Sunday, July 09, 2017

Tea brewing Coffee

Coffee is definitely now my summer fling as I recognize I cannot seem to give up the habit despite repeated attempts.  My coffee education continues apace as the world is going through a golden age of coffee worship and there is no shortage of books, videos, podcasts, mountains of growing web material on every aspect of the bean.  My initial humble goal of learning how to make a good cup of coffee for my one customer now fulfilled(nothing fancy, dark and strong), I am free to experiment for my own preferences.  There is real freedom in being a newbie without the baggage of entrenched notions of good or bad- I vow not to be one of those insufferable coffee snobs going on and on about the necessity of burr grinders.
Roasted beans have a dangerously short shelf life preventing any sort of hoarding. I allow myself at most three simultaneously open bags of beans so I end up experimenting with brewing technique to get different cups rather than getting more beans.  The sheer range of available brewing implements for coffee outstrip what is available for tea. Humans have creatively exploded the simple concept to applying hot water to coffee grounds to extract drinkable stuffs.  I decided to exercise moderation in limiting coffee brew toys to what can fit in a small box. Since my husband already had a french press and the stovetop cappuccino steamer, I added two ceramic pour-over filters of different designs to start although I am ogling a glass vacuum siphon.

When you brew tea- one can fall prey to the mythical notion of a singular perfect brew. I find there exists much narrower range for a well brewed cup of tea of the same set of leaves than coffee. My big learn for last month was that one can get vastly different flavors, body, mouthfeel out of the same beans that are equally pleasurable.  A pour over through a paper filter yields a clean cup with high notes while a french press gives up an equally delicious chewy cup of murky muggy coffee. Neither is particularly superior to the other and there is ample occasion for both styles.  Gaiwans vs yixing teapots yields slightly different brews but nothing as dramatic as this.

I also learn the hard way there is no universal good cup of coffee when you are trying to please one person. The golden ratio of coffee to water is useless theory at least in my household. I carefully and mindfully made my husband a cup using a digital scale to ensure I poured the exact right amount of hot water. A total bust- my cup was derided as being weak as my one customer likes it 4x strong- a level undrinkable for most.

Immersion style brewing like the french press lets through more of the volatile oils but our french press is big, ungainly, and opaque. I spied on youtube someone using the Lifetime stainless steel tea filter as a budget alternative to the pricier metal filters but I now realize my dad had been making coffee this way for years and I had never paid attention.  I happily find I have more control with this simple tea filter which can be used as an immersion filter or a pour over filter suspended on a taller cup.  It is the best of both worlds, I gets me a chewy dense yet floral cup of coffee with light roasted Ethiopian beans.


  1. There are in fact brewing methods for which burr grinders (expensive ones) are the only acceptable tool. Espresso is the canonical example, but Middle-Eastern style also wants the more uniform particle size distribution.

    Be wary of 1-cup pourover devices. It is difficult to get an adequate extraction with them. You cannot just say "I use x g/ml with the french press, so if I divide that by mug size I can compute the amount of coffee to make 1 pourover mug!"

    1. Dear Sir Cheeselog,

      After agonizing over all the shortcomings of expensive burr grinders, I recently procured an retro Hario burr hand grinder. We make stovetop cappuccino on the weekends. I guess our coffee sensibilities are not too refined as both burr and blade grinder make a pretty good morning treat- but it's the cloud fluff of steamed milk that must hide any grind flaws.