The Perfect Cup of Joe

I may have picked the worst day ever to consider giving up coffee. It seemed like a great idea until someone in this house of mine decided the day should begin with crying and screaming at 2:15 a.m., and then of course I remembered that there was no good reason I should give up something I so thoroughly enjoy. More like love. So, with a renewed devotion, today I bring you some tips from my days as a barista for making the perfect cup of coffee (drip coffee, that is), heavily weighted, of course, by my own tastes and preference.

First things first: The beans- they must be whole. I know what you're thinking: "Okay, this is going to be one of those coffee snob posts, isn't it?" Yes, for the most part, it is, but keep in mind that my coffeemaker probably looks a lot like yours, so you have no excuse to not give this a try.

If you have a grinder at home, check the instruction book for how long you should grind them. For a pot of drip, run a blade cutter (one of those things used on nuts and herbs on which you push down the button the entire time it runs) for about 15 to 20 seconds or a burr grinder (which crushes the beans between two disks and is made specifically for coffee beans)set to medium. They also should be fresh, if you can get them that way. Try an independent roaster who roasts in small batches. These beans are less likely to taste burnt that those roasted in large batches like certain giant coffee chains I shall not name. If, like me, you don't have access to fresh beans, look for something in a small foil bag with a valve on it.

Some of you may not know what type of roast to go for, so here's a quick tip: If you don't know, start with something that says medium. The darker the roast, the stronger the flavor. French roast is pretty much the darkest there is, and to someone new to coffee or just looking for a smooth, mellow cup, it will pretty much knock you down. And, in my opinion, the light roast isn't really worth bothering with. And if you really want the flavor (and the smell), grind your beans right before you brew.

My former employer, the best coffee roaster in Atlanta, was pretty adament that a great cup of coffee needs to be brewed at a water temperature between 195 and 205 degrees F. If you have a hot water tap, you're in luck. They will generally get your water in that zone. If not, too bad. Your little coffee maker, like mine, doesn't stand a chance. Between you and me, I think we'll fare alright with our cold little cups of coffee. One thing I am a stickler for, and you should be too, is good water. Where I live, water out of the tap tastes a little funky, so I use the filtered stuff. Always. If it tastes funky by itself, it will certainly taste funky disguised as coffee.

When you're coffee is brewed, don't do like I do and let it sit there for an hour. Take at least one sip while its fresh. Now that's the stuff. Worth getting up for, right?

One last tip, and besides finding quality beans, this, I believe, is of the utmost importance. Don't mess around with skim milk or non-dairy creamers. (Have you ever read the labels on those things? Scary.) Buy yourself a carton of half and half. It makes such a luxurious cup, and once you get started you'll never look back. Add sugar if you like (I do - lots!) and if you really crave something special, whip up some flavored whipped cream. I know a fella who insists on drinking his cup with almond whipped cream every day. Wise man. (Check out my recipe for cinnamon whipped cream in the archives and substitute the cinnamon for 1/2 tsp almond extract or just about any other extract you like.)

So, try it and let me know what you think. Worth giving up the tall skim vanilla latte for?