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How to Have the Very Best Cup of Coffee 
 
by Lisa Pietsch October 04, 2005

Know the difference between a French Press and a Bench Press? Ever wonder what magic lurks behind the counter at your coffee shop? Learn everything you need to make that magic at home.

The Beans

There are two types of beans: Robusta and Arabica. Arabica is more difficult to grow and has a smaller yield per acre than Robusta. That makes Arabica beans more expensive, but the sensitive nature of the plant makes for a smoother flavor.

The Robusta species is just that, a robust plant resistant to pests that grows nearly anywhere and has high yields. Robusta beans have higher caffeine levels than Arabica, but their flavor is stronger and considerably more bitter than Arabica.

If you’re into coffee for the flavor alone, 100% Arabica coffee is the way to go. But if you like a flavorful, smooth coffee with a caffeine kick, you’ll want a combination of Robusta and Arabica. Of course, if you just want a coffee that will knock your socks off and you aren’t concerned with how smoothly it goes down, 100% Robusta is the coffee for you. It's up to you.

Grinders

How coffee is ground makes a huge difference in the flavor of the final product. An even grind will maximize the flavor of the bean and produce a better quality brew. The size of the grind is also important. A large grind for a French Press, a medium grind for drip coffee, fine for espresso and the very finest of grinds is necessary for Turkish coffee.

There are two types of grinders to choose from:

Blade grinders are fairly inexpensive but they grind the bean unevenly and can be messy.

Burr grinders are more expensive but they tend to grind evenly and with less mess. If you’re particular about your coffee, you’ll want to make the investment in a burr grinder.

Brewing Basics

Although many Americans approach coffee brewing with the enthusiasm of someone about to wash the dishes, proper coffee brewing involves a great deal of science and can be considered art if done well. The methods of brewing coffee vary with each culture but we are going to discuss a few of the most popular ones here.

Generally speaking, no matter which form of brewing you use, there are some basic rules to guide you in your coffee preparation. Brewing should take between four and five minutes at a temperature between 195-205°F. Brewing at a lower temperature will not bring out the full flavor in the beans and brewing at any higher a temperature will effectively “burn” the bean, eliminating the delicate flavors and making for a bitter brew. Some coffee companies recommend a ratio of two tablespoons of coffee to every six ounces of water. Of course, personal tastes may dictate otherwise. Water should be either filtered or spring water. I wouldn’t recommend using tap or distilled waters because tap water will add its own flavors and distilled water will not have enough minerals.

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