There was a time when I thought I would never enjoy the taste of coffee. I considered it a torture drink guzzled by the sleep-deprived masses in order to jolt them back to life every morning. One day I had a life-changing cup, brewed with quality beans and TLC, and realized it is one of life’s great pleasures, and maybe just the best part of waking up.
For those who share that sentiment, brewing to perfection at home is an essential skill, both in the interest of understanding the craft and saving some money. Local fair-trade coffee company Peace Coffee not only trains many of the baristas and bean buyers at your favorite cafés—the company’s coffee connoisseurs offer twice-per-month classes for home baristas. The courses are designed to ensure virtually anyone can learn the tools and tricks of the trade—whether your crema is already a work of art or you can barely muster throwing some Folgers into a filter.
Entering the classroom adjacent to Peace Coffee’s Wonderland Park retail shop for the “Brewing Better Coffee at Home” course makes one feel a little like a grown-up kid in a caffeinated Willy Wonka factory. While our class focuses on using familiar coffee-making accouterments like French presses and pour-over models, the classroom also contains siphons and a Turkish coffee maker. Sound intimidating? Not to worry. Educator and coffee curator Keith Tomlinson assures us the goal of the classes is simple: “to make delicious coffee.”
Tomlinson isn’t kidding about his mission for deliciousness. Minutes into the two-hour class, he gets busy on the white board. Like a mad coffee scientist (minus the lab coat), he constructs graphs depicting the trajectory of coffee’s potential flavor. We learn the three primary variables that affect coffee’s taste: water, beans and time. When any one of these variables is out of whack, the taste quotient plummets. When each component is handled with care and skill, deliciousness levels skyrocket.
In the coffee lab, we experiment by changing water and coffee variables, learning that this ratio is essential to determining overall flavor. The six students taste-test many cups—some good, some great and some yuck-in-a-cup. We learn to scratch notions of coffee being bitter. Tomlinson explains, “If your coffee is sweet, you know you’re doing a good job.”
Another tip: grind your own beans just before brewing to ensure ultimate freshness. Tomlinson recommends an affordable hand grinder by Japanese manufacturer Hario (a machine that doubles as an intense arm workout). And look for a "roasted on" date on your beans; anything older than two weeks will compromise the quality of your cup.
More than anything,Tomlinson encourages students to look at brewing as art. “Coffee is at a really interesting place right now,” he says. “We’re at a moment where we get to creatively play.”
An added bonus? You’ll be buzzing hardcore after class.