Look, you hopped up pretentious fuckskids of inferiority masquerading as trendy, there is one goddamn thing that has been utterly fucking pivotal to the advancement and continuance of human progress in the history of the fucking world, eclipsed in importance only by beer, and I am utterly fed the righteous fuck up with every half-wit with an art history degree and a pot of boiling water fucking it up.
Coffee is not this fucking hard, people.
I may be biased by a recently uninterrupted string of bad experiences, but the continued existence of Starbucks backs my claim that shit-awful coffee is still way too common. What’s worse, Starbucks has been the model for every hipster-filled pretentious nouveau-trendy hole in the wall with shitty parking designed only to be accessible to people who’s job consists of carrying an ipad around all day and pretending they’re worth a tin shit in a gold mine. Over the last few months, I’ve been to more than a handful of coffee establishments, ranging from “Gimme some fuckin’ bean juice and get me out the door” to “Our organic free range fair trade cruelty free salmon bagel won best of the block for food served next to a tattoo parlor!” and a good chunk in between.
You know who had the best coffee out of the lot? The goddamn Obligatory Cow Reference in Secret Location, CO at Blogorado. The greasy fucking spoon. Was it great coffee? I don’t know if I’d go that far, but it’s pretty damn good. Fellow coffee snob MattG insists that a good portion of this is due to the company we always have at the Obligatory Cow Reference, and I’ll allow that does bring a good bit of leniency to the standards, but that aside, the coffee is still pretty un-suckful.
The reason for this trend of bad coffee is that, probably thanks to the Seattle Shit-in-a-cup, burnt beans and overextracted brew has become way too accepted as “good coffee,” and it absolutely ball-shreddingly cunt-staplingly IS NOT GOOD.
Let’s take the first problem first: burnt coffee. Unless you fell out of the monkey tree yesterday, you’re probably aware that coffee beans have to be roasted before they can be ground and brewed. A few special cases aside, this happens between 375 and 425F, and can take from 90 seconds to 15 minutes. It will be a smoky process regardless, but apparently every goddamn roaster with ironic glasses has decided that more is more in terms of smoke, and the ideal output product from a coffee roast should look more like the trash can from Auschwitz than a small brown pellet. The fucking goal is to cook out the moisture, and break down the proteins, sugars, and phenolic materials into something complex and delicious. It’s fundamentally a Maillard reaction. That’s an art to do well, I will grant, but it’s not fucking rocket surgery.
Sugars go first, into formic, acetic, and lactic acids, which are responsible for tart flavors. As the roasting continues, acids and astringent phenolic stuff (like chlorogenic acid) are broken down to reduce overall acidity (this can be fucked up later even if done correctly here, don’t worry aspiring trendwhore baristas). This is, counter-intuitively, also where the bitterness starts to ramp up, and where we start running into that choking on a burnt log flavor, since the byproducts from the Maillard that cause the browning of the bean start to ramp up as the bean darkens- or in layman’s terms: IT’S FUCKING BURNT YOU GODDAMN BOIL ON THE ASS OF DECENT CAFFEINE DELIVERY. Body is shot like a car in Fallujah, and the only flavors left are hate and failure.
There’s an argument to be made that I should be pissed off about how they’re grinding the beans, but really, the brewing process is more at fault in any of these cases than grain size, from what I can tell, so I’m going to skip it. Ideally, you want to extract about 20% of the overall coffee solids to make a full, balanced cup of brew. To do this, you have to first get the proportion of coffee to water correct (Hint: You need more coffee than you think!) and second, you need the correct fucking temperature of water. Amazingly, we have had the technology to heat water to specific thermal levels for… let me check here… ah, right, THE LAST FUCKING CENTURY OR SO. Coffee water needs to be heated to between 190F and 200F. DO. FUCKING. NOT. FUCKING. BOIL. THE. FUCKING. WATER.* Higher temperatures extract more bitter compounds. Hence, over-extracted. Some drip machines are slapdash affairs, and compensate for inadequately heated water by leaving the water in contact with the coffee for longer. This is popular with conical filter machines. This also leads to over-extracted coffee.
The starting point for coffee to water ratios should be no lower than 1:15. Most of the old Better Homes and Fuck Dens from The Good Ol’ Days are actually not terrible on this point- one of my grandmothers of the “It was good enough before the darkies could vote, it’s good enough now!” mold insisted on 1.5 Tbs coffee per mug in the pot (using the average 11 oz mug). This gave a ratio better than double the starting point for standard American drip coffee to not suck, and it has served me well. Remember, it is always better to use MORE coffee in the brew; you can dilute if it’s too strong, but you can’t fix too weak.
The Obligatory Cow Reference has an old(er)-school basket type jumbo brewer. It’s got enough ass to get the water hot enough, they use enough coffee for the water, and the basket filter doesn’t leave the water in the grounds for too long. End result: Pretty damn good coffee, unfucked by some shitskid with a fixie.
Look, good coffee is a high art. It does take some practice. But you know what it also takes? Having a fucking example that wasn’t made from the ashes of Juan Valdez’ donkey brewed for half an hour at 212F as a starting point to judge your own output by. Are clove cigarettes really that damaging to the palate? Jesus, people.
So with the explanation out of the way, here’s what I’ve come up with as a rule of thumb. Call it Stingray’s Law of Brew Selection, or Stingray’s BS: If you see more pump bottles full of flavor shit by whatever brewing device is in operation, just get a glass of water and snort a rail of ground-up No-Doz, because I swear on a stack of dead civets that if I get one more shitty cup of mud from a fuck-leaving with a neck tattoo and a hole the size of a golf ball in the ear** I’m going to solve the problem with ten gallons of diesel and a fucking road flare.
*Unless you’re at an altitude where water boils pretty close to 200F instead of 212. Here at 7200′, small quantities will boil around 203F, larger batches where the weight of the water brings some pressure to the party will go higher, up to the 206-208 range. If you try to use a pressure cooker to get the temp higher without boiling, I will hunt you down and do violent things to you. Like make you drink your own coffee. There is a specific style that does this, and brews around 230F, but, uh, damn.
**Some days I’m really tempted to keep a nice, super-heavy Masterlock in my pocket for these special snowflakes, and then when the coffee sucks, beckon them in close, lock it through the ear and run like hell.