What makes a perfect cup of coffee? While some love the ease of a spoonful of freeze-dried granules dissolved in hot liquid, others dedicate time, research and equipment to making their morning brew just right. They’ll experiment with roasts, tinker with brewing methods, temperatures—if you come across someone with a siphon coffee maker in their kitchen, you can safely assume that any inquiry related to it will launch the owner into a passionate coffee-related soliloquy.
If you’re from the former category and want to maybe dip your toes into the world of coffee perfection, there are a few things you need to know first. Here’s a quick way to get acquainted with the basics.
Most commercially-grown coffee is from one of two species of coffee plants, arabica and robusta, out of which the first is more popular for its flavour and ease of growing (robusta tends to be full bodied, but bitter, and used in blends). Apart from the species itself, the terroir—a term that encompasses variables like soil composition, climate, temperature, rain and agricultural practices—has a huge role to play in coffee flavour.
According to Rahul Reddy, founder of Mumbai-based speciality coffee brand Subko, “Indian coffees have showcased an impressive range in flavour potential, given we generally have lower elevation grown coffees compared to our Latin American and African counterparts: from traditional nutty and chocolatey notes, to spices and floral and more complex and fruity ones.”
When the coffee fruit (called a cherry) is perfectly ripe, it is processed to remove the outer covering and pulp to reveal the familiar coffee bean. The processing can be done in multiple ways (wet, dry, honey), and adds to the flavour of the final product.
Roasting is the magical thing that brings out all the flavours and aroma that we associate with coffee. There are four categories of roasts: light, medium, medium dark, and dark. As the beans get darker, the flavour gets more complex and bitter, and less acidic. Contrary to what you may think, a darker roast doesn’t make your coffee more potent; in fact, a lighter roast may have slightly more caffeine content.
So, which one should you pick for your cup of coffee? According to Rizwan Amlani, owner, DOPE Coffee, it’s not a straightforward answer. You could dive into the complex world of coffee flavour variables, trying to match the terroir, processing, roasting, grind and brewing in a way that makes violins sing in the background, or you could choose an omni roast. “Most roasters have an omni roast coffee, which you can use for any method: pour over, cold brew or an espresso, or an AeroPress for that matter.” he explains.
The way you’ll brew your coffee determines the grind you pick. For a method where the coffee will be immersed in water, like cold brew or French press, you would pick a coarser grind. For an espresso, where water passes through the coffee in a matter of seconds, a fine grind works best. Drip, pour overs, AeroPress, are somewhere in the medium range.
Remember that the beans, once ground, start to lose freshness pretty quickly. Avoid insipid coffee by either grinding your beans at home, or buying smaller batches from your roaster.
The final piece of the puzzle, the brewing stage also offers many routes to get to your perfect cup. You can steep your coffee (French press, coffee dip bags); use filtration (pour overs, drip, Vietnamese and Indian filter coffee); or pressure-extract (espresso, moka, AeroPress). The taste of your cup will depend on the roast and the water-to-coffee ratio, and how you serve it. The most important thing is to experiment with different roasts, grinds and brewing methods till you find your favourite.
THE PROS’ FAVOURITE
“To me, it is a cup without milk, sugar, or any additive, that retains the nuances and complexity of the fruit it eventually originated from and the post harvest processing the farmer endowed it with.”
“If I'm in Bombay or Delhi in the hot weather, I would love a cold brew that has been steeped for at least 18 to 20 hours. I love making different mixtures and concoctions with it. Currently I'm really tripping over DOPE coffee’s cold brew lemonade.”