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How To Brew Coffee Like a Barista

Coffee houses are a billion dollar a year industry, but brewing a barista quality cup of coffee at home is easy, affordable and can help you save a bundle. So what's their secret? Coffee houses brew great coffee because they pay attention to several very important factors: the water quality, the water temperature, the beans and the contact time of the water with the beans.

Good coffee requires good tasting water. Filtered water removes impurities that impair the flavor of coffee. Secondly, good coffee houses only use freshly ground, freshly roasted beans. The third factor is where a lot of consumer coffee makers fail, brewing with the right temperature water. Water that is too cool or too hot results in weak or bitter coffee. Finally, the amount of time the water remains in contact with the coffee grounds determines whether the optimum flavors are extracted. For brewing at home, once you have selected your favorite beans or grounds and you have good tasting water, it all comes down to using the right coffee-making equipment. This article discusses the pros and cons of the various types so you can find the one that works best for you.

Automatic vs: Manual

If you don't function well until you've had your first cup of coffee in the morning, an automatic coffee maker might appeal to you. But if you're going to make coffee like a pro, you should avoid the basic inexpensive automatic drip coffee maker. Good coffee depends upon the temperature of the water being about 200°F. The cheapest automatic drip coffee makers don't get the water hot enough. Another problem is the length of time the water remains in contact with the coffee grounds. Basic coffee makers slowly pump water onto the grounds and then it quickly runs through and into the pot. You could start with the world's best coffee, but if your coffee maker misses the mark on either of these variables, you'll end up with weak or bitter coffee. Most bargain coffee makers tend to miss on both counts. But don't worry, a quality automatic drip coffee maker can be had for about $60. That's less than 30 large coffees at your favorite coffee house!

When selecting an automatic drip coffee maker, look for models that specifically identify the water temperature, if it is less than 185° F, it is inadequate; and closer to 200° F is much better. Models that use mesh filters are often preferred by connoisseurs in order to avoid the flavor paper filters impart. The time the water is in contact with the beans is essentially out of your hands, However, a well designed model will have engineered a filter the optimizes for the proper contact time; it may also provide a brew control for brew strength.

For the ultimate in convenience, some manufacturers have come out with “barista in a box” automatic coffee systems. The concept sounds great: you add whole beans and cold water before you go to bed, set the timer, and wake up to freshly ground and brewed coffee. There are two potential problems however; one is noise. When the timer goes off, the first thing you'll hear is the built-in grinder. After that shock, you might not need coffee! The second is clean-up. All of the extra gadgetry required to perform automated brewing can be a pain to clean. Still, they can brew very good coffee, so they may be an option for you if you don't mind these two issues.

Manual coffee brewing methods require you to heat the water to boiling or near boiling and then pour it over the grounds. Some methods also require you to carefully time the brewing process. The most popular method is also one of the oldest: the plunger or “French” press. To brew a pot, you simply put the proper amount of grounds into the carafe, add near boiling water, and wait approximately four minutes. When the time is up, gently push the plunger down and the grounds will separate from the liquid and you're ready to pour. As long as you get the brew time right (any egg timer will do), almost any French press will deliver great results. Glass carafes are easier to clean, but can be fragile. Plastic carafes are durable, but can turn cloudy and dull with use. Likewise, metal plunger screens are durable and easy to clean, but less expensive models will use a nylon screen, which can work just as well. One drawback to the French press is that it loses heat quickly, making your coffee too cool; this can be remedied by choosing an insulated model.

Another type of manual coffee maker works like an automatic drip coffee maker, but requires you to heat the water and pour it into a drip basket. This gives you more control over the water temperature, but you still have to buy filters and the contact time between grounds and hot water depends on the design of the drip basket. You also have to keep adding water to the drip basket until you've got enough coffee. This type of brewing is more complicated but has the potential to yield the finest cup of coffee.

There are other connoisseur brewing methods, including the vacuum pot, Moka pot, and Aeropress. However, if you are willing to spend more money, you might graduate up to the barista style espresso makers. These can be used to brew coffee, a cup at a time, European style. Instead of brewing a standard cup of coffee, espresso machines can be used with any blend of coffee to make an "Americano"; a shot of espresso to which 7 ounces of very hot water is added. Of course, all the other espresso drinks are also at your fingertips, along with the ability to steam or froth milk for cappuccinos and cafe lattes.

The choice is yours

Thanks to the coffee revolution, there are a lot of ways to make great coffee at home. Choosing the right home brewing system depends on your personal preferences. Do you value convenience? There's an automatic drip coffee maker out there for you. Do you fancy yourself a coffee aficionado? A French press will serve you well. Want to be your own barista? Choose an espresso machine. Which ever way you go, there's no reason to put up with mediocre coffee - or pay coffee house prices - anymore.

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