Sunday, April 25, 2004

Your Coffee Sucks!

I've been to your home or apartment. We've broken bread, drank some wine or beer, had a few laughs and a good time. Its getting a little late, and a little caffeine would be good for the ride home.

Here's the problem: Your coffee sucks. That's right, I said it: You do not know how to brew a good cup of Joe.

You suffer (actually, I'm the one who suffers) from one of four likely problems. Lucky for you, opinionated bastards like me are here on the 'net to give you good advice you didn't even know you needed:

   1) You Use Crappy Coffee. Forget instant, that's not even under consideration. Store bought, no name, canned ground coffee is at its best, mediocre. If you buy a good French Roast, and use 5 to 6 heaping scoopfuls (not spoonfuls, but those little plastic scoopers), you get a halfway decent brew.

But most people don't. They buy whatever lame ass coffee is on sale that week, and then they use  miserly portions. Bleeeccch.

  2) Your Coffeemaker Sucks
That's right, its a piece of shit: It brews too fast, and it doesn't make the coffee hot enough.

A good brewer will slowly let the water drip into the basket, allowing the natural oils, flavor and aroma of the beans to come out. Ahhhhh, can you smell that? Hmmmmm.

Ideally, your brewer will use fresh filtered water, crank up the heat, and then have the warmer turn off quickly -- otherwise, it will burn the brew.

By the way, when was the last time you cleaned that stanky coffeemaker of yours? You can buy commercial products, or just run a 50/50 mix of vinegar and water. Clean it every six months or so.

  3) Your Coffee Was Ground Ages Ago
Forget the stuff in the can -- that was factory ground in 1994. I'm talking to the people who buy beans, ground them up immediately, and then put them in a jar in the fridge for months. That starts the gradual loss of flavor and aroma immediately. (Why even buy beans?)

You want beans, and you want them ground as close to the brewing process as possible.

  4) Your Tap Water is Nasty
Depending upon where you live, your tap water ranges from tasty to industrial run off to chemical comtaminants to carcinogenic.

Cancer flavored coffee tends to taste bad.

OK now you know why your coffee sucks. Let's resolve each of these issues for you poor shlumps who up until know, did not know any better (but now ya do): 

There, that wasn't too hard to figure out, was it? It doesn't have to be expensive, just good.

My favorite coffee supplier is Porto Rico Importing; They have excellent coffee, and its about 1/2 to a 1/3 of what Starbucks charges. Here's their contact info:

201 Bleecker St.
New York, N.Y. 10012

If you are tight with the moolah, then you can stock up during their twice yearly sales: Going on right now is the Springtime sale (April 15-30); They run a fall sale (for Peter's birthday) in October.

Try the Danish Blend (1/2 Mocha & Java, 1/2 French Mocha), or Peter's Blend (1/3 French Mocha, 1/3 Colombian Supremo, 1/3 Venezuelan Tachira).  Both are on sale for $3.99/lb this week. 

I'm sure there are plenty of other good roasters in your region. Outside of NYC, the Fairway on Long Island has their own roaster -- also good coffee at reasonable prices.

Hunt around a bit, you'll find something.

  2) Get a Kickass Coffeemaker
My machine is the Capresso 453.01 CoffeeTeam Luxe 10-Cup Electronic Coffeemaker with Conical Burr Grinder. It cost me about 2 beans (I never see it go on sale). Its a great balance between performance and cost. The next step up beyond it are $600 to a few grand (see picture at bottom). That's a lot of wood, Jerry.

For half the price of my machine -- about $100 -- there's a decent looking Cuisnart. It comes in Black or White; You can spend $150 for the Chrome machine, but at that point, you are better off spending the extra 50 clams for the Capresso.  I've never used this Cuisnart machine (but I have used their previous model grind and brew). Please post any comments on this if you have first hand experience (There's a wide range of opinions at epinions).

Way back when, Toshiba made a grind and brew called "My Cafe" -- and it was terrific. They still pop up on eBay, and in used appliance stores from time to time. Nice symmetrical design, too. There was a cottage industry repairing them. If you see one, grab it.

  3) Grind Your Coffee Fresh
The 'grind and brew' machines resolve this issue. If you don't want to go that route, than buy a small burr or blade grinder. As close as possible to the actual brewing, freshly grind the coffee beans. (Hmmmm, smell the aroma).

If you grind them at night for the morning's coffee, that's acceptable. Anything longer than that loses too much flavor.

  4) Use Fresh Filtered Water
You have plenty of options: Some people buy the large 5 gallon jugs of bottled Deer Park water, or, you can buy the 2 gallon refrigerator size. Others use a separate filter (i.e., Brita) -- its a pain, but better than tap water.

We installed a Moen carbon filtration system right into our kitchen sink; Most brand name kitchen hardware companies -- Moen, American Standard, etc. -- offer this as a modestly priced option. If you are remodelling your kitchen, this is a MUST DO option. If not, it is merely highly advised. 

Yes, I'm being a bit on the picayune side here? Yes, but that's the price for really good java.

I've been meaning to get this post up for sometime. Now go make me a good cup of coffee. I'll be right here waiting . . .

UPDATE October 29, 2006 7:53 am

I originally posted this here over 2 years ago. This week, I received as a birthday gift the latest Capresso Design -- and its awesome: The Capresso 455.05 CoffeeTEAM Therm Stainless Coffeemaker/Burr Grinder Combination


Yeah, its $300 -- but its the best machine I've come across that's under 4 figures.

P.S.You probably don't want to spend this type of wood, but consider what you get if you spend 10X as much, you can get the $3,000 Magic Saeco.

Now that's a nice looking machine . . .

Graphic courtesy of  New York Times

Posted at 01:00 AM in Design, Food and Drink | Permalink


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Update to Your Coffee Sucks! : The main complaint I've received over this rant was that the prices of the grinding breewers were very expensive. I hear ya. Today, we note that Target has on clearance sale the Melitta Mill [Read More]

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And essential part of my day involves coffee.  It is a ritual I enjoy from the grinding of the beans to the smell to the sound of the coffee maker (or expresso maker on somedays).  I like making my own.  Again, the ritual.

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Tracked on May 30, 2005 7:46:37 PM


I'll stick with my vacume pot brewer.

Posted by: larry | Feb 15, 2006 1:05:58 AM

What, no moka pot users? When the powers of my Bialetti and some Lavazza or Illy coffee combine I drink and smile. And the damned thing only cost me $20, which I'd point out is a lot cheaper, smaller and easier to use than your space shuttle, counter space-hogging automatic espresso makers. Does coffee make anyone else have to poop?

Posted by: Matt | Mar 23, 2006 10:29:22 AM

do you know where to get coffee in those famous greek blue and white paper cups???

i don't even care if it is quality brew, i just want to drink it out of one of those nypd blue cups. it would be a bonus for the coffee to be fresh and delicious.


Posted by: rosanne | Mar 26, 2006 1:36:35 PM

Grind my beans every morning and then pour hot water over them. God, it's nirvana every day. :)

Posted by: Maulleigh | Apr 8, 2006 7:19:09 PM

I'd like you all to give yourselves a pat on the back. What a fine cultured bunch you are!

I lived in Charlotte, NC for two years prior to 9/11. The two things that bothered my wife and me most about living in the USA were the poor food and the lousy coffee. But no one seemed to know or care.

Here I see a bunch of folk who take the time to get it 'right'; though I am not sure about salt and egg shells in my coffee.

A few years ago, I heard an interview on our national broadcaster (Australia) with the VP of Marketing from one of the world's largest coffee suppliers. He was from the UK, and despite any misgivings I may have about their culinary expertise (e.g. bangers and mash!), this guy really knew his stuff.

His story is that there are about five levels of quality in beans; and they are distributed on a national basis:

1. The best stay in their country of origin.
2. Italy, Greece, Spain, France, Portugal and well-heeled Middle East Countries.
3. Australia, New Zealand and a few Scandinavian countries.
4. Most other first-world countries including the UK, Germany, etc.
5. The USA and the rest of the world.

He was pressed by the interviewer on level five quality and he was insistent that most brewed American beans were what was left; that it stood to reason that you consume so much of it that it has to be that way. Of course, this does not include the fine Konas, and the more up-market beans that some of you folk are paying extra for. But it seems that bye and large, the brew served up at your local diner should have been left rotting on the ground where it lay!

It's 5:00 am downunder. Must be time for a nice cuppa (tea)!

And I too love your blog Barry!


Posted by: Rob Napier | Apr 16, 2006 3:28:48 PM

I received a Philips Senseo single-cup pressure coffee maker as a present. It requires single serving, very fine grind, coffee that comes sealed in filter paper. These are called coffee pods.

I love the flavor of a good rich cup of coffee; it is one of my favorite flavors. That taste preference was a family thing. Before I was born, my folks owned a road-side cafe next to a major highway (this was well before the Interstates. They named their place the "Red Circle Rest" after the A&P brand Red Circle coffee that they loved and served. Later, when my parents were involved with the frozen food industry, we tried one of the first instant coffees that was any good -- a frozen concentrate marketed by SnowCrop, who also marketed frozen orange juice concentrate. (It disappeared from the freezer cases even before stores started carrying freeze dried instant coffee on their shelves.) But I have not yet found a way to get good rich coffee flavor from the Senseo machine.

I have had very good coffee from a pod coffee maker, and was impressed by how fast the fresh brewed coffee came out of the machine. But that machine may have used a different pod design. The Flavia pods for individual brew machines in employee coffee rooms and business' waiting rooms are more complex than the simple filter bag pod and possibly are even more expensive per cup. Flavia does offer at least two types of decaf beans.

The medium roast Douwe Egbert coffee that Senseo packages in its pods makes coffee that, to me, resembles the Starbucks burnt coffee bean experience. (How that company has thrived is beyond me. I thought American coffee taste ran more to the Maxwell House, Folgers and Chock Full of Nuts roasts.)

Because of the infirmities of age, I'm supposed to avoid all caffein. That and the constraints of the pod holder limit what pods I can use. Although the pods that came with my machine were not decaffeinated, the literature that came with it said their decaf was similar in flavor to their medium roast coffee pods. Senseo offers only one type of decaf pods. There are other companies selling coffee pods that fit the Philips machine. I tried the Java One light roast Columbian Decaf and found it had a similar burnt taste as the Senseo pods, but was a little more watery. I am not seeking weak coffee. When I make a cup of instant decaf, I use at least twice the recommended amount. My favorite coffee experience was Kona coffee in Hawaii. So my ideal pod would use Kona beans with a roast like that of Chock Full of Nuts. (Trivia: Did you know that Jackie Robinson became a top executive at Chock Full of Nuts after he retired from baseball?)

Any suggestions? Return this machine and get a French Press? Buying coffee I like and trying to put it into hand made filter pods that fit the Philips machine is wrought with difficulties, danger (high pressure and clogged ports from a gap in the filter) and too much trouble.

Posted by: btm1 | Apr 29, 2006 5:44:55 PM

Wow Barry!
I read your blog several times a day, and since I'm writing from the center of the coffee universe, or perhaps coffee hell if you are averse to the home of Starbucks and drive-through espresso......I thought I would offer my source of coffee and excellent roasting/grinding/brewing equipment.

I roast my own coffee, the freshest and best of all.

I highly recommend

I use a Iroast roaster, Solis Maestro grinder and a Technivorm Moccamaster brewer with swiss gold filter.

Water is reverse osmosis....pure.

Everyone has their favorite coffee source, but none has the selection or accompanying info like sweetmarias.

Vaccuum, French Press and drip fans are all coffee lovers at SM. Check it out....and it should be said, i have no financial or familial conflicts....

Posted by: Craig | May 24, 2006 6:06:17 PM

"The best stay in their country of origin"

Absolute tripe. Most of those who grow coffee cannot afford to consume it. Even the wealthy in coffee-growing nations typically consume/serve freeze-dried instant coffee.

Its amusing to hear the unusually humble aussie proclaim Melbourne a coffee mecca. Note that in the last World Barista Championship an aussie did not even make it to the first round (a bladdy septic placed third, however).

Posted by: bubba | May 27, 2006 5:14:34 PM

How do you feel about my old favorite..........Yuban? Just wondering what type of feedback I would receive.

Posted by: BC | Jun 20, 2006 8:03:37 AM

Back in 1978 and 1979 I stashed some vacuum packed canned coffee as part of my survival supplies, along with four hundred and fifty pounds of nitrogen packed wheat, beans, barley, rice, etc., and about two thousand rounds of ammunition, etc.

Shortly after 9/11, I revisited the stash. I had actually forgotten about the coffee over those years. There were about fifteen cans of (mostly) Maryland Club coffee, one of the better store brands in the area.

I opened a can that I had dated as being purchased in May of 1979, and brewed a pot. I was amazed. It was just as fresh as if it had been just purchased. Naturally, it was no gourmet roast, but it wasn't bad either. In fact, I really thought it was better than what could be currently purchased.

Over the next several months, my wife and I drank up all fifteen can of the coffee. All of it had kept well, and it really was better than current store-bought.

The ammunition kept well, too. But the medical supplies just went all to hell.

Posted by: Richard | Jul 8, 2006 9:19:52 PM

Sanka... mmmm... the best.

And if I run out of that, I just take a worn pair of black socks, ring the juice out of those, and heat that up. Oh wait a minute... that IS Sanka.

Posted by: Sanka-boy | Aug 10, 2006 7:33:43 AM


Great coffee discussion. My favorite coffee website is It's the last word!

Fight on....

Herb Greenberg

Posted by: herb greenberg | Aug 18, 2006 10:28:27 PM

Perfectly sensible advice: clean water, fresh-to-the-second ground beans, good coffee. Preferably Columbia Supremo.

But keep your mocha and fer godsake keep yer candy flavorings far, far from me. I want coffee to taste like coffee. I will take a little milk, for the fat content.

One tip, though: you don't need a machine at all.

Just get a cheap Mellita #6 cone filter and a glass carafe. Maybe 10 bucks. Heat water in a teapot. Pour slowly to wet the grounds. Let them settle for 2 or 3 seconds. Then continue to pour slowly around until the filter is full.

This may sound tedious, but it only takes half a minute once the water is hot. And standing there for that half-minute, you get the nose hit from oils foaming up from the grounds.

Why bury that moment in the innards of a machine?

Ahhhhh. It's Morning in America. If it gets cold, nuke it briefly in the cup. No way to burn it.

Makes about 10 cups, or 3 mugs, of perfect coffee. No hissing cranky hard-to-clean machinery involved. Hands on, and downright sensual.

Bob Giddings

Posted by: Bob Giddings | Sep 5, 2006 11:11:38 AM

To btm1: I have had a Krups Home Cafe pod machine for about a year, and I love it! But it took awhile to find the best coffee. Ruled out Senseo and Folgers' pods (too bitter). Found a WONDERFUL pod company named (who charges only $4.99 for any size shipping) who makes a superb pod with lots of flavors: Kona, Decaf, blends, etc. They even have sampler boxes and tea pods, too. In a pinch, we came to also like Maryland Club House Blend pods, and their Decaf is wonderful. However, we have recently not been able to purchase them locally, so I have been buying them on eBay. My machine holds two pods at a time, so hubby and I can have two different flavors in one process! Good luck on that Senseo...I first bought one and returned it, then bought the Krups after many reviews. Jeanette.

Posted by: JJ in Yancey Texas | Sep 14, 2006 11:50:16 AM

OOPS.....disregard my previous comments about Maryland Club coffee pods...I meant to say Maxwell House.

Also, I recently purchased (on eBay) two packages of reusable coffee pods called Eco Pods. They are of plastic and mesh, and they snap apart for you to add your own flavored coffee. They work very well and fit easily in the deep pod holders that came as an extra set with my Krups. They also work in the Senseo machines. I think my winning bid was about 10 bucks for the two packages (each pkg. had 2 pods in it.) Neat deal.


Posted by: JJ in Yancey Texas | Sep 15, 2006 1:38:01 AM

Grind your own? Sure, it CAN be better, but if you use one of the suggested Burr Grinders you can get pretty uneven grinding.

Look at the grounds at various points during the grinding process and notice that you will have pieces of many different sizes. In order to get a consistent extraction from all of your coffee it is neccesary to have uniform grounds.

IF your burr grinder eventually gets a consistent powder that just happens to match the needs of your machine, then you are fine. Unfortunately for me, my Pavoni requires a finer grind than most home-style "pour through" grinders, and the burr just doesn't do a consistent job.

Sure, I can spend >$200 on a Pavoni grinder, but frankly I'm just as happy to buy a 1/2 pound ground just right, and get back to the roaster for a fresh batch once or twice a week.


Posted by: Jefe | Sep 25, 2006 1:27:32 PM

to summarize, in case someone came here to learn something, instead of just rant about their personal preferences:

1) good tasting water
2) clean pot
3) the best (and freshest) beans you can afford
4) don't burn it

that should satisfy everyone, although 4) will no doubt piss off the 'cowboy coffee' crowd

... ok I can't resist a dog pile - columbian supremo dark, melita maker, RO water because there are no springs for spring water in Phoenix

Posted by: wmac | Sep 30, 2006 10:54:20 PM

If you REALLY want good coffee, the next step is to roast your own beans at home. I do. Been roasting at home since 1998.

Roasting Coffee in a Popcorn Popper

Posted by: MAS | Oct 7, 2006 10:01:37 AM

You all crack me up, especially the self-proclaimed coffee experts that insist there is only one "real" way to make coffee. That's like saying there's only one "real" way to cook an egg. One of the best things about coffee is that there are so many ways to make it. Each method results in a cup with different characteristics. This is probably one of the things I look forward to the most when I dine at various ethnic restaurants, or when I travel. How boring would it be if we all liked to do things the same way? Personally, I agree with the majority that think CHAR-Bucks coffee is NASTY, but, apparently millions of people like charcoal-sludge coffee, so let them drink and enjoy.

I appreciate those who stick to the basics - fresh beans, clean water, clean equipment, and correct brewing temperature ... beyond that, coffee brewing is an art that we all enjoy in different ways.

Posted by: CDR | Oct 7, 2006 10:57:09 AM

I agree with everything at the top. I use distilled water, a french press and organic Clear Mountain Brazilian. Here's my twist: I brew a full pot, but I don't want to drink it all at once. After it cools a little, I put it in some thick-walled glass bottles (Fischer's works great). You know those wine pumps that use rubber stopper-valves? Put those in the top, pump out the air, and refrigerate. A day or two later, you can microwave the coffee (not too much!) and it's like you just brewed it. Ahh!

Posted by: Beanhead | Oct 16, 2006 12:20:32 AM

french press is the way to go, hands down. Machines take the "earthy" appeal of coffee away.

grind beans fresh (2tbs/6oz) and let stew for 4 minutes. Perfection.

Posted by: toddZ | Oct 25, 2006 2:56:33 AM

Thank you for vindicating my insatiable need for a good cup of coffee. I have had the same discussion with many people, almost to the point of a heated argument, about the merits of a good brew. My wife and I tend to travel a bit, so we like to stock up when we are O/S. At the moment, I am sipping on a brew of freshly grinded ‘Arabica Beans’ from ‘La Casa Del Caffe Tazza D’oro” a famous little bean shop and coffee house located in a little alley across from the Pantheon in Roma… Hmmmm.

I personally think the degeneration of quality coffee drinking in the United States is derived from the general public’s chronic need for the caffeine hit. The social need to enjoy a good cup of coffee on your own or with some friends is foreign except to a select few.… God help the rest of then.

I love your work.

Cheers – Mr Knuckle Blend

PS My nick name ‘Mr. Knuckle Blend’ comes from a philosophical argument I recently had with a fellow work mate. I argued that a cup of hand grinded coffee beans (using a fine cheese grater) is better than his ‘top shelf’ foul-gers (folgers).

I have to admit that I have some shitty instant coffee in the cupboard (received as a token gift from an acquaintance). I save that for the days when some one I don’t like comes around and I am trying to motivate them to leave!

Posted by: Knuckle Blend | Oct 28, 2006 2:57:51 PM

coffee? pfft. Savages. Drink tea.

Posted by: sam | Nov 3, 2006 12:38:52 PM

I am not a big fan of Starbucks, but it does have its uses. Though I live in Honolulu now and drink Kona as my standard coffee, I lived overseas for fourteen years, split between Europe and Asia. A particularly memorable moment was a spectacular java mocha made at a private home on Bali, but I digress.

While working in Vienna, I became acquainted with and largely disillusioned with the venerable Viennese coffee house. Most are smoke-filled and I found myself stopping by only in warm weather when I could sit outside. Aside from the impact on one's lungs, smoke does nothing for the taste of coffee. But I was saddened to find that most of the Viennese houses only differentiated their many coffees by the amount of white they put into it. It was all the same coffee, but came in different shades of brown. I also noticed that most of the customers were retirees. Most younger customers had fled.

Then Starbucks came to town. They were opposed by many of the venerable coffee institutions, but younger coffee house owners were smart enough to see that Starbucks might revive what was then a declining business. And it has! The Viennese houses have been forced to make their premises more attractive and to offer more variety, and - with the help of Starbucks - they are attracting a younger clientele and have a bright future. Starbucks has helped to revive an institution.

Posted by: Steve Craven | Nov 11, 2006 2:31:08 PM

vivian (of the starbucks comments) absolutely correct. inferior beans, overroasted til burnt.

coffee maker? Get an espresso/capp machine. --

Never start with preground beans -- grind your own or use a high end e/c machine.

I got a Capresso 1500 -- over 2 yrs and doing great. Required min maintenance and great coffee or capp or espresso every time.

Too expensive? Then get a french press, use boiling water that has cooled for 3-5 minutes and grind your own beans.

Once you do these? you will never go back.

Posted by: coffee lover | Dec 4, 2006 9:23:35 PM

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