A Truly Great Cup of Coffee

Secrets to making a better cup of coffee using techniques learned in Colombia.

Coffee in The United States is terrible in taste. I feel pretty confident that some are raising their hackles to that statement and ready to spout forth their damnation of what they may consider blasphemy. Please read on though before you put fingers to keyboard pounding out a curt missive expressing your displeasure with my comment and love of some coffee brand. Now for those of you who drink the black brew only for its affect as a drug - well, never mind continuing to read. This is not for you.

For those who savor the taste of the beverage, let me shed some light on my initial statement. It is based upon personal experience of having drank coffee in many different countries for many years and upon comments from others. Americans seem to add more sugar, milk and other ingredients to their coffee than people do it other countries. I believe to mask the taste of the coffee. When my Colombian born and raised wife and I traveled across the USA we always asked for the 100 percent Colombian coffee. Many times we could not finish the cup because of the taste.

My first trip to the land of Juan Valdez perked up my taste buds. The flavor of the coffee exceeded anything tasted in the USA. I purchased several bags of different Colombian coffees and brought them back to a group of coffee aficionados who met weekly at coffee shop in California. All were amazed at the taste. Each cup had a full body clean taste with no after bite.

Earlier this year a coffee connoisseurs dream came true for me, and helped me discover more about making an excellent cup of coffee. Each year eight people, that are not employees, are allowed past the armed guards and fingerprint checking computers into the inner sanctum taste testing labs at the Juan Valdez headquarters in Bogota. Coffee makers of every kind line the walls. A coffee engineer introduced herself. She conducted a very through seminar about coffee including how to test it and how to prepare a great cup of the beverage. There are a number of factors which affect the taste of the final liquid. These include types of beans, growing region, roasting, grinding, water used, length of time between grinding and brewing  and brewing method.

The factors could be duplicated in both countries so I asked about the rumor. Some believe that American coffee companies, in order to save money and/or increase coffee sales, have been little by little over the years adding something to the coffee. The idea is to slowly get Americans use to the taste. Our guide stated she could not comment about the rumor. She mentioned that she had also heard the taste of coffee in the USA is bad. However, her company sends only the very best beans to America, leaving Colombians with beans of lower quality. She speculated that perhaps it was from poor water, improper brewing, or most likely letting the coffee sit in the pot or thermos too long.

Ok, now let me offer an opinion shared by many on how to make a great cup of coffee. It is based upon a formula for campinsino coffee used by many coffee street vendors in Bogota. First, get rid of that drip coffee maker and purchase a French Press. Put course, recently ground 100% Colombian coffee into the container. Now add 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon, four cloves and three to four drops of lime juice. If you like a sweetener in your coffee add brown sugar to the mix. Use distilled water heated on the stove (not in a microwave) to just before boiling, about 195 degrees.  Pour the hot water into the press, give a slight stir to the slurry, add the top with the plunger up and let it sit for two to four minutes. Push the plunger down very slowly and evenly until it reaches the bottom. Now pour yourself a great cup of coffee, sit back, relax and enjoy every drop.

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Jason Alexander (Editor) December 12, 2011 at 03:08 PM
That sounds sooo good!
Lenny Haise December 12, 2011 at 06:11 PM
You can brew with course ground beans 12-24 hrs in less cold water to make a concentrate. Mix this with water by the cup, pop in micro great smooth coffee.
Joe Kershaw December 13, 2011 at 03:28 PM
Lenny, You hit up a similarity to a technique used here in Colombia to make what they call "Cafe Americano." They start with a double expresso and add twice as much hot water to it.
Laura Jones December 13, 2011 at 03:31 PM
We are going to try this 'recipe' for a good cup of coffee! Very interesting!
Joe Kershaw December 14, 2011 at 12:39 AM
Thank you Laura for your comment. Keep me posted on the results. And on my next trip to Fenton I will bring you a bag of coffee from Colombia so you can make the absolute best coffee.
Steve Grob December 14, 2011 at 04:25 PM
This sounds quite interesting and I'm anxious to try it. As a relatively new coffee drinker, I'm never sure how much coffee to put in the French press. My press holds four cups of water. Would you recommend 4 TBS of course ground for a medium-strength cup, or does this depend more on the standing time? Also, I have everything on hand for your recipe, except for the lime. Should I substitute lemon, or forego this part of the recipe until I acquire a lime? Thanks!
Joe Kershaw December 14, 2011 at 10:54 PM
Wow, you have a really big French Press. That is about 4 American size cups and 8 Colombian size cups. Your measurement for that amount is within the range that Juan Valdez recommends. I have never tried using lemon juice instead of lime, but it can't hurt to give it a try and see how it tastes. With your large French Press, be sure to also increase the amount of cinnamon and cloves as well. And always feel free to tweak the formula to your taste.
Olga Swarthout April 09, 2012 at 03:21 PM
Thanks for the informative article. No wonder coffee doesn't always taste so good.As a fanatic coffee drinker I didn't realise the extent of coffee adulturation in the US. Today the Huffington Post listed coffee as one of the 7 most adulterated foods. In addition to chicory, FoodFraud.org lists corn husks, barley, parchment, cereal and legumes on their coffee adulterant chart. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/06/food-fraud-adulterated-ingredients_n_1408199.html?icid=maing-grid7%7Cmain5%7Cdl13%7Csec3_lnk3%26pLid%3D149937#s848247&title=Coffee
Joe Kershaw April 10, 2012 at 01:08 AM
Olga - muchas gracias for the comment and especially for the link. I have been looking for some proof that the US coffee companies are purposely ruining the taste. Probably being done in the name of more profit, because it definitely is not for the betterment of the drinking pleasure.
Robert Marr May 03, 2012 at 03:21 AM
Having taken some 25 trips to Europe over two decades, I had the opportunity to have some very good coffee. The French had what the called breakfast coffee and espresso. The breakfast blend was significantly weaker, but was full-flavored coffee. I continue to search for those robust flavors. The closest I've been is with relatively fine-ground Colombian bean at double concentration in a drip machine. I don't currently have a press but.... Friends from France used to call American coffee, "jus de chausette", sock juice! Ca, c'est formidable!
Olga Swarthout June 03, 2012 at 01:19 PM
From the NYT article 6/3/12: 2. THE NEW COFFEE By Oliver Strand Soon, coffee isn’t going to taste like coffee — at least not the dark, ashy roasts we drink today. Big producers want uniform taste, and a dark roast makes that easy: it evens out flavors and masks flaws. But now the best beans are increasingly being set aside and shipped in vacuum-sealed packs (instead of burlap bags). Improvements like these have allowed roasters to make coffee that tastes like Seville oranges or toasted almonds or berries, and that sense of experimentation is trickling down to the mass market; Starbucks, for instance, now has a Blonde Roast. As quality continues to improve, coffee will lighten, and dark roasts may just become a relic of the past. Years away: 0-2
Joe Kershaw June 03, 2012 at 02:16 PM
Ogla - thank you for the information. You seem to be as much of a coffee reader as I am. Oliver Strand (real name Oliver Schwaner-Albright) has been the coffee and dining guru for the New York Times since 2009. He has traveled and written much about it. I wish I knew where he gets some of his information because not all of it matches my research. We do sometimes have different opinions on the same coffee, methods, etc. Nevertheless, I do enjoy reading his writings and opinions. In my time at the Juan Valdez testing lab we found that the dark roast does not necessarily mask flaws, but it does reduce the bitterness of the coffee. Therefore I wonder if what he is talking about is tricks to mask the bitterness with possibly artificial flavors of oranges, almonds, etc. I am still a fan of the most pure coffee than can be had and of course a dark roast. On the other hand I look forward to trying the new coffees. The good part is that everyone has a different taste. At this time I am unaware of any beans being shipped from Colombia in vacuum sealed packs from the grower to the processor. However after the coffee has been roasted and ground it is a good idea to vacuum seal it.
Olga Swarthout June 20, 2012 at 01:10 PM
The Bitter Truth About Why Your Coffee Isn't Tasting as Good Lately By Rich Smith, The Motley Fool Posted 5:30AM 06/19/12 Reuters is reporting that many of America's major brands have been quietly tweaking their coffee blends. While most coffee companies consider their blends trade secrets, and are loath to disclose exactly what goes into them, both circumstantial and direct evidence suggests they're now substituting lower-grade Robusta beans for some of their pricier Arabica, and degrading the quality of our coffee. Research out of agricultural bank Rabobank confirms that demand for Arabica beans among coffee buyers "has fallen 27% year-to-date, while Robusta [demand] is 25% higher." This seems to confirm a widespread alteration of the bean mix. At least one coffee roaster has admitted it. In November, Massimo Zanetti USA, which roasts for both Chock full o'Nuts and Hills Bros., publicly confirmed upping its Robusta usage by 25% this year. Why the switcheroo? Prepare to not be shocked. The answer is: price. Last year, a shortage of Arabica caused prices of the premium bean to spike as high as $3 a pound -- $2 more than what a pound of Robusta would cost. This compares to a five-year historical trend of Arabica costing closer to 70 cents more than Robusta. In recent weeks, the trend has reversed, with Arabica prices falling to just a 62-cent premium over Robusta.
Joe Kershaw June 20, 2012 at 01:59 PM
Olga - you caught that one before I did. I still believe there is nothing like 100% Colombian coffee from Colombia. Best in the world.
Olga Swarthout June 20, 2012 at 02:11 PM
I get frustrated with the constant "dumbing down" of food in the USA. Producers and distributors must assume that the average consumer neither knows the difference or deserves better. It seems like grocery shopping is a constant pursuit of real food in the ever increasing supply of "Frankenfood".
Olga Swarthout April 27, 2013 at 04:39 PM
A link to more info for coffee aficionados from NPR-Michigan Radio "Coffee Week" April 22-27 : http://www.npr.org/templates/archives/archive.php?thingId=178007479
Joe Kershaw April 28, 2013 at 12:02 AM
Olga - just took a look at the info in the link. Again great information. Thanks for coming through with such stuff.


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