Well, Bennett has asked me to be a guest contributor. So I’ll rehash some of my taste tests of various coffee beans and then survey some new ones.
My first test was the Guatemalan Huehuetenango versus the very expensive Hawaiian Kona.
Well, after a careful comparison of the $54 a pound Hawaiian Kona to the $17 a pound Guatemalan Huehuetenango I find that I’m in agreement with Ken Davids (see articles above in comments to Blue Mountain Coffee post) that Kona, while a fine coffee, is just not worth the extra price. While the Kona is undoubtably just a tad smoother than the Huehuetenango, the Guatemalan actually has a heartier aroma and a slightly heartier flavor than the Kona, although the Huehuetenango has just a tinge of bitterness (or is it acidity?) But overall they are similar enough that I can see how even professional coffee tasters (“cuppers”) might get them confused. I’ll save my Kona for special occasions but I’m sold on the Guatemalan Huehuetenango as a week-end treat. (During the week I’m content to just drink the more pedestrian Columbian and other blends available at the local coffee shop, even polluting them with my non-dairy soy creamer.) I’d be interested in hearing others comments on their favorite coffees, with similar comparisons.
In line with my experimentation into the best coffee, specifically whether the highly-touted Hawaiian Kona beans at $54 per pound were worth their exorbitant price, or whether the much less expensive though very fine Guatemalan Huehuetenango beans at $17 per pound were just as good, I’ve also done some reading and experimentation into grinding and drip brewing. I found the following:
I was grinding my beans too coarsely – for a Mr. Coffee-type drip brewer the beans should be ground fairly fine – see chart below.
I was not using quite enough coffee per cup of coffee, resulting in a weak brew. You should use approximately two heaping tablespoons of ground coffee for every six ounce cup of coffee you want to make.
Here are some details.
Blade or Propeller Grinder
Coffee beans can be chopped by using blades rotating at high speed (20,000 to 30,000 rpm), either in a blade grinder designed specifically for coffee and spices, or in a general use home blender. Devices of this sort are cheaper and longer-lasting than burr grinders, but the grind is not uniform and will produce particles of widely varying sizes where ideally all particles should have the same size, right for the method of brewing. The ground coffee is also warmed by friction.
Blade grinders create “coffee dust” that can clog up sieves in espresso machines and French presses, and are best suited for drip coffee makers. They are not recommended for grinding coffee for use with pump espresso machines.
How you grind your coffee is the first step influencing the final brew. Some machines will brew better if you make sure to grind your beans to the optimal size in the first place.
Cheaper grinders don’t always have coarseness settings, so you will have to experiment a little to establish how long to let your machine grind to achieve the right coarseness (or fineness, depending on your point of view).
The terms can be open to interpretation (just how fine is extra fine?) These comparisons might help you gauge your grind a little better.
Types of Grinds
Coarse – Very distinct particles of coffee. Like heavy-grained kosher salt. Downright chunky.
Medium – Gritty, like coarse sand.
Fine – Smoother to the touch, a little finer than granular sugar or table salt.
Extra fine – Finer than sugar, but not quite powdered. Grains should still be discernable to the touch.
Turkish – Powdered, like flour. Most inexpensive (blade) grinders will be unable to grind this finely.
The table below will tell you which grind to choose to suit your particular coffee-brewing method.
Coffee-Brewing Method Grinding Chart
Drip coffee makers (flat bottomed filters): Medium
Drip coffee makers (cone filters): Fine
Plunger pot / French press: Coarse
Espresso machines (pump or steam): Extra fine
Espresso moka pots: Fine
Vacuum coffee pot: Coarse
Lastly, to truly appreciate the flavor of a fine coffee, you should drink it black, unadorned by cream or sugar. Tonight I’m enjoying a couple of cups of Hawaiian Kona. It is very smooth and sweet, with no trace of bitterness. But I’ve been drinking the Guatemalan Huehuetenago for the last couple of days and find it to be every bit as good as the Kona. Just as smooth and sweet, and devoid of bitterness. I won’t be buying Kona any more. My friend Pat informs me that her favorite coffee is Costa Rican Tarrazu. I’ll probably try my next “cupping” test on Guatemalan Huehuetenango versus Costa Rican Tarrazu coffee. I’ll let you know how that turns out.
My next test was the Guatemalan Huehuetenango versus the Costa Rican Tarrazu.
As I promised, I did a side-by-side taste testing of my favored Guatemalan Huehuetenango coffee beans against those favored by my friend Pat, the Costa Rican Tarrazu coffee beans. First my method and then my results.
I ground the beans somewhat finely in a blade grinder for twelve seconds. I ground enough for four 6 ounce cups of coffee. I added water for five 6 ounce cups of coffee to my Mr. Coffee type coffee maker and ended up with four 6 ounce cups of coffee. This was enough for two and a half 10 ounce cups of coffee of each type. As I’m now somewhat familiar with my Huehuetenango, I started with the Tarrazu and savored one and a half 10 ounce cups. Then I saved the remaining 10 ounce cup for comparison and brewed the Huehuetenango. I drank one and a half 10 ounce cups of Huehuetenango alongside the remaining 10 ounce cup of Tarrazu for comparison. I carried out this same test twice, yesterday morning and again this morning.
I found the two coffees to be remarkably similar. But the Hueueutenango is just a little bit smoother, and the Tarrazu has just a bit more “bite” to it, a touch of acidity without being bitter. Both have a smooth, slightly sweet flavor, with no bitterness. I can see why Pat likes the Tarrazu but I still prefer the Huehuetenango. As I stated previously, I found the Huehuetenango to be remarkably similar to the “overpriced” Hawaiian Kona and it will remain for the time being my coffee of choice.
And now for something totally different. I plan for my next taste test to compare the Ethiopian Yirgacheffe coffee from Africa to my Central American Guatemalan Huehuetenango. Will let you know the results. Here are some comments I got from the Internet.
Yirgacheffe, a relatively compact growing region, lush and Edenic, produces by far the most consistently distinctive exemplars of the southern Ethiopia wet-processed sensory universe. I was told during a visit to a large Yirgacheffe coffee nursery some years ago that no outside cultivars or varieties ever have been introduced into the region, and that all new plantings represent offspring of the traditional local varieties. Assuming this assertion is correct, it undoubtedly accounts for the uniqueness and intensity of the Yirgacheffe profile. Note that of the eight highest-rated coffees in this month’s reviews, all but one are Yirgacheffes. One can only hope that the well-meaning innocence of some who work purely on the commercial or technical side of coffee doesn’t lead to a dilution of the singular and extraordinary beauty of Yirgacheffe through introduction of conventional-tasting hybrid varieties into the region.
Some North American coffee drinkers who taste these coffees for the first time are enchanted. Others simply don’t like the experience. For the nay-tasters a fine Yirgacheffe “doesn’t taste like coffee,” meaning, of course, it doesn’t taste like coffees produced elsewhere in the world from more familiar varieties of Arabica. The hint of flowers that turns up in fine Arabicas from all over the world may be dandy, for example, but the often intense floral character of exceptional wet-processed Ethiopias, particularly Yirgacheffes, can be unsettling to those not accustomed to the note.
By the way, Bennett, another article I read on the Yirgacheffes indicated that it was here that coffee originated, and that later coffee found its way from Yemen to Europe.