best thing you can buy is a grinder. Next up is a scale. The gold standard, he noted, is 60 grams of coffee to a liter of water. Don't buy more coffee than you need, Pollack instructed, thereby eliminating the need to store coffee in the freezer or fridge (room temperature will do just fine if you don't plan on housing coffee for longer than a week or so). Once you have the basics mastered, you can play around with a few factors to determine what constitutes your best cup of coffee. For example, a finer grind will lead to a more pronounced coffee flavor.

Pollack believes there's "no easier way to travel the world" than by tasting its coffee. Ultimately, though, he concluded, "the perfect cup of coffee is what brings a smile to your face in the morning." We can all drink to that. 

Begin paving your way to an incredible cup of coffee by shopping the items in the slideshow above.

By Stacey Gawronski

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