Confessions of a Coffee Fanatic

By: Ken Nye

Ken Nye, owner of Ninth Street Espresso, is one of New York City’s most prominent coffee people. Since opening his specialty coffee store in 2001, it has expanded to three locations and become a mainstay for coffee purists. Ken believes in elevating the standards of coffee, while shedding it's often snobby reputation.

MANY YEARS IN THE MAKING, my personal coffee brewing ritual has undergone lots of fine-tuning, and become an intimate part of waking up each morning. The sound of boiling water poured over ground beans,  the astringent aroma of steeping coffee, the dark liquid pouring into my cup — it's all a lead-up to the coveted first sip.

Here's the obsessive, step-by-step coffee-brewing routine of a self-described coffee fanatic:

First thing I do is fill my kettle with exactly enough water to pre-heat my cups, to rinse my filter and brew my coffee. Accurate measurements are key to brewing a perfect cup.

While the water heats, I weigh out my beans with a digital scale, and grind them to a perfectly even consistency with a burr grinder. Making sure the coffee is properly ground can make all the difference.

Once the water is boiling, I set a paper filter into the top of my Chemex coffeemaker, and pour over a few ounces of the hot water to rinse the filter and simultaneously pre-heat my Chemex.

When it's hot to the touch, I pour out the water and load in the grounds. By this point (about 30-45 seconds), the water in my kettle has settled to an appropriate temperature range (202-204F) for brewing, and I pour just enough water to saturate the grounds for blooming, which takes about 30 seconds. (Read more on this below.) While this is happening, I fill my cups with a few ounces of water from the kettle, to get them warmed up, too.

Once the soaked grounds appear to rise and then drop, I know the bloom is complete, and I add the hot water — very slowly — in a circular pattern to the grounds, making sure I soak all of the grounds.

After all the water has dripped through, I pull out the grounds and filter (and save them for compost!), and relax with my morning cup.

A Few (Obsessive) Tips for Better Coffee

As you can easily see from my morning routine, I feel strongly that when it comes to coffee, success is found in the details. A while back, I gave my personal recommendations on the best brewing methods and how to grind your coffee. Here are a few small touches and tweaks than can make a big difference, too.

Use Good Quality Coffee Filters

Filters are often an afterthought, but they shouldn't be — they're important! Poor quality filters can impart off-flavors and fibers into your brew, not to mention throw off the rate your coffee drips through. If the water doesn't pass through the filter at an even rate, you'll end up with an over- or under-"extracted" coffee flavor. Look for filters made by and for specialty coffee brewers — they're usually much better than the stuff you see in the supermarkets.

Personally, I prefer paper filters because I get a cleaner and more defined cup when I use them. But metal filters work too — especially if you want to stay away from using disposable filters. Just keep in mind that they tend to allow more particulates and solids to pass through, and can change the texture and flavor clarity of your cup of coffee (not a bad thing, only a matter of preference).

Whether you choose paper or metal, try to opt for good quality filters. The difference in price is negligible, but the difference in taste is not.

"Bloom" For Better Coffee

Freshly roasted coffee emits small amounts of carbon dioxide that, while harmless, impart flavors that interfere with your palette's ability to taste the coffee's flavors. Think of opening a bottle of seltzer and taking a sip right away — the taste of Co2 can be very strong and not too pleasant.

Blooming the coffee just means adding a few ounces of hot water to the grounds (just enough to saturate) before brewing, and letting sit for about 30 seconds so the excess Co2 can escape. This is only when using a Chemex or French Press.

Reheating Coffee:  Not So Hot

Coffee begins to break down shortly after brewing, and lose the wonderful oils that provide its aroma and flavor. To make sure your coffee's at its best, drink it within 15-20 minutes of brewing, and avoid re-heating which will only accelerate the flavor degradation. Fresh coffee is flavorful coffee.

Keep Your Coffee Gear Clean

Even the smallest amounts of old coffee in your filter or press can foil the rich taste of your fresh beans and undo all the careful work that went into brewing. Remove leftover bits of cofee by cleaning your brewing gear and grinders as regularly as possible. I don't recommend regular dish soap, which often leaves residues that are difficult to remove, or vinegar, which tends to leave behind unwanted flavors. A coffee-specific detergent will do the trick, without leaving behind unwanted flavors, odors or residues. (I use a Urnex cleaners. They offer several types that are best for brewers, espresso machines and even your grinder.)

Want to learn more? Read Ken's posts on brewing the perfect cup:

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