Choosing good coffee is a little like choosing good wine, says Stephen Rapoport of Your Grind. Here are a few pointers
Having had a little series on tea, it seemed only fair that coffee should have its 15 minutes. This week sees the start of our coffee mini-series courtesy of Stephen Rapoport of Your Grind.
Stephen founded Your Grind, which delivers speciality coffees to your door, in October of last year, having sold his previous start-up business, Crashpadder.com, to AirBnB.
This new venture combines his love of entrepreneurialism with something we all encounter on a daily basis – coffee. With cute little coffee shops, some with their own roastery, popping up all over, from Shoreditch to Soho, Muswell Hill to Clapton, coffee really is having a resurgence.
It would seem that we have come full circle back to the coffee house culture of the 1700s, though vastly re-imagined, via the wasteland that is foil fresh instant granules. Now I like bashing in the foil top with my spoon as much as the next person, but I wouldn’t touch the stuff inside. Even today, however, over 70 per cent of the coffee we have in this country is instant, which is something that Stephen is keen to change.
In this first instalment Stephen will take you through the basics of buying coffee, tell you a little about the different country and roast profiles and give you the three most important questions to ask your local roaster.
Stephen Rapoport's Coffee Guide
Why Do I Care about Coffee?
Coffee reminds me a lot of being in love. When I first tried instant coffee at university (yes, I was a late bloomer) my eyes were opened. That first sip was a revelation – it sent my tea-drinking head spinning and my taste buds dancing – I have savoured at least one cup of coffee every day since then.
Then along came fresh coffee, and I was quick to snub instant granules. Fresh coffee had depth, complexity and beauty. It excited me and I gulped it down hungrily. I was embarrassed to have wasted my time and money on such a superficial and lifeless brew for the past few months.
And now I drink carefully blended or single-estate coffees, roasted in small batches and rested for a week. I lovingly measure out my morning beans and grind them fresh for a cafetiere or stovetop. I’m done. This is The One, and I know I will never look back.
I have a simple mission – to help you fall in love with coffee again. I hope that, in some small way, this guide may be a start.
What is ‘good coffee’?
Picking a great coffee is very similar to buying wines; above a certain quality it ceases to be about ‘good’ and ‘bad’ and more about your personal taste. There are three basics to understand when picking the right coffee for you: country, roast profile and supplier.
Different parts of the world tend to produce coffees with different flavour profiles. Much like wine, this is because different varietals survive better in a specific climate, in certain soil compositions or terroir, and at different altitudes. Below are the major coffee-producing regions, with notes on each.
South America: Expect big, bold coffees with lots of sweetness and few surprises. Milk chocolate and caramel flavours predominate. It’s dismissive to call these coffees crowd-pleasers, though that doesn’t stop a lot of Shoreditch baristas from doing so.
Africa: Broadly accepted as the birthplace of coffee, East Africa produces some superb speciality coffees. Light, bright and fruity in the cup. Try them without milk for the full effect.
Central America: Central American coffees vary wildly in flavour profile, but are generally considered to be lively and spicy. They sit in between South America and Africa in terms of both acidity and body.
A little note on branded coffees eg Blue Mountain or Kopi Luwak: Beware when buying coffees like Kopi or Blue. Both were once marks of superb product, but marketers soon caught on, mass-producing second-rate coffee within specific parameters and charging over the odds for decidedly average beans. The same has happened to Chianti, Champagne and Kiwi Sauvignon.
Roasting is part art, part science. A Master Roaster can identify the beautiful subtleties in a batch of green coffee beans and tease them out. A bad roaster will do the opposite. For help spotting a great roastery see, the supplier guide below. Beyond that, it’s down to your brewing method.
Espresso and Stovetop: Go for a darker roast profile, as this will help to rein in the acidity in the cup. Avoid anything described as Italian or French roast, as this is likely to be a euphemism for ‘bad coffee, burnt to a cinder.’
Filter/Percolator: This is a forgiving brew method, and a great one to compare a range of coffees. Buy a small bag of dark roast, a small bag of Vienna roast and see which makes you smile the most.
Cafetiere: Perfect for the big bold coffees of South America. If you don’t own a grinder, make sure to buy a coarse grind, and leave to brew for 3-4 minutes before serving.
Aeropress: Growing in popularity, the Aeropress is the perfect ambassador for the bright, fruity coffees from Africa. And at £20 they offer a cheap way to play with speciality coffee in a new way.
Unfortunately, demand for speciality coffee has spawned as many charlatans as it has artisan roasters. These three questions will help you spot the former.
Who’s the producer? Not all roasters will trade directly with farmers, but the good ones will ask their suppliers and care about the answer. This is also an indicator that the farmer was paid a fair rate.
Who roasted it? Obviously you’re hoping a first-person response, but at the very least it should be their company.
When was it roasted? If the answer is more than 2 weeks ago or worse still ‘I’m not sure’ then you risk buying mass-produced coffee in a craft bag.
Want to put Stephen’s knowledge to the test? Claim a free bag of YourGrind coffee by logging on to YourGrind.com and entering voucher code ‘spear’ when you sign up.