Welcome to Level Up, a series of columns about upping your coffee game by our friend Dan Gentile, a writer and coffee enthusiast based in Austin, Texas. Cover image provided by our favorite roaster and coffee shop in Brooklyn, Sey Coffee.
The process of turning water to coffee may seem like modern day caffeine alchemy, but the result is just the sum of its parts. A big part, 98% to be exact, is water.
Choosing great beans may be the sexier half of the equation, but that doesn’t excuse using ugly H20. The industry’s royal family, aka the Specialty Coffee Association, recommends odor-free and clear water. But it gets more complicated from there. The gold cup standard is 0 mg chlorine, 4 grains of calcium hardness, a perfect 7.0 pH, and 10 mg sodium, stats that are well known to exactly zero percentage of water drinkers.
So what’s a coffee lover to do? It may seem complicated, but a surplus of invisible minerals doesn’t have to spoil your morning. On the most extreme end, you can buy a reverse osmosis filter that costs the equivalent of about 50 lattes. Or for a mere three lattes, you can buy a mineral packet specifically formulated to create 12 gallons of perfect water (which turns out to be enough to fill a shark tank). Bottled spring water may improve the taste, but no one wants to lug home gallon jugs. Although there’s some debate on the topic, the general geek consensus is that just using a Brita or Soma style filter will help dramatically. If you’re skeptical or have an unhealthy obsession with your tap water, try a side by side comparison.
One easier thing to control is temperature. It might have resulted in a lawsuit, but McDonald’s had the right idea brewing their coffee hot enough to warrant litigation. You want water that’s around 205 degrees. Most auto drip brewers won’t reach that, so boil the water before putting it in the machine (though you might want to check first to make sure your machine can handle that). A fancy gooseneck kettle with built-in thermometer is a good investment (for the price of only 10 lattes!), but it’s not necessary. Just aim for the sweet spot right below boiling. Anything less and your coffee won’t fully extract, but hit it with boiling water and it will react just like you: by burning.
While we’re on the topic of burning, let that coffee cool down before drinking it. Great coffees only taste better as they become less scalding. So it’s not just the roof of your mouth will thank you, but also your taste buds.
Hate searching for good coffee when you’re on the road? Us too. We created a first-of-its-kind travel coffee kit that gives you a way to make a great cup without leaving the comfort of your hotel room. Learn more and follow along at www.paktcoffee.com, or take the quiz and find out your level of coffee snobbery.