How to waste good coffee

June 02, 2011

Disclaimer: This, even more than most, will be a highly subjective post. Feel free to take its contents with the appropriate number of grains of salt (to taste).

If you’re using bad or mediocre coffee, then by all means torture it in whatever way you see fit. But if you’re into the good stuff—and odds are that includes many (most?) readers here—treat it well! And buy from vendors who promise to do the same. What follows is my own personal list of the top 5 coffee-related things I truly wish people would avoid doing. The first three are industry-specific, and the other two are oriented more toward consumers. No doubt I’m forgetting a few list-worthy conversation points, but this seems like a good start.

1. Flavor coffee beans in some permanent way. Why, in the name of all that’s holy, are people so impressed with coffee that tastes like coconut cream or bananas or maple bacon? It’s a cheap parlor trick, an amusing diversion (à la Willy Wonka and his 3-course meal in a piece of chewing gum). If you have to go down flavored road, syrups give you much better, less artificial-tasting results in my own admittedly limited experience.

2. Sell coffee without a roast date. Dishonorable mention for selling coffee with a “best by” date instead of a roast date. You know who you are, vendors (none here, thankfully). The “best by” window typically ranges from 7-12 months. That’s too long. If you’ve never had freshly roasted coffee, you’re missing out.

3. Bid high for premium coffee and then let it get stale on the shelf. Here I have to single out Target and its Archer Farms brand. Coffee Bean International regularly bids for high-ranking “Cup of Excellence” winners all over the world and provides the freshly roasted fruit of their labor to Target, which then packages it in nice-looking tins and lets it sit in their stores’ coffee sections for up to a year (my source on the 12-month shelf life is the last post in this thread). Seems like a shame to me. If you can find these beans literally right after they’re made available, they *might* be worth trying, but I doubt Target could get them distributed sooner than 6 weeks post-roast.

4. Buy pre-ground coffee. Even a cheap blade grinder used properly (e.g. pulsing and shaking) will give you a tastier cup. It really only takes seconds to do the grinding yourself immediately before brewing. If for some reason you’re not convinced, you might at least consider using an in-store grinder and/or buying in smaller portions.

5. Overspend for gear. There’s no need if you’re making brewed coffee at home (the situation is more complicated for espresso, I’m learning). Of course, occasionally you might find it worthwhile to pay more for a brand name that carries with it proven performance, excellent warranty support, and responsive customer service (Bunn comes to mind here). That said, maybe you don’t need to brew a whole pot in a Bunn. For a foolproof way to brew by the cup, I agree with others here and elsewhere that the sub-$15 Clever Coffee Dripper is a good way to go. Look for periodic free shipping deals on this aptly named gadget at ZombieRunner or just cough up to have the Clever sent by Sweet Maria’s or any other online vendor (assuming it’s not in stock somewhere locally). As for grinders and other gear, I like the fact that Williams-Sonoma now sells specialty coffee equipment (along with Sur La Table and other chains to some extent), but a decent chunk of what you’ll find there is needlessly pricey. My advice would be to do a little research on various forums, consider buying gently used, and experiment with “do-it-yourself” versions of cold-brew, etc., before shelling out big bucks. Your wallet will thank you. At least for a while, that is, until you become obsessed, start upgrading everything, and need to reserve an entire room for your coffee paraphernalia.


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