The Dos and Don'ts of Coffee
Everyone has their own personal habits when it comes to coffee. But the same goes for hygiene, so if it's not okay to pick your nose, it shouldn't be okay to pick horrible coffee.
To help codify a set of coffee guidelines, we tapped Joel Shuler, the honcho behind Austin-based Casa Brasil Coffees. He's been in the coffee industry for nearly 20 years, has traveled to coffee farms across the globe, and even passed out samples at one of those little tables in Whole Foods. Follow his dos and don'ts and your mornings will thank you.
Don't reheat your coffee
"Even after coffee sits for 20 minutes, it develops an off-putting acidity. When you reheat it, it just doesn't taste good. Coffee is so cheap. Why do that?"
Don't just drink it for the caffeine
"Instead of just being a source of caffeine, that daily cup can offer a lot more. A soda or energy drink will give you caffeine. Coffee is a seed that was grown in a foreign land. Different altitudes and terroir affect it in different ways. There's simply more to be enjoyed."
Don't use pre-ground coffee
"Buy whole bean coffee and grind just before brewing. You will be amazed at the difference."
Don't avoid lighter roasts
"A lot of nuances of coffee are lost in darker roasts. Even for professional tasters, it's hard to tell the difference between darkly roasted coffees. The char is overpowering. With lighter roasts, you can start to explore the levels of acidity and how different cultivars and regions taste."
Don't buy oily coffee beans
"Those oils are lipids. If they're showing [on the beans], that means they're exposed to oxygen, so they'll go rancid. It means the beans have been sitting there a long time."
Don't leave the grounds in your French press
"After you put the water in and wait four minutes, scrape off the top layer of coffee grounds. It's less likely to end up in people's cups -- and the coffee will actually keep extracting once its been pressed, which you don't want. To avoid that, pour it into a separate server."
Don't let coffee nerds get snobby with you
"Nobody can really snob you, because it's about your individual experience. It scares a lot of people off. Somebody like my mom isn't going into certain coffee shops. The complexity and enthusiasm shouldn't scare people off, it's all about how the coffee tastes on your tongue."
Don't forget that you can always keep it simple
"At the end of the day, good coffee is just a matter of ratios and temperatures."
Don't think that you have to be an expert
"Buy a couple of coffees and enjoy them in your own home. Your experience is totally legitimate, you're not missing anything. The best coffee tasters in the world aren't like the Michael Jordans of coffee, they just have a lot of experiences. It's just about developing experiences with coffee. That's how you become more knowledgeable. It's not like you have to get to a certain threshold to enjoy it. Just think about what you're drinking and after awhile, you'll just know more."
Do try your coffee without sugar
"Lately, it seems there's a lot of people trying to cut sugar [from their diet]. You can learn to drink and appreciate your coffee without sugar; some coffees (like those from Brazil) are naturally sweet."
Do adjust your grind size to the brew method
"In general, the more time the water and coffee are in contact, the coarser the grind you'll use."
Do use good, hot water
"Coffee is something like 97% water, so if your water sucks, your coffee is going to suck. Make sure it's getting to an adequate 195-205 degrees, and that you're using a high-quality water that doesn't have a flavor."
Do buy fresh coffee
"One way you know that it's fresh is if it foams up and a crust forms. Regardless of how you're brewing, if you pour into it and it just sits there, you know it's not fresh.
Do buy smaller quantities of coffee
"The most popular question I get is whether to store coffee in the fridge or the freezer -- the answer is neither. You should just store them in the pantry and buy smaller quantities."
Do use your coffee within two weeks
"The best time to use coffee is between two days and two weeks after it's been roasted. After two weeks, the coffee fades and gets a papery or woodiness to it. A lot of people just assume that the staleness is part of how coffee should taste."
Do develop a relationship with a local roaster
"They're going to be getting in new coffees, so you can start exploring different roast levels and origins. A good way to learn more about coffee is to buy a dark roast and light roast and taste the difference. It's like buying a merlot and cab from the same vineyard. If you drink them at the same time, you can taste how they're different."
Do give espresso a second chance
"Most people's first introduction to espresso is that it's really strong and bitter and bad. That's not espresso in general, it's just bad espresso. If you go to a nice shop, it's going to be sweet and bright and caramel and chocolatey."
Dan Gentile is a staff writer on Thrillist's national food and drink team. He does drink lots of coffee and really doesn't like quitting. Follow him to more general coffee and/or life lessons at @Dannosphere.