It never hurts to review the fundamentals when it comes to something as basic—and important—as coffee. We asked Ann-Marie Kurtz, manager of coffee education for Starbucks’ retail North America division, to share some tips on selecting, storing and serving to get the most bang from your beans.
RH: When buying beans what should an operator look for?
Kurtz: We recommend looking for coffees and blends that are of the highest-quality, 100-percent Arabica beans, which complement a variety of foods.
RH: How long can coffee be kept, and how should it be stored?
Kurtz: Think of coffee as fresh produce. Its enemies are oxygen, light, heat and moisture. After a package is opened and exposed to air, it should be stored in an opaque, airtight container at room temperature and used within the week.
RH: What are the main elements that influence the final product, the beverage?
Kurtz: The starting point for making great coffee is to consider it a form of cooking with a precise recipe and measurements. Four fundamentals to coffee making ensure a great cup of coffee every time:
- Proportion: The rule of thumb for coffee making is two tablespoons of ground coffee for each six ounces of water. (When making iced coffee, double the amount of coffee.) Too few coffee grounds result in overextracted or bitter coffee; too many grounds result in underextracted coffee that does not achieve the full flavor of the blend. Proportion is the most common coffee-making mistake—and the easiest one to solve.
- Grind: Different brewing methods require different grinds. A grind that is too fine will trap water and result in a bitter, unpleasant brew. A grind that is too coarse leaves coffee weak and without distinguishing characteristics or flavors. Overextracted coffee tastes much worse than underextracted coffee, so when in doubt as to the brewing method, always err on the coarse side. Coffee connoisseurs agree that the best coffee—thick, rich and truest to its flavor profile—is made in a traditional coffee press. A coffee press requires a coarse grind.
- Water: While it may not seem like an important ingredient, coffee is 98 percent water. The type of water used when brewing greatly affects the final taste. Always use clean, fresh water that is filtered or free of impurities. Avoid soft water or well water. Water heated to just off the boil (195°-205°F) does the best job of extracting the coffee’s full range of flavors.
- Freshness: Coffee’s biggest enemies are oxygen, light, heat and moisture. Always store coffee in an airtight container at room temperature. For daily use, storing coffee in the refrigerator or freezer can result in moisture from condensation, but if coffee needs to be kept for more than two weeks without being used, it should be stored in the freezer in an airtight container. Ideally, coffee should be ground fresh each time it is made. Grinding exposes more surface area to oxygen, releasing flavor and freshness. Brewed coffee should always be stored in a thermal carafe and never left on the burner or reheated.
RH: How long can brewed coffee be held before the flavor is compromised?
Kurtz: Brewed coffee loses its best flavor in a fairly short period, depending on the equipment used, and can become quite bitter and burnt tasting. Typically, brewed coffee can be held in an airport server for 30 minutes, and in a coffee press or glass pot for 20 minutes.
RH: Can you offer any general food-coffee pairing suggestions?
Kurtz: When pairing coffee with food, look for flavors that compliment or contrast flavors with your menu, such as a dark Italian roast to cut through the sweetness of milk chocolate. Other helpful tips to keep in mind when planning your menu include:
- bitter flavor notes—flatten out and neutralize coffee flavors
- sour flavors—tend to amplify acidity and bitterness
- salty notes—tend to round out mellow coffee flavors (make them toastier)
- sweet tones—enhance spiciness, acidity and body in a complementary manner (why they pair well with desserts)
- spicy flavors—overwhelm all coffee flavors and amplify the physical heat present in the coffee.
RH: Are there tricks to steaming milk for coffee drinks?
- The optimal temperature for steaming milk is 150°-170° F.
- Always create foam first by aerating the milk. This results in a sweet, creamy product. Milk that is not aerated will taste flat and dull.
- Foam should be creamy and dense, similar to whipped cream.
- Use a spoon to hold back foam when the recipe requires only steamed milk.