Feb 13, 2008
The Perfect Coffee Brew
Location: Sagada (municipality), Mountain Province (province), Philippines
Manual Coffee Roasting
I can't say I'm a coffee connoisseur but I certainly have a penchant for drinking a good brew...make that the perfect brew. Well, what does it take to make a perfect brew? Ah, let me hand-hold you into the fascinating world of fresh roasted, fresh ground, fresh brewed coffee...no kidding, as in, you roast the coffee yourself!
Start with the Beans
In the Philippines, I'd be hard-pressed to find coffee better than Sagada coffee. At 1500 meters of elevation, it's excellent terrain for growing arabica coffee. I don't know, but perhaps it's the combination of altitude, being planted on mountain slopes where the sun hits it at certain times of the day, mist blanketing the mountains and cool crisp mountain air swaying the trees...that bring out the rich flavor and aroma of Sagada coffee - as the french would say, it has terroir.
There are a lot of commercially available home-type coffee roasters in the market...but that's like making bread using a bread machine. A-ah! not in my house. I do it the old fashioned way - pan roasting with a few thousand wrist-flicks. I do about 1 pound of coffee per roasting. Why? By the time I'm on the last serving (about 2 weeks with no guests), the coffee is still fresh. Doesn't make sense roasting your own coffee but 3 months down the road, it's still the same coffee you're brewing - it might be stale already.
Start with high-heat - no oil or anything else. The heat should be high enough to roast coffee within 15 minutes. From the moment the green coffee beans are put on the pan, I start flicking it...non-stop until it's done. Be warned. After 10 minutes, your forearms start getting fatigued. It's very crucial in the last minute...coffee can burn very fast at that stage. Remove from heat when you think you're close to the color you want (the operative word being 'close', because coffee continues to cook even after the fire is off). Keep flicking until all the smoke dissipates.
Ideally, the coffee beans should be de-gassed for a few days before it's shipped commercially, because the package may burst. Fresh roasted beans release a lot of gas. For home roasting though, I usually start brewing when the beans are cold enough to touch - some experts advise to wait at least 12 hours (they didn't say why). How coarse or how fine to grind? That really depends on your brewing method. French press or plunger pot, coarse. Drip coffee maker, fine. Espresso, very fine. Ibrik (Turkish way of brewing), pulverized.
Grinder type? Grinding is not something I do manually...although it brings out the rustic old-world charm to doing things. Why not? It's too much trouble if I'm using a pestle and mortar, and the grounds will not be consistent in size - from 1/4 of the bean to powder. For home-type appliance, there are 2 types, both I've tried. The blade type (you continue pressing a button to chop the beans) and the burr-type (crushing the beans between a moving grinding wheel and a non-moving surface). For uniformity in ground size, the burr type wins, hands down. I use the burr-type now.
Generally, you never boil coffee - it'll taste bitter. Best temperature is close to boiling, but not boiling (195 - 205 degrees F). In Sagada however, the best brewing method is cowboy style...boiling water on a kettle, adding the grounds, letting it simmer for 5 minutes and voila! Why simmer? Sagada is 1500m above sea level...water boils at a lower temperature. You can simmer the coffee and continue extracting the flavor without the bitterness...cool, eh?
You wanna kick it up a notch? Go to the Sagada Ceramic Center, and buy yourself a nice hand-made ceramic coffee mug. Ask for Manang Tessie or Siegrid.
There you have it...the perfect brew!
- if you're buying a coffee grinder, choose the burr-type instead of the blade type. The burr-type grinds coffee to a more consistent grade (a little pricey but worth it)
- coffee goes stale fast. Store it in the freezer.
- don't use boiling water to brew coffee. Wait a minute for the boiled water to cool a bit before pouring into the coffee grounds. Boiling water releases the bitter alkaloides in coffee.
- have your coffee beans ground according to your brewing device. French Press, coarse. Drip coffee maker, fine. Espresso, very fine. Ibrik (Turkish way of brewing), pulverized
- use cream (the one for making fruit salad) for coffee instead of milk or Coffeemate for superior taste and texture
- ground coffee absorbs external odors - keep it insulated
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(5 Apr 2008) I can't wait to make my own perfect brewed coffee. I just remember I bought beans from Batam, I'll try doing what you did. Thanks! Oh, try brewing rice coffee, nice. I grew up drinking rice coffee brewed by my Lola. Hmmm, I kinda miss it. Tah-tah!
(Feb 19, 2008) Wohoa! Are you that lost barista guy from Starbucks!..You should put a ala starbucks coffee bar in Sagada.
(27 Jan 2008) It seemed almost ironic but at the same time unsurprising to discover this segment on your web page. All things coffee is what I spend much of my 'professional' time doing in Toronto these days. I work with The Alternative Grounds Cafe, Merchants of Green Coffee, and The Fresh Coffee Network. I place myself in the middle ground between the 'any-cup-of-joe-will-do' and the connoisseur. Fair Trade and Organic has become almost an absolute must in my world. I will actually turn down a place with a better brunch in favour of a place that serves brunch with better coffee. It still surprises me when I go to some places and ask about their coffee and they don't even know anything about what they are serving.
For those who have never experienced a cup of coffee that has just been roasted, ground, and brewed via a preferred brewing method, be careful, you may never be able to go back! Often even dedicated cream and sugar afficiondos find they can enjoy drinking fresh coffee black. It is healthier too, as many powerful anti-oxidants remain in the coffee which are degraded if the coffee is not fresh roasted and ground.
Enjoy your cup. Support the folks who work hard to bring it to you!
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