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Great Coffee 101: Best Coffee Hacks

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Coffee is the most affordable luxury we have. Enjoying it to the fullest isn't too difficult. Read below the best hacks I've found so far.
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Nobody needs to become a coffee snob to enjoy coffee, but everybody can find useful the best coffee hacks. Like most things in life, coffee is about personal preferences. Furthermore, I wouldn’t dare to say -or imply- how to enjoy your coffee properly.

But, coffee-loving is more enjoyable after learning a few tricks of the trade. Learning about your coffee transforms an ordinary drink into a personal experience. Rather than a habit, you can make coffee a luxurious ritual without the hefty price tag.

Moreover, knowing more about your beans and favorite brewing methods expand your choices. I have learned a few things through specialty coffee trainers and experts. In sum, my experience has been life-changing:

  • I cut down my daily coffee intake – from more than 1 liter (34 ounces) of coffee a day to less than 500 ml (16 ounces)
  • My mornings are richer and more enjoyable
  • I learned to discern more than ten different aromatic notes inside coffee that I didn’t even notice before!
  • I only drink freshly ground coffee
  • I met a few roasters, coffee growers, and baristas. And I am learning from them!
  • My understanding of the effort and ingenuity behind my cup of coffee makes me feel blessed about drinking it

In short, I replaced my mechanic coffee binging for a pleasurable, almost luxurious experience. Because of this, I want to share the best coffee hacks I have found.

The best thing about it is that nobody needs a fortune to enjoy coffee. I live in a producing country, so my opinion doesn’t apply everywhere. Nonetheless, coffee is relatively affordable around all over the world. Moreover, if we compare specialty coffee with good wine, Haut cuisine, or craft beer, it isn’t expensive.

Finally, one of the good things I won after learning more about coffee is the ability to sustain geeky conversations about it. Sure, not a too valuable skill, but it’s easy to talk about coffee while drinking it when you know a bit about more it.

How could I enjoy coffee more?

After practicing a few tricks, I elevated my coffee game to a whole new level. And you could take a shortcut here if you don’t want to read the entire article. Just check my top tips below and try at least one of them. I guarantee that you’ll notice the difference immediately!

If you want to learn more about the facts and reasons for elevating your coffee experience, keep reading.

From my perspective, a cup of coffee is the result of a chain of miracles. Many of them remain secret, but the more I learn about them, the fuller and happier is my coffee experience.

A few coffee miracles are evident, as its aroma and flavor.

Below, I will explain briefly both: the secret and the evident miracles behind great coffee.

The Secret Miracles Behind Great Coffee

Great coffee grows in the mountains and highlands of tropical coffee-producing countries. From there, coffee beans pass through a lot until we enjoy a sip of it.

Infographic: The Countries Most Addicted to Coffee | Statista You will find more infographics at Statista

Origin

If your roaster knows where your coffee comes from, it’s more likely that it will be top quality. Why? Because coffee roasters can check sustainable growing practices. Additionally,  they can perform better quality controls if they know where green beans come from.

Tip:
Look for single-origin coffee and experiment with different tastes and aromas. If you write notes about your coffee tasting experience, keep a record of your beans' origins. You'll get interesting insights through it.

For this reason, the Specialty Coffee Association highlights traceability importance. Additionally, traceability strengthens fair trade practices. As a result, coffee-growing businesses become more sustainable from an economic and environmental perspective.

Green coffee doesn’t fall off the tree just like that. At origin, growers pick ripe coffee cherries, ferment them, and dry the coffee beans.

Although it’s common to use harvesting machines in Brazil, most coffee producers hire people to do this work manually.

Recently, Colombian coffee estates have started using machines. Yet, it’s hard to know if mechanized harvesting will affect quality negatively.

Coffee processing is another critical factor. Coffee growers ferment the cherries to get coffee beans. As you might know already, experts classify coffee processing into three types: natural, washed, and honey.

Tip: Try natural and honey processed coffee and write down unexpected flavor and aromas. Both processes offer counterintuitive flavors and aromas. Experiment with them, and you'll learn which is your favorite coffee processing type soon enough.

Each processing type has a massive influence on aroma and flavor, and I recommend you try and compared them. It’s an entertaining way to develop sensory skills and elevate your coffee experience.

Overall, a cool and geeky thing about traceable coffee is that you can learn more about varietals, terroirs, and coffee processing. Learning about it helped me to identify different aromatic profiles.

I can’t forget the first time I tasted an Ethiopian Yirgacheffe, as well as my first Venezuelan specialty-level cup of coffee.

Please be warned; traceable coffee is less affordable than commodity coffee. Yet, I am sure that’s completely worth it.

Roasts

Roasting is a huge deal for coffee. Most of us learn to drink over-roasted coffee. Moreover, before knowing anything about specialty coffee, I thought the best coffee was oily and dark.

Later on, I have been learning to appreciate the whole roast spectrum, from light to dark. Yet, as shocking as it was for me, I found out that oily beans aren’t good at all. I learned about it thanks to Matt Kellso’s insightful article.

Brew light and medium roasts with drippers like V60, Chemex, and Kalita Wave. Darker roasts offer their best with the french press, Aeropress, and espresso machines.
If you're a rebel, try the opposite. You might actually like it better!

Coffee roasting is a delicate art that has advanced over the last few decades. With technical progress, roasting has become more sophisticated. Currently, thousands of boutique coffee roasters around the world offer top-quality coffee.

One of the best things – and the easiest – I did to improve my coffee experience was to buy from local coffee roasters. Talking with them is as good as specialty training coffee to improve, albeit slowly, my coffee-related skills.

An interesting thing about medium and light roasts is that they tend to offer acidic, sweeter, and more complex aromatic profiles than dark ones. Furthermore, tasting them for the first time can be a bit shocking!

Freshly Ground Coffee

If you want great coffee, you’ll grind it on demand.

At first, you might think I am exaggerating. Still, you should give it a try. Although experts claim that freshly ground coffee isn’t for everybody, I firmly believe it’s a lot better. You can read my piece about freshly ground coffee here.

However, grinding coffee at home can be challenging. Low-quality grinders can produce terrible results. Indeed, it can be better to buy freshly ground coffee at your favorite coffee roastery. So, if you choose to grind coffee at home, get a good grinder. Why would you have a coffee grinder at home? Well, freshly ground coffee features:

  • More intense aroma and flavor
  • A richer and more complex aromatic profile
  • Less free radicals and more antioxidants
  • Self-guaranteed 100% coffee
  • You can grind your coffee beans at your preferred size

The latter feature takes me to the next point about freshly ground coffee. Depending on your brewing device, you can adjust your coffee recipes based on coffee beans grind size.

Currently, I have an Aeropress, V60, French Press, and a Moka Pot. I know, first hand, that it’s better to adapt grind sizes to your brewing methods.

Brewing Methods

Curiosity and persistence are essential for learning. And believe me, improving your coffee experience implies a lot of learning.

Some of the most interesting -and frightening- things about specialty coffee are the diversity and complexity of brewing methods.

I feel like we have a new brewing device waiting for us to try it. Moreover, coffee brewing technology has advanced during the last few years, especially for home brewing.

Tip: Brewing devices don't determine your coffee cup's aroma and taste by themselves. Keep in mind that coffee origin, roasting level, grind size, and brew ratio have a huge part in the end result.

If you want to enjoy coffee more than you are enjoying right now, you should try learning brewing methods.

My coffee experience changed after I learned the SCA brewing methods standards.

Most of the tips I am sharing are the result of practicing the SCA standards and personal experimentation. I like to think the only golden rule for coffee-loving is personal taste. Yet, the more I know about coffee, the richer and rounded my personal preferences are.

Coffee Tasting and Enjoyment

Thousands of people work to make our cup of coffee possible. Learning to appreciate coffee quality is a way to honor their skills and effort. Furthermore, knowledge empowers us to improve our coffee drinking experience, one step at a time.

Discerning the best of coffee and identifying defective beans is professional work. It’s a legitimate and exciting career, but learning the most basic sensory skills level will help you enjoy your coffee.

I started identifying acidic, bitter, and sweet notes. Today I can notice the chocolate, fruity, and floral notes as I grind, smell and drink coffee at home. However, it took further practice to get there.

To develop your nose and palate, write down the aromas and tastes you perceive. Before taking notes, let’s cover the basics of organizing your coffee tasting notebook.

Aroma

It would be a truism to say that coffee smells good. Coffee lovers tend to speak about the most magical’s smell in the world as the aroma.

Yet, coffee aroma isn’t only about the smell. It refers to flavor and mouthfeel as well.

Our nose deals with most of our tasting ability. Although many people would say that coffee smells a lot better than it tastes, both experiences are inseparable.

Indeed, drinking coffee when our noses are shut off due to strong odors, the flu, or allergies, doesn’t make any sense.

In short, coffee aroma is our olfactory perception of the combination of coffee smell and flavor when we drink it. Expressions like aromatic profiles and notes refer to discernable aspects of coffee.

For beginners, it’s one of the most challenging and frustrating bits about specialty coffee. I know how it feels tasting “just coffee” after reading a label with seductive words like floral, red-berry, or chocolate notes.

Tip: Learn to identify acidic, bitter, and sweet aromas first. After getting some practice, start to compare these notes with familiar scents and flavors. Then, you might identify notes like chocolate, honey, citric fruits, berries, and certain flowers, like jazmin

Flavor wheels have been crucial for coffee quality controls over the past 20 years. Moreover, anyone who wants to improve coffee sensory skills can find flavor wheels useful.

SCA's Coffee Taster's Flavor Wheel uses the sensory lexicon developed by World Coffee Research. The image is licensed for use under under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0)
SCA’s Coffee Taster’s Flavor Wheel uses the sensory lexicon developed by World Coffee Research. The image is licensed for use under under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0)

Visuals

Almost immediately after smelling coffee, we serve it and enjoy it with our eyes. We can watch bubbles while serving with a dripper. Or we can see a seductive layer of crema on top of an espresso. Furthermore, the darkness and density of the coffee drink are pleasurable aspects we can contemplate too.

Milk-based coffee drinks like the cappuccino, flat white, and cafe latte can display latte art on top. Toppings like chocolate shavings, cinnamon powder, and caramel syrups improve our coffee appeal in taste and appearance.

Chemex visual coffee
The Chemex offers a visually cleaner and lighter cup than an espresso shot. Both have their fans.

Finally, coffee suggests his body through its visual aspect before we can experience it as a whole. It’s easy to see the difference between an espresso and a Chemex-filtered coffee. The first will show an oily consistency and pitch-black color. The second can look watery and dark, with some brown and reddish tones, depending on the roasting level.

Body

[Tip: body depends on brew ratio and brewing devices. Experiment with affordable brewing devices like the french press, Moka pot, and V60 to learn which is your favorite coffee body type]

It sounds odd to talk about a drink’s body, but coffee displays a pleasant mouthfeel we can’t ignore. Most experts claim that we can identify three different types of coffee body.

Light

It feels more like water and looks pretty clean. When we see it through a glass cup, we find little or no residue, and the texture isn’t different from water. Although counterintuitive at first, lightly bodied coffee can allow you to enjoy a wider variety of aromatic notes in a single cup.

Medium

Like most things coffee, a medium body is hard to understand without trying the extremes. Heavier than your clean Chemex-filtered brew, lighter than your meanest espresso-shot.

The medium body isn’t merely halfway between heavy and light. It’s more a fuzzy range between the lightest and heaviest coffee bodies.

Heavy

The heavy body looks and feels viscous, intense, sometimes creamy, and always dense. It’s your meanest espresso shot, slowly french-pressed mug, or your Turkish style coffee cup. A heavy body is the richest in texture and mouthfeel, usually with a strong aroma and dominant notes.

Aftertaste

Luckily, when we drink great coffee, it doesn’t vanish from our senses. Moreover, our mouth, throat, and the high esophagus preserve some taste and aroma.

According to experts, what we commonly refer to as after taste is after-flavor because it’s the combination of taste and aroma.

I must acknowledge that coffee aftertaste isn’t the best part of drinking it. At least for me. I enjoy the coffee scent when I am grinding it, much more than its aftertaste.

Still, it’s pleasant. Furthermore, it’s an essential part of enjoying coffee. Identifying acidic, fruity, bitter, and even oily notes adds to the coffee experience.

Are these the best coffee hacks out there?

Well, I’m sure that learning about Specialty Coffee helped me to improve my daily routine. All the tips, tricks, concepts, and principles I shared in this article are my most valuable treasure.

Great coffee is much more than a seductive and complex aroma. Yet, to elevate your coffee experience is a gradual, pleasant process in itself.

As coffee lovers, we are at the receiving end of the so-called “Coffee Value Chain.” In my experience, drinking coffee becomes a more fulfilling and enjoyable experience as I learn more about it.

I hope you enjoyed the article and find it useful to enrich your own coffee experience.

Share it with your fellow coffee lovers!

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