We’re going to deviate from the France chat to try out a new idea here because I recently received a message from a person I knew in grade school indicating how helpful my blog has been in helping him choose wines and other assorted kitchen goodies. He followed up with some questions about coffee because he wants to get a fancy coffee maker, grinder, and possibly a French press and wants to know more about what kind of beans he should get. Well, he came to the right place. So I’ll be doing a few Ask Lady Sensory installments from time to time as I receive questions, and particularly when it is a subject I can discuss in detail.
My intimate relationship with coffee began at an early age. My uncle, who shall remain nameless since he is now retired, was the CEO of a coffee company that also distributed to many restaurants in upstate New York. Our family reunion actually consisted of a coffee plant tour, which I found very interesting and fun. My cousin eventually got the most desirable job (in my opinion) where he would get to travel to South America and sample the beans before production. So, coffee was a staple in Lady Sensory’s household and I brought the love of coffee to my college dorm room in the form of chocolate raspberry, hazelnut, and the non-flavored Prestige line. At that time we didn’t grind the beans – the packs came pre-ground. My uncle always recommended keeping the ground coffee in the freezer to extend the freshness. Since then, I have heard varying opinions on storage, but I’d still recommend keeping ground coffee in the freezer. Whole beans should be kept in a cool dry place or in an airtight canister and ground just prior to using (although I have ground them the night before if I know I’m going to be pressed for time and it’s fine). You should grind your coffee based on the type of coffee maker you are using. So for French press you will want a coarse grind, for drip you will want medium (I tend to go a little more on the fine side for my drip because I like stronger flavor), and for espresso a fine grind is best.
As far as what kind of coffee beans I’d recommend, that’s entirely opinion and taste based. So if you err on the robust side, go with the dark roasts like Italian espresso or French roast and coffees originating from Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala and Sumatra. If you like lighter roasts, these are generally blends that are labeled ‘breakfast’ and Starbucks has recently come out with a ‘Blonde’ line. If you have high-end taste, you can go with a Kona or Jamaican Blue Mountain, but those will run you about $50 per pound in the U.S. My preference is for African coffee: Kenya AA is always my first choice, followed by Ethiopian Harrar and Ethiopian Sidamo. I know a coffee is truly good if I can tolerate it black and I can enjoy any one of these without dousing my mug with cream and sugar.
For decaffeinated coffee, (also part of the inquiry) I would recommend looking for coffee that has been Swiss-water decaffeinated. This method tends to be more expensive, but uses no chemicals (beans are repeatedly soaked and passed through a carbon filter) and allows the beans to retain most of their original flavor.
Local recommendations for tasty coffee purchases:
Parkleigh – I used to work there (and coffee was one of my favorite departments) and although coffee is no longer listed on their website, they do offer a wide variety of flavored and non-flavored blends, single origin beans, as well as Swiss-water decaf and fair trade options.
Finger Lakes Coffee Roasters – They are probably most noted for their ‘Jamaican Me Crazy,’ but my favorite is the ‘Bananas Foster.’ They can be found at many independently owned coffee shops and also distribute to business locations.
Coffee Connection – For those interested fair trade coffee, this supports a local non-profit that provides a sense of purpose and employment training for women recovering from substance abuse. I first heard about this at Parkleigh and I believe they still carry some of their coffee.
There you have it. So if you have a question for Lady Sensory, feel free to drop me a line in the comments or messaging through The Sensory Cart Facebook page. If it’s an area I can discuss and you aren’t a spammer, I’m certainly glad to help!