One of my favorite coworkers, who is never one to take due credit, likes to say he isn’t the reason for our great coffee; the coffee is. While his modesty has its merit (after all, you simply can’t make an excellent coffee without excellent coffee) its not entirely true. There are hundreds of tiny, minute details all controlled by the reigning barista that go into making a delicious coffee. Some we manipulate subconsciously, and some have been the point of study by coffee geeks and fanatics alike for over fifty years.
Of the most important factors often overlooked by the home barista, water is king. A proper filtration system is absolutely key to making coffee on any scale, small or large. Mineral deposits effect flavor. This is true in both extremes; too many will create a harsh, acrid coffee, whereas too little will result in coffee that is bland and flat. Add scale deposits which can effect an espresso machine or drip coffee brewer, and you’re in for a ride. It’s not too difficult to decide if your filtered water is alright to use for coffee. Chances are, if it tastes alright to drink, it’ll be alright for coffee. Your taste buds are more trusty than you’d think.
Still, it’s incredibly important to keep up with maintenance with part of the coffee process. Buildup can happen relatively quickly, and severely effect the taste and even consistency of coffee. This is true with filtration, but especially so with anything – literally, anything – used to make coffee. Filter baskets, vacuum pots, steaming pitchers and wands, the portafilters on your espresso machine (especially those with splitters); all of these can retain smatterings of coffee or milk that will then be transferred to the next coffee they’re used to make. These components must be kept clean and tidy to ensure your drink stays tasty. Who wants to drink the old, stinky fragments of someone else’s cappuccino? Not I.
There are an insane amount of intricate details that can effect the flavor of coffee. Even something so simple as the temperature of the water used for brewing can bring out a coffees true flavors, or turn it sour. An inconsistent grinder can cause coffee to be both under and over extracted in the same cup. Poor storage, room temperature/humidity, and handling can alter coffee flavor drastically. The length of time between grinding and brewing is one of the most common missteps with novice coffee handlers, and one of the most heinous.
Truly, crafting a wonderful coffee experience takes more than just excellent coffee. The bean helps, but knowledge rules.