Tuesday, March 5, 2013

The Slow Death of Coffee

I have been drinking coffee for the past 48 years, and currently, I am good for around 6 cups a day. Therefore, I think I am qualified to judge the devolution of the cup of coffee. What has caused this tragic degeneration of coffee from a tasty liquid delivery system for caffeine to a bland brown coloured and limply flavoured liquid delivery system for caffeine is speed and simplicity of preparation.

This process has been going on since I've been drinking the beautiful brown liquid. Let me explain.

When I first began drinking coffee, it was brewed in a pot that looked a lot like this.
 Inside the pot taking up the top third of the container was a basket which you filled with ground coffee.
 The stem of this basket was hollow and as you see above, the stand was shaped such that water could get inside the stand. When this water boiled, pressure forced it up into the stem, it hit the top of the pot, cascaded down the basket, through the ground coffee beans, and back into the boiling liquid. (note: this process is called percolating). Approximately 20 minutes later, voila, you had a brewed pot of coffee.

In 1968, my mother, one of the original Beauty Sisters, purchased a "cold water" brewing coffee maker, for me, from Faberware.
 Through the re-design of the stem and making it spring loaded, coffee could now begin brewing even before the water came to a boil. The result was a savings of about 5 minutes of time (25%), and, an almost just as good, but not quite, cup of coffee.

In 1972, Mr. Coffee(r) came out with the drip coffee machine.
This signaled the death of percolated coffee. The drip coffee machine used a slightly different process to brew coffee. Rather than having the water flow through the basket of grinds, Mr. Coffee accumulated boiling water inside a basket and forced the water to flow through the grinds as it eventually made its way through a small hole in the middle of the basket into the coffee pot. This process reduced the brewing time to approximately 10 minutes (another 5 minute time saver), and again, with a only a minimal degradation of flavour, and certainly, an improvement in reduced acidity.  Perhaps that why the process has had such a long life, it can actually point to an improvement over percolated coffee.

In the early 2000's, the single cup brewing machine came onto the commercially available market.
While this technology converted the process of coffee making into an almost instantaneous event, under 1 minute, it destroyed the flavour of a cup of coffee. Not only that, it created a giant amount of waste, just what we didn't need more of.
According to the experts, the Six Most Important Things For Making a Great Cup of Coffee are, in order of importance:
 Using the Best Beans
         Grinding Your Own Beans
     The Right Coffee Maker
            Cleanliness of Coffeee Maker
              A Stainless Steel Insulated Pot
The Water
You can't grind your own beans just before making your coffee when you use the single cup packet machine, and to me, that's one of the two big problems with the single cup brewers.

The second big problem is the conversion of a 10 cup drip basket to a 1 cup basket. With the 10 cup drip basket, the first 3-4 cups are extremely strong because they are going through fresh beans. The middle cups are somewhat diluted, and by the end of the process, the last few cups are weak. Nevertheless, the blend is perfect. We've all taken coffee from the pot before it was finished dripping and know how bad it is. In the single cup drip process, there just aren't enough grounds in total to allow the water to extract enough flavour to make a great cup of coffee.
To paraphrase an old truism, FASTER IS NOT ALWAYS BETTER.


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