Having trouble choosing a brand of coffee beans for your morning pick-me-up? Well, “Food and Wine Magazine” has tested about a dozen nationally available brands and chosen their top four favorites. Editor-in-chief Dana Cowin explains below how the magazine judged the contest and describes how to make the perfect pot.
FOR A BRAND to make Food and Wine’s list, the coffee had to have great balance of flavors and it’s body couldn’t be tannic or thin. A bitter aftertaste was also a big no-no while a robust flavor gave the brand big points.
The magazine purposely stayed away from high-end boutique brands as well as the common grocery store brands. Instead, they focused on widely available, mid-range name brands.
The testers only bought whole beans to grind themselves since it is the bean that determines coffee’s true freshness and array of flavor.
PICKING A BEAN
There are two simple ways to check the freshness of a bean: first, if it’s packaged, there is almost always a date on the package. Second, if you are a true coffee aficionado, you can smell it — a fresh bean has a robust, strong smell.
If you are lucky and live in a town where there are bean shops or a coffee roaster, you can get your coffee there since those beans almost always have been roasted in the past few weeks. Unroasted beans are green and have a shelf life of up to two years. Roasted beans are browned and should be ground within a reasonable amount of time for the utmost flavor — usually within a few months.
THE TOP FOUR
Peet’s Coffee House Blend
“Food and Wine” called it this the perfect morning coffee saying it has both balance of flavor and body.
Illy Caffe Medium Roast
This coffee has a wine-like complexity and is very robust in flavor. It’s specially vacuumed-packed in cans using a nitrogen-pressurized method, which keeps the coffee fresh for two years.
Gloria Jean’s GJ Special Blend
Popular in malls across America, this coffee has nutty, roasted flavors with a well-rounded taste.
Green Mountain Organic House Blend
This coffee made the list for its good balance and fruity overtones.
Two of the country’s best sellers didn’t make the “Food and Wine” list — Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts. The magazine wanted to include these two brands in the test because each has such a strong following in ready made coffee sales and prepackaged sales. The tasters found that Starbucks did not have that sought after balance of flavor and rather, had a bitter aftertaste. The testers also ruled that Dunkin Donut’s coffee was too thin.
TIPS TO BREW THE PERFECT POT
Use the freshest bean — Try buying whole beans and grinding them at home before each use. A good grinder will only cost around $20 and is worth the investment.
Use cold water — Better water makes better coffee and cold water is fresher than warm water which may have been sitting around in a boiler or pipe. Filtered water is ideal and distilled water should not be used because the minerals have been taken out.
Use enough grind — Don’t use the scoop that comes with your coffee machine. Most of these fill only 1/2 the size of what you really need and a measuring spoon is always best. The golden rule for most drip filter coffee makers is one scoop (or two tablespoons) for every 6 ounces of water.
Drink it immediately — Drink coffee shortly after it’s brewed. If you’d like to keep it warm, use a thermal carafe. Some advanced drip filter makers provide a thermal carafe instead of a burner which can ruin the flavor of fresh coffee by burning it. Also if coffee sits around it gets bitter. And never re-heat home made coffee in the microwave - it just won’t taste the same!
Clean your coffeemaker regularly — Clean the pot part after each use with dishwashing soap and water, just like you would for dishes. It is also just as important to clean the inside of your coffeemaker regularly — once a month if you use it often. Minerals can clog the tubes and there is oil in coffee that will leave residue around the filter and inside the machine. The oil sticks to the inside and go rancid, ultimately, transferring the flavor to any grind you use.
No matter how fresh your bean, it won’t taste good if your machine is full of rancid oil. To clean the inside of your coffeemaker you can use a commercial cleaner called Better Brew and run it through the machine. Or the old home remedy of one part vinegar to three parts water always works well.
BEST MACHINES FOR ALL PRICE RANGES
Low end — Bodum Chambord 8-cup French Press, $29.99
This machine makes unfiltered coffee which is stronger, fuller-flavored with a thicker body. It can be brought right to guests at the table and brewed before them.
Medium price range — Braun’s Aroma Deluxe model # KF-580 Model KF-580, $99.99
Its flat basket holds the grinds and doesn’t tip over to spill. The basket is removable and is dishwasher safe so you can give it a super good cleaning frequently. It also has a built-in Brita designed water filter, plus it is a reliable brand name.
High end — Capresso MT 500, $160
This machine has a high gloss alloy body with a thermal carafe which can keep coffee warm for two hours. Two unique features to this machine is a thermal block stainless steel interior unique to the industry — meaning that at no point does the coffee come into contact with aluminum. It also makes coffee 50 percent more quietly than other machines, a good feature if you live in a small apartment or that someone is trying to sleep.
Ultimate splurge — Saeco’s Italia home Espresso/coffeemaker, $895
Usually this type of machine can come with a $1000 price tag. But this coffeemaker will be $895, and discounted to $695 for the holiday season. It automatically grinds beans, tamps grinds and then dumps the used grinds in a holding vessel. However, it is only 17 inches deep which is smaller than most other machines in its category.