Thursday, April 25, 2013

And why Keurig and Nespresso are winning the battle.....

This article from Imbibe magazine showed up just after the Peet's single-cup announcement:

The good news, I guess, is that at least they don't ask you to weigh your water before brewing or use a special gooseneck kettle, but this is a ton of hassle for a single (12 oz.) mug of coffee that is still brewed incorrectly (2.5 minutes of contact time between grounds and water when the minimum for drip brewing is 4 minutes).

Geez, why not brew a pot of coffee? Is the assumption that every consumer lives alone or drinks but a single cup of coffee in them morning?

Fill a Bodum or Krups burr grinder with beans, grind for about 20 seconds, dump into a #6 filter cone sitting atop a good 1 quart thermos and pour a quart of just-boiled water through it. Easier still, put said batch of ground coffee into the filter atop a Bonavita, Behmor or Technivorm brewer and push the button.

And if a single cup is required, for heaven's sake use an infusion method like the Aeropress or Clever Dripper that actually works.


  1. Amen, Brother of the Bean. I like it all methods. It is important to stay humble you third wave single cuppers. Peace.

  2. Hi Kevin, I took one for the team yesterday, and visited Blue Bottle's Mint Plaza cafe where I paid $7 for less than 4 oz. of drip coffee. Call it morbid curiosity or collecting fodder for writing curmudgeonly comments on coffee blogs.

    Anyway, they were using a Nel drip method, which basically doubles up the amount of grounds (50 grams) in a cloth pourover filter, and drips somewhat hot water over it for 7 minutes. It was like they were waterboarding the coffee into submission. Not only were weighing scales involved, but also a high-precision digital thermometer not unlike one we use in our lab! To their credit, my order was taken when I was 4 persons from the front, so I didn't have to wait super long.

    How was the coffee? Pretty good, but not stupid good to reflect the price. It had a much thicker mouthfeel, and emphasized the fruit (especially blueberry) and brandy-like sweetness of the natural process Ethiopian from Nekisse. I've had this bean recently in my own CCD, so I was familiar with it, and I didn't think this very inefficient method revealed any more of the bean than a CCD.

    It occurred to me later that this may be someone's attempt to replicate for a single serving what the Coffee Curmudgeon calls "strong coffee" wherein the concentration of coffee to water is doubled to around 110 g/L, and is brewed 32 oz. at a time with large flat-bottomed paper filters, but with consistently hot water.

    Playing the devil's advocate, I wonder if there is any moral difference between this and a $10 shot of good scotch. A bartender does even less than a barista in pouring you a shot. Perhaps the availability of cheaper, faster methods to make coffee just as good or better condemns this Nel drip method.

    There is a better explanation of the method here:

  3. Hi Andre -

    "Waterboarding the coffee into submission" - I love it!

    Thanks for the link to the Splendid Tabe story on the Nel method. Clearly you're right about the strength of the brew being in the range that Tim Castle talks about. Clearly there are much more efficient ways to achieve that kind of cup (I'd start with a similar grounds-to-water ratio in an Aeropress, but a classic "tasting" espresso made by diluting a correctly-made double shot (by which I mean 28 grams of coffee, 2-2.5 fl. oz yield including crema in 20-26 seconds) with an equal measure of hot water would also be in the same ballpark (and leave you in either case with 6 more minutes of life in which to enjoy the 5 or more dollars you'd have saved).

    I was just at Peet's in Santa Monica yesterday and had a chance to again marvel at the sophistication of their 3 gallon urn brewing set-up, with proprietary temperature and bypass controls, IHT (ideal holding temp.) double-wall stainless and many other features. The grounds-to-water ratio is nothing like the Nel, but is clearly in the 70 grams per liter range and with fresh coffee and such a massive dose there's zero paper taste. A just-made batch of their Ethiopian Super Natural thus brewed is my idea of heaven.

    I don't know about the $10 shot of Scotch analogy. What Blue Bottle is doing reminds me more of the scene in one of the Indiana Jones movies where a guy comes up to Indiana with crazy good knife skills and Jones pulls out a pistol and takes him out with one shot. The single cup crazies are the knife guys, and the guy brewing on the 3 gallon urn has a gun. I don't call it "the Third Wave Regression" without cause.

  4. When I read the Imbibe piece about brewing tips, I chuckled. I've been making coffee exactly that way (but with finer grind and about 4 min. contact time) for, oh, thirty years?

  5. Proper extraction between 18-22% can be reached in 2.5min. So whats the problem here?

  6. With luck, a heavy dose of coffee, just the right grind a special kettle like the Hario Buono and good technique it is indeed possible to get that kind of extraction Jeff using a single-cup brewer, but it's certainly not easy or consistent. You're fighting the very nature of drip coffee, which is a brewing method for making BATCHES of coffee, not CUPS.

    Even with plenty of technique the ratio of paper to coffee in single-cup methods is extremely high (thus all of the rinsing of filters - another step not necessary with a real drip brewer), you have to worry about pre-heating the filter cone because the quantity of hot water is also very small, on and on. So much simpler to brew a pot of coffee and be done with it, and whether you use a Nissan Thermos with a #6 filter cone or automate the process with a Behmor Brazen, Bonavita or Technivorm the results are far superior - and you have enough coffee to enjoy a second cup, or share with others (that being kind of the point of coffee as a beverage in the first place). The single cup thing is a waster of time.

  7. I agree on batch brews, the size, consistancy, bed geometry. But the world brewing champion proves that it's possible in 2.5 min. He's US, you should be proud!

  8. Sorry Jeff, but I can't get excited (let alone be proud about) a contest that makes an "art" - and a contest - out of something that is better accomplished by pushing a button on a Fetco brewer. In my view the various barista championships are a sufficient waste of money and talent.

    Rather than make brewing coffee, which is simple, look complicated and esoteric I'd sure love to see people focusing on showing people how easy it can be to brew great coffee, so that the focus can be on flavor and supporting the farmers who grow the coffee. Barista culture and coffee culture are two very different things, in my view, with occasional points of intersection.

  9. Brewing is easy, and democratic. I think people will get more intimate with the coffee if they brew it manually. At least the most passionate people are doing so. Look how easy.

  10. Only a thoroughly geeky coffee person who comes from the barista culture would describe what's in that very nicely-shot video as "easy." The outer limits of "easy" for consumers might include grinding in a blade grinder vs buying pre-ground (something that the overwhleming majority will not do), dumping them in a brew basket and pushing a button. And the fact is that if you own a Technivorm, a Bonavita or a Brazen drip brewer you'll get a far better cup of coffee than that shown in the video by doing so.

    Weighing coffee....unlikely - and unnecessary. Weighing water - complete waste of time, and never going to happen in the real world. Rinsing the filter, a special long-necked kettle, timing the (still way too short!) brew time - all completely unncessary if you brew an actual pot of coffee as the brewing method requires. The video makes Luddite geekiness into an art form, but the only ones who think its cool are the folks behind the bar, not the customers paying the bills. A big step backwards for coffee....what's next - grinding by hand in a Zassenhaus because the conical burr grinder gets the coffee too hot and destroys aroma?