Many fantastic local coffee roasters have sprung up in Virginia. Roasters take great care in selecting their beans and roasting them to the perfect level. In and around the Valley are Crazy Fox Coffee (Dayton), Lucas Roasting Company (Broadway), Shenandoah Joe (Charlottesville and Harrisonburg), Shark Mountain Coffee (Charlottesville), Cabin Creek Roasters (Edinburg), Lexington Coffee Roasters (Lexington), and many, many, more.
Coffee enthusiasts like myself (see also: coffee snobs) know that coffee, like wine or chocolate, has different flavor notes and tastes which vary depending on the beans’ country of origin. Soil and weather conditions as well as other crops grown in the area affect the flavors, so coffee can be fruity, chocolaty, nutty, smoky, earthy, have notes of wine or tobacco, and have varied acidity levels. Acidity gives coffee that bright, clean flavor (not to be confused with bitterness – coffee should NEVER be bitter). African coffees tend to be fruity, while South and Central American coffee tends chocolaty and nutty, and Indonesian coffees are usually earthier and smokier. The roast level, or darkness, of a coffee bean also affects the flavor; darker roasts mean more of the beans’ sugars have been caramelized and more of the oils have come to the surface, so darker roasts tend to have a longer-lasting finish.
Coffee is very subjective, and while darker roasts stand up well to added milk and sugar, or espresso drinks, lighter roasts leave more of the origin flavors intact. Differences between a Sumatran, Mexican, or Ethiopian coffee really stand out and have a chance to shine. You should definitely sample coffees from various regions at different roast levels to find what you like the best. (My personal favorites are lighter roasts from South and Central America, because I really enjoy the cocoa notes.)
Coffee isn’t just for drinking, though. Baked goods and savory recipes can both benefit from a little jolt of caffeine. Before getting into that, though, let’s make sure you’re making the best cup of coffee you can make, no matter what roast or region it’s from.
Seven Steps to Better Coffee (in a Coffee Maker):
*There are a few different types of coffee makers: percolator, drip, french press, espresso, and those single-serve guys with the annoying plastic cups. For the purpose of this article, I’m only dealing with the most common type, the automatic drip coffee maker.
- Clean Your Coffee Maker – This may sound like common sense, and some- thing I don’t need to elaborate on, but honestly, have you looked at the inside of your coffee maker recently? Have parts other than the carafe been cleaned out recently (or ever)? It’s very simple. Mix 1 cup white vinegar with 2 cups water and pour it into the coffeepot’s reservoir, then let it sit for five minutes. Turn the pot on and let it run through a brew cycle, then dump the vinegar and run a cycle or two with plain filtered water. Allow the pot to cool, then clean any removable parts from the basket with soapy water. Repeat the vinegar rinse once a month or so. Wipe down the spray heads (where
water drips though grounds) and the spout (where coffee comes out of the basket) with a damp cloth once a week or so; they have a tendency to collect gunk that affects flavor. If you have staining in your carafe that soap and water doesn’t remove, use a little baking soda to remove the buildup.
- Buy Whole Beans – Coffee stays MUCH fresher and tastes much better when kept whole for as long as possible. Keep it in an airtight container out of the sun and away from heat for the best flavor. (It is possible to keep whole beans in the freezer if you won’t drink them quickly enough. Make sure you remove the beans from the freezer and allow them to come to room temperature before grinding, or you’ll lose flavor. Also, I can’t stress this enough: NEVER KEEP GROUND COFFEE IN THE FREEZER. Seriously. Don’t do it.)
- Grind Coffee As You Use It – Coffee and spice grinders are really not expensive. You can get a pretty good one for around $15. Make sure you only use it to grind coffee, though; running spices through it will affect your coffee’s flavor no matter how many times it gets washed. Trust me.
- Use the Proper Filter and Grind – Many coffee filters now come with reusable filter baskets, which work, but I prefer an unbleached paper filter. It keeps all potential sludge out and doesn’t put any nasty chemicals in. Filters on drip coffee makers are either flat-bottomed or cone-shaped; flat bottom calls for a medium grind, cones for fine grind.
- Use Filtered Water – Coffee is, after all, mostly water. Use the best tasting water you can possibly get, free of chorine, lime, or sediments. This is why that $5 cup of coffee usually tastes better than what you make at home. Filtered water will also reduce or eliminate the scale inside the coffee maker.
- Measure Appropriately – Take the measuring spoon that came with your coffee maker, and throw it away. It’s useless. Measure 2 Tablespoons of ground coffee per cup into the filter. (Six cups of coffee = 12 Tablespoons of grounds, or ¾ cup) One cup of coffee is six ounces of water in this case, even if your coffee cup holds more.
- Remove from Hot Plate ASAP – Most coffee makers have a glass carafe and a hot plate to keep coffee warm, but what it really does is ruin coffee by burning it. Invest in a large thermos or thermal carafe, and pour the brewed coffee into it once it’s finished. These will keep the coffee hot for hours without burning it, and you’ll be much happier.
Now that you’re really enjoying drinking your coffee, you may be less inclined to cook with it, but this simple recipe is a good example of coffee’s versatility in the kitchen.
First, a coffee and spice rub that’s excellent on beef, particularly steak or hamburgers. In a small bowl, mix together: 1 Tbsp freshly ground coffee, 2 tsp packed light brown sugar, 2 tsp black pepper (freshly ground is best), ½ tsp ground coriander, ½ tsp dried oregano, ½ tsp fine sea salt. This can be made up to a week ahead of time if stored in an airtight container at room temperature. Season your meat with the mixture just before cooking for some truly delicious flavor.