HomeRoast Digest


Topic: My Coffee Story - With Questions (3 msgs / 231 lines)
1) From: Rstyler49
Hello,  
I would like to share my coffee story with you, and I have several questions 
about coffee in general that I would like to know more about.
I realize that most of you all seem to have an uncommon knowledge about 
coffee.  (this has got to be THE coffee knowledge site).  I hope your answer 
will get me on the right coffee path, so to speak.  I'm sure my story and 
questions will bore many of you, but if so, perhaps you can refer me to some 
archives that will answer my specific questions.  That is acceptable to me.  
GROWING UP IN EASTERN PA -
I was raised in a small, coal mining town, in the North Central, Eastern 
section of Pennsylvania.  I lived there during the 1950's and 60's.  My 
coffee preparation and consumption consisted of purchasing pre-ground canned, 
or jarred powdered coffee (sacrilege), from the supermarket shelves.  My 
coffee drinking was nothing consistent, but a sporadic thing when the mood 
hit me.  Then I moved closer to the Philadelphia metropolitan area in the 
early 1970's.  It was in the late 1970's that I first became aware of 
"gourmet" coffee shops.  These shops were typical, in that the theme was to 
sell whole beans and grind them on the spot for customers, or let the 
customers grind them at home, although this was really nothing new, as A&P 
supermarkets had been doing this for years with there coffees.  The gourmet 
shops sold coffees unheard of too - instead of names like Maxwell House, for 
example, they were replaced with names of countries, Columbian, Hawaiian, 
etc., and Wow, Jamaican Blue Mountain at $18.00/LB; Before the Japanese 
business community started purchasing the entire crop - so I was later told?  
The gourmet shops were more expensive, but the quality definitely seemed to 
be in each and every purchase.  But still, I did not understand much about 
coffee and it was a mysterious subject to me.  I had no clue as to what was 
or wasn't true about coffee.  But I had become aware of fresher and better 
coffees.  I assume that all of the coffees I purchased from these gourmet 
shops were 100% Arabica (I say this in retrospect).  Whether all of those 
coffees were fresh is another question entirely.  Then my coffee consumption 
decreased dramatically (reasons unknown).  I still wasn't hooked.  
1980'S HOSPITAL EXPERIENCE - 
During the 1980's I became disabled and had to stay in a hospital for a few 
years.  It was during this period that my coffee knowledge increased.  It 
happened accidentally.  One day I said to myself, "Why is everyone going nuts 
all the time for this coffee the hospital serves every morning?"  I had been 
noticing this for quite some time.  Well, I decided to try a cup.  I put two 
packs of sugar in it, and some milk (probably 2% milkfat).  Anyway, the 
flavor and pleasure of it overwhelmed me - where had I been all these years!  
What was so different about this coffee?  Each and every day I would look 
forward to my next cup of coffee.  What happened next was also unexpected.  
About a week later, suddenly the coffee did not taste so good.  I became very 
curious about coffee at this time.  My curiosity continued for some time, 
because the knowledge was hard to come buy.  I did not know how to do 
research, and never though that many things I wanted to know about coffee had 
been published.  
POST HOSPITAL COFFEE LIFE - 
I eventually left the hospital, and after I was released I continued my 
coffee drinking, but it was still limited to supermarket and gourmet store 
purchases.  One day I purchased a one pound can of regular Maxwell house 
coffee, and I discovered that as time went by the coffee in the can had 
gotten staler.  And I also discovered something else by accident.  I also 
purchased that Ellis prepackaged brand that I had in the hospital, and it was 
absolutely horrible in taste, but it did not smell stale?  Hmmm, what was 
going on here?  It seems that the Maxwell house was a grade above the Ellis 
in quality, and once I had experienced a better coffee, I was unable to ever 
return to drinking a cheaper coffee.  Oddly the new "Maxwell-House-taste" of 
my coffee was not any different from what the cheaper Ellis was before I 
discovered the Maxwell House (Actually I am writing this all in retrospect.  
It didn't happen that quick or easily).  But eventually, what I found out, 
after I started buying gourmet whole bean coffee and grinding it myself was, 
that I could not go back to the Maxwell House either, after I had the better 
quality whole bean coffees.  It was not until years later that I found that, 
only if I discontinued my coffee drinking for a long time, was I able to kind 
of start all over again with cheaper brand coffees.  But even this was 
limited, because I had KNOWLEDGE of what better coffees tasted like.  In a 
way, that was not a good thing, because I reasoned it this way at that time - 
I had better stay away from coffees like Jamaican Blue Mountain (which I 
never had), because if I got used to Blue Mtn., then what else would be left? 
... It would all be downhill, or cost me a lot to stay with the Blue Mtn., 
right?  But the bottom line was, when coffee tasted good there did not seem 
to be ANY correlation between brand names - another mystery.  
The next thing that happened was also a surprise to me.  My Mother had 
purchased some whole bean, Hawaiian AA fancy.  And much too my surprise it 
was the first, "expensive" whole bean coffee, that I did not care for.  It 
had a dirt-like aftertaste that I did not care for.  But then I got some 
"less expensive" Hawaiian Kona Gold whole bean coffee, and it was very good.  
Hmmm, another mystery - what was going on here?  Was I slowly assimilating 
the earthy after taste into my body, and now it was tasting good?  
What finally happened was that I discovered several articles on coffee 
subjects (Brewing Methods, Arabica's V. Robusta's, Whole Bean V. Pre-ground, 
Etc.), that sufficiently answered most of my mystery questions.  Probably the 
most significant thing that had been happening all along was that I was 
unaware that I was consuming "fresher" and "100% Arabica" when the coffee was 
good, and the other nuances of coffees making, like water temp, grind, 
method, amount, etc., tied into it too, but not as much as I thought, as long 
as I kept to some semblance of a method once I found what worked.  In 
conclusion, I had, like many people, focused on brewing issues as to why my 
coffee tasted good or bad, rather than the coffee beans themselves.  I 
assumed that commercially available coffee was always fresh, or that coffee 
did not get stale.  
BREWING QUESTIONS- 
Well, other than these experiences, I found that, as most of you already 
know, that when I ground my coffee finer, I am able to run the hot water over 
it faster in comparison to a coarser ground coffee - assuming I used equal 
amounts of coffee.  But that has got me wondering to this day, which way is 
it better to make the coffee?  A finer ground and faster brew, or a coarser 
ground but slower brew?  Is there any advantage or disadvantage to each 
method?  I have heard that a finer grind will produce a more "bitter" cup, 
but could that be dependent on how long the brewing time is?  If this is 
true, I can see that if I take this to its logical extreme, where one could 
use a larger amount of "powdered" coffee and quickly pour the hot water over 
it, they might make a wonderful cup of coffee.  Is this a logical extreme or 
a deception?  And what about using coarser grinds - is there a flavor or 
taste that is distinct because a coarser grind is used?  Makes me think of 
those older percolating machines that instructed use of a coarse coffee.  
Anyone ever resolve this issue?
FRESHNESS QUESTIONS -  
Without going into the entire history of the freshness issue, for the most 
part, my gourmet coffee shop, whole bean purchases, have produced a better 
tasting coffee than the supermarket, pre-ground canned coffees.  
But I am now noticing an entirely new phenomena.  It is becoming harder and 
harder to find fresh roasted coffee, and it has gotten to the point that 
there is no longer ANY correlation between supermarket or gourmet shop 
coffees.  I have found many a whole bean coffee to be stale.  And much to my 
surprise, I have found some canned coffee to be fresher than whole bean.  I 
have come full circle.  Everything I thought I knew about coffee is now being 
contradicted.  It seems to me that it just all depends on the roasting date, 
and/or to some extent the packaging date.  And I am wondering if it has 
anything to do with big business and the greed for the almighty dollar.  I 
have seen other markets destroyed because of big business getting involved.  
But as for other freshness reasons, it also seems as if the big brand name 
sellers of coffee are roasting far too much coffee, and letting it just sit 
around to go stale.  I recently spoke to a consumer service representative of 
a large Tea and Coffee marketer, Tetley Tea Co.  I was astounded when this 
person told me that their per-ground, roasted, canned, coffees would stay 
fresh for 18 months.  My God, the most I have ever gotten out of a fresh 
roasted coffee was about a month in the freezer - extreme case - but usually 
a week or two, even whole bean.  
Comments welcome.
GREEN BEAN AND HOME ROASTING QUESTIONS -
Which brings me to the ultimate question.  If it is big business that has 
caused the whole bean market [that began for me in the late 70's] to go 
downhill, then what is to stop them from doing the same thing with this new 
craze/phase of roasting your own?  Won't they just push us little roasters 
out of the way and those billionaire businessmen, or the highest bidders will 
then get the fresh beans???  
Hope I did not bore you all.  
Rob

2) From: Ryuji Suzuki -- JF7WEX
From: Rstyler49
Subject: +My Coffee Story - With Questions
Date: Tue, 19 Jun 2001 12:19:00 EDT
<Snip>
I don't know your filter, but finer grounds take longer time to let
the water through.  In my experi{ence, ment}, darker roasted coffee
with strong body and mostly bittersweet character is best enjoyed when
ground slightly finer and brewed at a lower temperature water (80-85C,
pour boiling water into a mug or teapot for a minute and then use it
for brewing).  On the other hand, brigher coffee roasted lighter are
best enjoyed when ground slightly coarser and brewed with very hot
water, 90C or perhaps 95C. Your filter and water may be different, so
I recommend you to experiment yourself a couple of times. If you are
really crazy about coffee, forget about coffee machine for a while,
and hand extract coffee all the time. Paper filter is easier to brew
consistently every time, but flannel filter gives me much more control
although i need to pay more attention for consistency.  Control
everything carefully. Your perception of flavor greatly change
depending on the temperature of the coffee that is in your mouth.  Get
a stopwatch and a dial thermometer or digital thermometer. Keep
records. Your sensory nervous system is not always the same. When in
doubt, repeat the same brewing setting as many times as you need to
feel confident.
However, all these things make little sense if you are not getting top
quality coffee roasted fresh, and if you are not getting the right
coffee to your taste.
<Snip>
I don't believe the freshness unless I see it being roasted.
--
Ryuji Suzuki
"I can't believe I'm here.
People always say that I'm a long way from normal."
(Bob Dylan, Normal, Illinois, 13 February 1999)
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3) From: Ken Mary
Your coffee history parallels mine and no doubt many others on this list. Of
course tastes differ, but I preferred 8 O'Clock whole bean coffee over *any*
other coffee except maybe Gevalia. But I felt Gevalia was too expensive for
the small difference in flavor. Then 8 O'Clock went downhill in a hurry and
I was about to give up drinking coffee altogether when I spied Ken Davids'
book on homeroasting. Now there is no going back.
Part of the fascination with this hobby is the inquiry into the details of
why things work as they do or taste like they do. Many problems have been
solved and you can find out by searching the web or usenet (Google). But
there are still *your* preferences to consider, and they are the most
important. Do not use a certain brew method or roast degree just because
others say it must be done this or that way. But do try the "generally
approved" methods first and find out what works for you and do not be afraid
to experiment.
--
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