True Brew Transcript

Suburbia - 6:15 am

GUESTS: Neighbors 1, 2, 3 & 4

AB: Good morning. Where are you guys all headed off to?
NEIGHBOR #1: [holds up his coffee cup]
AB: Ahh, going for that first cup of morning Joe, huh? You know I know it's none of my business, but isn't that the sort of thing you ought be getting at home?
N #1: Home coffee bad.
AB: Bad? Oh yeah? Well try this on for size. You know, there used to be a time that folks were proud of their home brew. I mean, heck, back before there were pre-ground packets and freeze-dried crystals, shoot, people not only ground they roasted their own coffee. Try that.
N #1: Hey, this is good.
AB: Darn tootin' it is.
NEIGHBOR #2: The stuff I make never tastes like this.
AB: Well, see, unfortunately most of us have handed the brewing over to those big, gadget, laden, counter sculptures that are really more about looks and convenience than flavor. Now you've got to think of it this way: brewing is cooking. I mean, would your hand your steak over to some machine to cook for you?
NEIGHBOR #3: [shrugs]
AB: Heck, no. I'm telling you friends and neighbors, it's time we took coffee back into our own hands.
NEIGHBOR #4: But how?
AB: I'll tell you how. First we've got to really understand our ingredients, we've got to master some basic techniques, and we've got to get hold of some reliable tools.
N #1: Do you really think we could do it, stranger?
AB: Friend, humanity demands it. Besides, I don't know about those little bunnies there, hose little lambsies you've got on, but these little piggies we're not made for beating the mean streets. So, are you with me?
N #1-4: You betcha.
AB: That's what I wanted to hear. All right, we've got a lot of grounds to cover not a whole lot of time. So, strap in tight. Pay attention. And believe me, the next cup you brew will be seriously ...
N #1-4: Good Eats?
AB: Couldn't have said it better myself, pilgrim. [drives off]
NEIGHBOR #3: Who was that guy?
N #1: And where did he get those slippers?

Atlanta Botanical Gardens: Atlanta, GA - 7:30 am

    The coffee bean is actually the pit of a cherry like fruit that grows, botanically speaking, on one of two varieties of coffee tree. Now Robusto trees are hardy and high-yielding but their beans render a brew that's all power, meaning caffeine, and no flavor. There kind of the malt liquors of the hot beverage world. On the other hand, Arabica trees, like this one are shy, finicky, delicate mountain dwellers that produce a measly two pounds of beans a year. But, oh the beans.
    Not only do Arabica beans deliver a sublime, gestalt of flavor, acidity, body and aroma, they actually have the ability to capture the essence of where they were grown. Like great wine grapes, Arabica beans deliver terroir. Which means that not only are beans from the three major world growing areas different from each other but within each of these areas there are hundreds of different subtle variations. Now as much as I don't care for gross generalizations, I do have a little analogy that I've been working on to kind of sum up this whole world coffee thing. So here I go.

    Hawaii and Central America: Bright, snappy. Pop music. Okay, you with me?

Central America

Pop Music

    East Africa and Yemen: Brooding, but still catchy. Beethoven, on a good day.

East Africa


    Then you've got Sumatra and Indonesia: And the coffees down there are just plain funk. No way around it.



    Aw, geez. I've got to go.

St. Ives Coffee Roasters: Gainesville, GA - 10:01 am

GUEST: Dr. Don Wilson, Master Roaster

    Now at this point, the beans are referred to as 'green'. They don't look a whole lot like coffee and to tell you the truth, if you were to brew up a cup it wouldn't taste a much like coffee. It would taste much more like ... well ... yard clipping soup probably. Now it requires the talents of master roasters at this point to fulfill the flavor potential of the bean through the application, judicious application, of heat which is the next step. Because once they are sucked up through this hopper these beans will head into this giant, oversized ... well ... gas-powered clothes dryer, I'd guess you'd say, which is being operated by a master roaster, in this case Doctor Don Wilson.

DON WILSON: Hi, Alton. How are you doing?
 AB: How you're doing, Doc?
DW: Good thanks. Good.
 AB: Thanks for having me in.
DW: You're welcome.
 AB: I got a question for you.
DW: Yeah.
 AB: What exactly is it that roasting does?
DW: Well, what we're going to do is bring the beans up through temperature and we're looking for color, consistency, and most importantly we're going to look for chemical change in the beans to bring out the aromas, the flavors. It's a process called pyrolysis.

Pyrolysis: Chemical change resulting from exposure to heat.

DW: The First Crack is where the water comes to boiling temperature and it pops and starts to turn to steam.
 AB: Kind of like popcorn?
DW: Yeah. And it cracks the bean and pops the chaff out.
 AB: We actually hear that? You hear the pop?
DW: You'll hear it.
 AB: What do you think is the kind of optimum balance between the flavor of the bean and the flavor of the roast?

DW: It's a question of personal preference. As people learn more about coffee, they'll learn that different levels of roast suit particular coffees better. [they begin to hear cracking] That's the first crack. You're hearing it now.

different roasts for different beans

 AB: Yeah.
DW: We're going to take frequent samples to determine when it's absolutely at it's best.

Don's looking for the "sweet spot" where acidity, flavor and body balance.

DW: We're going to see a little bit of oil appearing ...
 AB: Uh, huh.
DW: ... just in the center of the surface of the bean.
 AB: That's starting to look like a seriously cooked coffee bean.
DW: I got seconds there to get this right. So, I'm going on a combination of eye, nose and ear. Okay, we're ready to drop.

    Since Don was after a bright acidity and a regional character he stopped these beans at a Light City Roast. A few minutes down the line would have been a Full City usually considered a perfect balance of flavor and body. A little further than that a French or Vienna Roast trades flavor for body. Then later an Italian Roast which at this point is, well, it's practically charcoal and no real flavor of the bean remains. Just roast.

Light City
Full City
Vienna / French

DW: The further you roast coffee the lower in caffeine it becomes. So an Espresso Roast has actually got less caffeine per ounce than the Light City.

The darker the roast, the lower the caffeine

 AB: Well Don, thank you very much for the tour.
DW: You're welcome.
 AB: I appreciate your work. Beautiful job.

    Well now that they've reached their peak of flavor each one of these tiny beans is also a ticking time bomb. That's because unless they're stored in air tight containers immediately, they start going stale. The problem is that these beans, at least for the next couple of days, will be giving off prodigious amounts of carbon dioxide. So much so, in fact, that they'll basically blow their way, appropriately, out of any container you seal them in. But there is a way to diffuse the situation.

St. Ives Coffee Roasters: Gainesville, GA - 11:19 am

    A coffee house that roasts on premises can avoid explosive situations by moving beans straight from the roaster to jars which when opened on a regular basis allow for venting. Now, as long as the coffee house enjoys speedy turnover, staleness will never have a chance to happen. Now a good coffee house, by the way, is like a good fish market: the busier it is the fresher the product is. Now as far as grocery stores go, well, that's a whole 'nother can of beans.

Grocery Store

    It used to be by the time a coffee gassed out and was shipped to a retailer it was well on its way to staledom. But, in the 1960s an Italian engineer came up with away to keep freshness in while giving CO2 a way out: an air-tight bag with a one-way value laminated right into the side. Just feel around your bag. You'll know if its there. Thus contained, beans can remain fresh for two, maybe three months. By the way, whole beans are not always fresh beans. Given a little air, a little time, a little light even the most noble beans will be rendered flavorless. So, beware open bean bins.

One Way Valve

    Oh, geez. I've got to get moving.

The Kitchen

    These two bags may look alike, but they're not. See, this bag is actually sealed. While this bag is merely closed. See, your friendly, neighborhood roaster never meant for you to keep beans in this bag. He just didn't want you to have to carry them home in your pockets. This sealed bag on the other hand is an acceptable storage device. But remember, once it's breached the time bomb clock starts ticking again. You can diffuse the situation by getting all of these back into an air tight environment. Do not be fooled by these little twist ties. These are not acceptable containers anymore. But a canister is fine as long as you know that the seal is air tight.

Air Tight Container

    Now as for temperatures, freezing or refrigerating may be popular with coffee fans but not with coffee beans. See, each time you fetch them from the chill, moisture condenses on the surface of the bean which only makes them degrade faster. Now as long as you don't stash this near the oven, room temperature will do just fine.
    Now that we have procured and secured quality beans we only have 97 percent of the coffee ingredients to go.

    Oh geez. I've got a boat to catch.

Municipal Water Works - 12:43 pm

    Coffee is mostly water. Not only does H2O work as a solvent liberating flavor compounds from the bean, but it blends its own flavor to the equation. Now most of us receive our tap water from municipal supplies pumped from rivers and lakes into huge basins where various suspended solids are removed via sedintation and coagulation. Now various disinfectants, neutralized various pathogenic organisms and various filtration mediums clarify matters further.

    Now besides chlorine and fluoride, you're average tap water contains at least trace amounts of other chemicals which insure its wholesomeness. Which is not say it makes it taste good. Luckily a simple carbon-based water filter can wrestle away most of the offending flavors.

carbon (charcoal) water filter

    In areas that have either excessively hard, soft or sulphury water you should probably go with bottled water. But avoid distilled water. It's so flat and empty that it really just can't chemically get a grip on the grounds.

too hard
too soft

go bottled NOT distilled

    Oh, geez. Time to talk mythology.

Blackjack Table

    You know, brewing coffee is a lot like black jack. It's a gamble. But just like the good gambler knows how to play the odds, the good brewer knows how to play the odds.

    For instance, a good brewer knows that 30 percent of the beans total weight is extractable by water. He would also know that of that two thirds tastes really great. Would also know that that last third would tastes really rotten. So, the question is how far are you willing to go. Cause if you extract just enough you'll have a great tasting cup. But if you go too far, oooo, busted. Oh well. Hopefully making coffee won't ever be as painful as this.

30% of bean is extractable

    And it won't be as long as you can control four specific functions. You've got to be able to control the temperature of the water, the size of the grind, the proportion of coffee to water and finally the brew time.

H20 Temperature
Grind Size
Brew Time

    If you've got those down, every single cup is going to be a winner. Well, better luck next time, sir. Appreciate that.

    Oh, geez. I've got to go.

Lloyd's of London started as a coffee house in 1668.

The Kitchen

GUESTS: Chuck, Sleepy Neighbor

    {???} ... appreciate the fact that most human beings brew their coffee while in a quasi-somnambulistic state. That's why we've designed a brewing system of such cunning design as to render the highest amount of flavor for the smallest amount of both financial and mental investment. Now just to prove how easy it is to make truly, truly great coffee we've invited over my sleepy-headed, late-night working butcher neighbor, CHUCK, to give it a test spin.

CHUCK: Mister Brown is that you?
AB: Right over here Chuck. Over here. Nice of you to join us, buddy.
  C: I was having the nicest dream.
AB: Yeah? About a nice, steaming mug of mocha java?
  C: That's right, molten lava.
AB: Poor kid. Helps on the way. Look what you're going to be testing for us.  A manual drip brewer featuring a thermal carafe.
  C: Gerbil giraffe.
AB: And that's not all. We've got an electric coffee grinder here and an electric kettle. And now I know. You want to ask me why all the separate components.
  C: Desperate doughnuts.
AB: These components will give you control. And flavor is all about control. Now, Chuck, in your opinion what would you say are the top coffee making mistakes?
  C: Poppy raking with snakes.

AB: Most of us don't put near enough coffee in our coffee. Look, the ratio is two tablespoons of freshly ground beans to six ounces of water. Okay? Now we're going to make four perfect cups of coffee. And that means we're going to need 24 ounces of water, right? Which I've already loaded up into this kettle. So if you'll just plug that in for us we'll get going, okay?

6 oz. H20 + 2 Tbl Coffee

4 servings = 24 oz H20

    A lot of people don't think they like strong coffee when in reality what they don't like is bitter coffee. Now logically to take care of this they decide to brew with fewer grounds. The problem is is that makes the bitterness even worse. And here's why. If this filter was full up with grounds then as the water were to moving through it, it would just kind of extract the right amount of solids as it went through. But if its only got, maybe, coffee up to here then you've got a lot more water crossing a smaller amount of grounds. That means it's going to extract a lot more flavor and a lot of that flavor is bad. Bitter. We don't want that.

fewer grounds =

over extraction =

bitter coffee

AB: Hi. Um, what do you think is the biggest favor you can do your beans?
  C: For fiends.

AB: Right. Grind your own. I mean you want to open these guys up and get their power out as close to brew time as possible. I mean after all you wouldn't buy a bottle of champagne and then ask the cashier to uncork it for you, would you?
  C: [shakes his head]
No. You would never do that. Same thing here. Now there are a lot of different machines out there to grind coffee. Some that are programmable. They do it for all different kinds of drips. But, I've got to tell you this little 20 dollar blade grinder does a fine job by me. So do me a favor. Plug this up and push down that button for 15 seconds, okay? Good.

$20 blade grinder

    Now grind time and of course grind size is completely dependent on the brewing method. Now a fast brewing coffee like espresso can use a very, very fine powdery grind where a longer brewing method like, say, French press needs a pretty, big chunky grind. Now I've found that for drip machines either manual or automatic work fine with about a 15 second grind.

15-20 sec. grind for all drip makers

AB: Chuck. You're there. You're there. Come on back. Good job. Okay. That's perfect. Now this is a two tablespoon measure. We're going to use one of these for every cup of coffee, okay. So take this and let's have four spoonfulls right there.

2 Tbls per 6 oz H20

    Now if you don't have a coffee scoop just make sure ...

AB: That's not cereal, Chuck. Coffee, not cereal. There you go.

... make sure you that you use two tablespoons for each cup. You've got that. Now a lot of folks like to use paper filters and they're fine. Although I find that these gold filters besides being a little easier on the local land fill allow more of the body producing compounds to pass through from the coffee and I like that. These little guys will pay for themselves in one year.

AB: You know, I think the water is ready.
  C: I don't want to go steady.

AB: The kettle? Oh, wait, wait, wait. Now this is important. The ideal extraction temperature is between 190 and 205 degrees which is just off the boil. So hold that for about 10 seconds, okay? Now here's another little tip. Since coffee grounds have a tendency to float when you pour in the water give the top a little bit of a spritz. By pre-saturating those grounds you're going to have cleaner extraction. Which is a good thing. Now you may pour.

190 - 205

    Now, odds are good he's going to have to fill that cone about three times. And it's probably going to take a total of four minutes. And that is perfect because the last great secret to coffee brewing is that you want a four to five minute extraction. That is the window where the flavors we are after will come out.

4-5 minutes brew time

    Want to know how many six-ounce servings your electric maker can crank out? Just fill it full of water, measure how much it holds and divide by six.

To re-calibrate your electric brewer's capacity,
measure how many ounces it holds, then divide by six.

    Four minutes to brew, three minutes to heat the water. If you ask me, seven minutes is not too much of an investment for a perfect pot of coffee. Of course, the very best thing about this carafe is that when he wakes up in a few hours this will still be hot.

    Oh geez. I've got to go.

The Kitchen

GUEST: Judy Crim, Dietitian

    Well, it looks like our friend, Chuck, is now friskier than a heard of Ethiopian goats.

AB: Uh, hey, Chuck. I can't help but notice you're mopping my floor.
  C: Ah, it's the least I can do, Mr. Brown.
AB: Okay.

    What I want to know is what's got him feeling so darned good. Luckily I've got a registered Dietitian hanging around the place who can answer these kinds of questions.

AB: So, why is he feeling so darned good?
JUDY CRIM: It's the caffeine. He's wired from the caffeine.
AB: Yeah, I think he drank like the whole pot of this thing. How does that stuff work?
JC: Well, it works because in the brain the caffeine prevents adenosine from being released in the brain. And adenosine is a compound in our brain that helps to keep us calm. And when that's not released you just stay high all the time. You stay very energized.
AB: Now I noticed he's working very quickly. Would you say he's working better or just faster?
JC: He's working faster but not better. Because what happens when we're so high and up all the time, we have the illusion of working better but the quality of work is very poor.
AB: So in other words it makes you faster but it doesn't make you better.
JC: Right. So you better check your floor because it's not, probably not very clean.
AB: So most people think of caffeine as just kind of, you know, this mild little thing. That doesn't look very mild.
JC: No. For some people it can be very, very strong and have this kind of effect and while other people can drink a cup of coffee with caffeine in it before they go to bed and it never affects them. And you just need to be aware of how it affects you. And if it affects you in a hyper way you probably shouldn't drink it.
AB: Unless you like that kind of thing.
JC: Unless you like that kind of thing.
AB: Okay, got to go, doc. Thanks a lot. Um, hey, Chuck. Go home.

Legend has it that coffee was discovered around 800 B.C. by
an Ethiopian who noticed that his goats became excited after
eating berries from a mysterious shrub.

St. Ives Coffee Roasters: Gainesville, GA - 5:36pm

    Now all this caffeine talk begs the question. Is there such a thing as a great cup of decaf? Well, it's not really a simple question. It's got a lot to do with economics. Now lets say that this cup of decaf and this cup of regular both cost 100 dollars. But we're okay with that because we know that quality beans cost, right? Okay, now even at it's best, decaffeination is like doing surgery with a hand grenade. I mean, you may get most of the caffeine, but a lot of the good stuff is going to go down the proverbial drain with it.
  To make up for that, decaffeinaters have to use the best quality beans called double A. They're not really gold but you get the idea. They of course cost more money. There. Oh, did I mention that decaffeination is a complicated process requiring expensive factories. There you go. And you don't have to be a fat cat industrialist to know that means more of these.
    So, now you've got your decaf. And it's pretty darn good but it costs a heck of a lot more than my regular which we consumers just won't tolerate. Now coffee processors respect that. So, there go the double A beans. Pity. That doesn't even things up. Well, we can't do without the factories so we'll have to go with substandard beans. There, now they cost the same. Of course now this cup taste a lot like a wet "ruff, ruff, ruff."
    So, either settle for drinking less of this hard stuff here or seek out expensive decafs. Until someone genetically engineers a coffee tree with a no-caffeine gene, this is the best we can do.
    Now we hope we've inspired you to wake up and smell ... yeah, well, you know. Just remember that beans and water are ingredients. Brewing is cooking. And if you take the time, pay attention to details, this is good eats.

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Last Edited on 08/27/2010