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As the winter melts away into a soggy spring, there grows an excitement of things to come: more daylight hours means more time spent outdoors! But to lose an hour à la an early daylight savings switch can be a difficult thing at first, no matter its annual occurrence. And while we don't suggest an IV drip of caffeine to get you going an hour earlier, we do recommend an excellent cup of coffee each morning.
Luckily, brewing the perfect cup of coffee doesn't require a degree in rocket science. And, after tooling up with the right equipment it's not all that pricey either. The secret to the perfect morning coffee is that every step matters, from the beans, to the grind, to the machine.
Since coffee is mostly water, the kind of H2O that goes into the brew matters. Tap water can add some funky flavors to coffee; using filtered or bottled water eliminates these odd, sometimes unpalatable notes. The Specialty Coffee Association of America found that the amount of minerals in water matters: "hard," mineral-rich water, and water without minerals, such as distilled water, are inferior to filtered water. The same goes for water softened by sodium. For water that has some, but not a lot of minerals in it, use a filtration system like the Brita 42629 Slim Pitcher ($10.88 with free shipping via Prime a low by $6). This setup filters out impurities that could alter the flavor profile of brewed coffee.
Now that we know what's not in the water, it's time to focus on those beans. From Yemen Mocha to Tanzania Peaberry, from Sumatra Mandheling to Brazil Bourbon Santos, there are hundreds of sources of premium coffee. Local coffee roasters frequently offer samplings of different beans to help folks determine their coffee preference.
When it comes to coffee beans, freshness definitely matters. Ideally, households should buy fresh beans every 10 days because small amounts of whole beans stay fresher longer. However, Coffee Geek cautions against using beans the first two or three days after roasting because the carbon dioxide trapped in the beans can cause a large bloom of brown suds in the brew. Let the beans rest a few days and remember to grind the amount of coffee to be made each day: most folks opt for two tablespoons of ground coffee per 6 oz. of water.
Oxygen is the enemy of coffee beans, so storing them properly is also very important. It's best to keep whole coffee beans in an airtight container and out of direct sunlight. The Airscape 32-oz. Coffee Canister ($19.95 with $4.22 s&h, a low by $2) has a valve that forces bean-degrading air out before locking the beans in place.
Before brewing that perfect cup of coffee, you've got to grind! And thankfully grinding whole coffee beans is not a black art — all that's needed is a good grinder. While blade grinders are inexpensive, they're not the best. A burr coffee grinder is the way to go: it crushes beans between a moving grinding wheel and a stationary plate, kind of like a mortar and pestle. A top quality one, like the Capresso Infinity Conical Burr Grinder ($79.99 with free shipping, a low by $10; search for "HN-CAPR019" to find it), has a built in timer and 16 grind settings for the perfect grind every time.
With beans ground, the next important step in making the perfect cup of coffee is brewing. Gone are the days of the percolator or the Mr. Coffee machine; when it comes to fine coffee, most experts recommend the French press for everyday use. Or, some coffee drinkers enjoy serving fresh coffee from the vacuum siphon at parties. And for the on-the-go or in-the-office folk, there are K-Cups.
The French Press
A French Press is essentially a cylindrical glass container with a removable piston. The Bodum Brazil French Press 3-Cup Coffee Maker ($17 with free shipping, a low by $3; Amazon has it in black for the same price) is an attractively designed, simple French press with a 3-part, finely screened plunger. French presses are very easy to use: almost-boiling water (195 degrees to 205 degrees) and coffee grinds are poured into the cylinder. Give them a quick stir and allow them to steep for ideally four minutes. Then push the screened piston down into the cylinder to trap the grounds at the bottom. Voila! Grind-free java can be poured straight from the pot!
Single-Serving K-Cup Coffee Machines
For the need-it-now coffee drinker, there are a number of coffee makers on the market that use pre-measured coffee packets and brew in under a minute. Even Starbucks is in the game now with the new Starbucks Verismo Machine ($199 with free shipping, a low by $1; search for "Verismo 580"), which comes bundled with an 8-pack of Verismo Caffè Latte Pods for free ($12.95 value). This machine not only brews single cups of coffee, but also serves as an espresso maker. However, the coffee in these pods isn't necessarily fresh, and likely won't brew "the best" cup of coffee. Want to know more about the Starbucks Verismo Machine? We've reviewed it!
The coffee siphon is another brewing method that will delight those who loved high-school chemistry. The coffee siphon is essentially made of two glass globes stacked on top of one another and attached by a rubber-gasketed tube. Hot water is put in the bottom chamber; the grinds go in the top. As heat is applied to the bottom chamber, the water evaporates, condenses in the top globe, and mixes with the coffee grinds. When the heat is removed, and the bottom globe cools, it creates a vacuum that sucks the coffee back down into it, leaving the grinds in the upper chamber. The Northwest Glass Yama 40-oz. Stovetop Coffee Siphon ($49 with free shipping, a low by $10) will brew up what some claim to be the most exquisite cup of coffee.
For those of you who don't always have the time to sit and enjoy your perfect cup of coffee, an insulated mug is essential. The Contigo Autoseal Double Wall Stainless Steel Vacuum Insulated Tumbler ($18.79 with free shipping via Prime, a low by $4) is the way to go. Its double walls ensure maximum heat retention and its lid automatically seals between sips for a spill-less pick me up.
Really great coffee knows no class or creed. It can become a part of any morning routine with a simple set of ingredients and a penchant for a particular brewing method. When done right, coffee can satisfy any palate and offer a great energy boost that will help you power through the first weeks of spring.
Note that this feature has been updated since it was originally published last year.
Front page photo credit: Empower Network