Thursday, May 31, 2012

News and Brews: The Perfect Morning Cup

While reading The Rake magazine last night, I came across this quote from Nick Scott, the editor-in-chief:

“The rakish man today is also a bon vivant, an epicurean and a global citizen. He seeks out beauty everywhere he can find it . . . [including] the finest things one can drink.”

It was almost as if Mr. Scott had read my mind (or blog). It appears he and I agree that a rakish gentleman is as smart cerebrally as he is sartorially and loves to engage in the world alongside his like-minded brethren.  Indeed, in order to enjoy the world, a bon vivant must first understand the world.  It is for that reason that a true bon vivant is a sponge for knowledge and news.

In order to ensure that I am cognizant of the world around me, I obtain my daily news from several different sources and viewpoints covering a wide variety of topics: world/national news, business, technology, politics, legal, fashion and style, sports, and pop culture.  I try to start my day reading (well, technically skimming) The Wall Street Journal (for business and technology news), The New York Times (for world and national news, as well as its style section), The New York Post (mainly for Page Six, but also for its local news), The Washington Post (for politics and national news), Financial Times (for financial and world news), and by watching ESPN Sports Center.  I also read (again, skim) periodicals such as The Economist, The Atlantic, The New Yorker, The Rake, GQ, Esquire, and Billboard.  While this may sound like a lot, I do most of my reading on the internet or my iPad. Therefore, I can usually digest the day’s news in well-under an hour broken up in bits throughout the morning.

Although the majority of this blog is dedicated to crafted cocktails, I want to take this time to address the morning liquid culture equivalent—the  perfect cup of java, which is my natural companion to reading the morning’s news. And while I will never turn down a doppio espresso (my love affair with my Nespresso maker is sure to make a future post), I am talking about coffee.

I have recently switched out my french press (which produces an earthy, full bodied cup of coffee extracting every note from the bean) to a Chemex (which produces a heavy, but not bitter, perfectly brewed drip cup). As you can tell, I prefer a manual maker to an automatic because: (1) it allows you to prepare coffee at the correct temperature needed for extracting the real flavor from the beans—200 degrees—(I find that a machine does not get that hot, and therefore, you are being cheated from the hidden flavors); and (2) it gives you more control over the process. Not to mention the fact that I am a fan of the brewing ritual involved in a manual device.

Regardless of the coffee maker in your own kitchen (manual or automatic), there are some simple, yet often overlooked, ways to increase the flavor and enjoyment of your brew.

The first, and most obvious, is to choose the right coffee bean. I’m not talking flavor or brand (although with coffee beans, you do get what you pay for, so I suggest spending a little extra on your beans by choosing a local or respected roaster as opposed to a pre-packaged store brand), but the actual bean itself. After roasting, beans have a shelf life of about 10 to 14 days. So always check the roast date (and if you can’t find one, move on to another bean), and make sure you are not buying stale ones. Additionally, although we usually love shiny things, shiny coffee beans are actually the sign of either stale oils coming to the surface or too dark a roast. Therefore, find a dry, matte-looking bean.

Once you have procured your perfect bean, make sure that you store it properly. The most direct and simple way to store your coffee without breaking any coffee snob commandments is to buy your whole beans in small quantities and store them in an airtight canister (ceramic is best) or vacuum canister, in a cool shady spot. Never store your beans in the fridge since it’s not cold enough to keep your coffee fresh and will cause your beans to deodorize and dehumidify your refrigerator—just like baking soda, especially if it’s ground.

As most coffee connoisseurs will tell you, one of the most important steps in the process is the grind. Even if you are not using fancy brewing equipment, you must have a good grinder. Most pros avoid blade-style grinders, which are prone to inconsistency and cannot produce a fine grind. Instead, invest in a burr-style grinder (which can range from $40 - $500). For home use, a standard flat burr grinder is fine.  And even if you don’t have one, buy your beans in small quantities (enough for a week), and have your local barista use their commercial grinder for your beans. But be sure to explain your brewing method so that you get the correct size grind.

Next, choose a good filter. While “natural” or brown filters may seem like the better choice, the white “bleached” filters actually produce a cleaner cup.  I have found that the natural ones leave a papery taste.  Regardless of your choice, rinse your filter with clean water (it goes without saying to use the most filtered water that you have available for your coffee) before use.  By pre-wetting your filter, you avoid the stale, papery taste you might otherwise detect in your brew, and it helps the grinds to stick to the filter (rather than float on top of the water).  Additionally, after you add your fresh grinds to the filter, be sure to pre-wet the grinds with boiling water.  By wetting the grinds (and then waiting around 30 seconds before dumping the rest of the boiling water in) you allow the bean to “blossom” and expose its flavors.

Finally, one of the easiest, but least-remembered, way to get a more enjoyable cup is to pre-warm your mug. This doesn’t mean that you have to buy a mug warmer.  Simply fill your cup with a little water, and heat it in the microwave for one minute, or fill your cup with boiling water for the same amount of time.  Empty and dry the mug before filing with coffee.  I’ve read that using a warm mug will extend your cup’s heat by at least 10 minutes!

Whether at night or first thing in the morning, a true bon vivant consumes the finest liquid available. As Mae West said, “You only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough.” Make sure to enjoy every minute, especially first thing in the morning.

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