Brew School: Or Everything You Want to Know about Coffee But Were Afraid to Ask

Photos by Alex Srp

Most of us take coffee for granted. We drink it liberally, mindlessly, day in, day out. Does it have caffeine? Great. Is it hot? Perfect. Can I have it as soon as I get out of bed? Cup of coffee, you’ve got my number.

But, as with any life-long relationship, the more time you spend with it, the more nuanced, the better it can get—but you have to put in the time. Now, Toby’s Estate in Williamsburg is offering educational classes weekly–Brew School–that will give you the tools to bring your relationship with coffee to the next level. There will be classes centered around cupping (so you may better identify and relish the complexities of every sip), home brew methods, espresso preparation, and the evergreen crowd-pleaser and Instagram like-generator otherwise known as latte art, all of which will make your morning cup better tasting, and–like the healthiest relationship–more addictive than ever.

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This past weekend, at the Oosten sales gallery at 53 Broadway in South Williamsburg, we attended a home brew course with Toby’s Estate educators Aaron Owens and Angie Garcia, who explained the proper way to brew Chemex and Aeropress coffee. To put it mildly, these two know beans, and far beyond pragmatic brewing tactics, they laid out the complete life cycle of a cup of coffee, from the growing conditions of the cherry seed, to gulping down the first sip.

We, however, are no Angie or Aaron, so we will not regurgitate their erudition on Chemex and Aeropress verbatim, and so we do encourage you to attend a class. Listening to them hold forth on, for example, the importance of measuring your water and coffee by saying things like “concern yourself with ratios,” will both impress you and have you missing school in general. Who doesn’t love to learn things like this crucial nugget: The taste of your coffee is wholly dependent on the way the water interacts with the coffee particle–both how long and over how much surface area–hence, measuring the size of the grind, and water to coffee ratios, really are something to always keep in mind.

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While reading this is no substitute for the class, below we offer you the abridged  fundamentals of daily coffee prep, per our teachers. Follow these basics (or avoid them, as the case may be) and elevate your morning cup.

1. Never refrigerate your beans. You’ll make them vulnerable to neighboring odors.

2. A good grinder is everything. Your press-down home blade won’t cut it. If you put down some dough (like this one by Breville, yeah, it’s real dough, but it’s also Aaron’s recommendation) you’ll get the all-important even particle throughout. Why so key? Larger particles release flavor slowly, smaller particles more quickly. Uneven particles undermine your control over flavor extraction and yields a mix of unbalanced acidity and bitterness.

3. Don’t grind your beans ahead of time; this will avoid starting the bean’s oxidation (staling) process sooner than it needs to.

4. The size of your coffee grind depends on your brewing method (French press requires the largest grind, and espresso the smallest, with Chemex, V60, Aeropress, and Moka Pot, in descending order, in between). The larger the grind, the longer the brew’s duration, from four minutes with a French press, to under 30 seconds with a shot of espresso.

5. Make sure you buy the appropriate accessories for your brewing device. Specific brewers usually require specific filters that have a standard size and thickness. You can’t, for example, buy thin filters for Chemex—they don’t exist. You could however buy reusable cloth and metal filters, which would work perfectly well.

6. Wait till your coffee cools before you drink it. Piping hot coffee will taste like piping hot liquid. Cooled coffee will let you taste all the beans’ notes without burning your tongue.

7. Find a bean, like a wine, that suits your palate. Coffee cherries, also like wine, take on the traits of the soil they come from. And, generally, the higher the elevation at which the cherry is grown, the sweeter the coffee.

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8. Beans are at optimal brewing readiness 5 to 15 days after they’ve been roasted. Anything beyond that starts to taste flat.

9. Do not pour boiling water over your ground beans. You’ll burn them! Optimal pour temperature is around 200 degrees.

10. Don’t be a lazy fool, clean your equipment. Residual coffee oils go rancid and smell.

Remember, give unto your coffee, and your coffee will give dynamic and pure flavors until you. Like the best relationships, you’ll never have imagined how good it could get.

To sign up for Saturday coffee classes at Toby’s in Williamsburg, email brewschool@tobysestate.com

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