Bean There, Done That: The Importance of Quality Beans

Beans as fresh as they get, roasted by Ted Catanzaro of White Album Coffee.
Beans as fresh as they get, roasted by Ted Catanzaro of White Album Coffee.

First of all, I want to welcome Gabe Lehman of Spoiled Giants Fan to the blogosphere. I hadn’t been writing in awhile, but reading his posts on the woes of the Giants, prompted me to write here again. It’s a great source for understanding what it is like to be a fan a team that fluctuates between winning the World Series and winning nothing. What I have to say in this post has nothing to do with baseball, but rather about something else I am equally as passionate about: coffee.

My coffee preparation process used to be a science. Literally. I had a notebook in which I would record comprehensive notes about every cup of coffee I brewed. First I would record my water-to-bean ratio. Then I would record my grind size. Then I would record the immersion time (i.e. how long the grounds were in contact with the water) and finally would evaluate the quality of the cup of coffee. For this I would note the aroma, body (whether coffee was “heavy” or light”), initial taste, after taste, and how the flavor changed in respect to a change in temperature. Many coffees I found became more citrusy (acidic) as they cooled off. After every entry I would note what needed to be tweaked in the next cup of coffee I made. This process was driven by a desire to make the perfect cup of coffee, something that never happened.

As can be imagined, this laboratory-like process took a long time. To put things into perspective, even though I did not have class until 9, I would wake up at 7 to make sure I had time to make coffee “properly.” This was all during my first-year in college and by the beginning of my second-year, I realized that this was ridiculous and stopped making coffee in general. Recently, however, in the midst of my third-year, I began to miss making coffee and asked my dad to send me some of his home roasted beans. This time, instead of treating it like a science, I took coffee making less seriously. I lost my scale meaning I could no longer weigh my beans out, so I had to eyeball everything. Not only did the process take a fraction of the time, but the coffee tasted just as good.

There are many factors that influence the quality of a cup of coffee: the grind size, immersion time, water temperature and agitation (i.e. how much you stir the coffee while it is brewing). But all of these factors are insignificant when compared to the bean quality. It is quite simple: if you are using good beans, you will have good coffee. If you are using bad beans, you will have bad coffee. Nothing, not even a perfect brewing technique will make bad beans taste good. A great example of this is Starbucks and their use of the Clover coffee machine. This is a machine that allows for great control over the variables that determine the quality of the brew but since Starbucks uses terrible beans this just becomes an expensive machine that makes cheap tasting coffee. The moral of this post (yes, all blog posts have morals) should be quite obvious, but in case you did not catch it I’ll reiterate. USE GOOD BEANS! This doesn’t mean that care should not be put into the brewing process, but rather that you should not bother trying to make a good cup of coffee if you’re using sub-par beans.

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