Thursday, July 23, 2009

Coffee Brewing Time Experiment: Vienna Coffee Eithiopian Harrar Longberry

I did the coffee experiment that I wrote about this morning, and I learned several things. I'd like to share what I learned before I get to my experience with the coffee.

  1. I should have eaten first;
  2. I know why coffee tasters spit;
  3. I need more identical mugs;
  4. Drinking coffee really fast does something to your body with caffeine similar to what chugging a bunch of beers does to your body with alcohol... hits you hard, fast, and suddenly. Zoooooom!
So... what can I say about the experiment and how I did it?
The Method: I took as many identical mugs as I could muster (which is 3 at my house because we have kids), and then I prepared my French press with a rather coarse grind of the coffee. I poured water in fresh from the boil: approximately 210 degrees Fahrenheit, and stirred with a plastic spoon. After about thirty seconds to allow for bloom, I stirred again and put in the plunger. Then, watching the timer, I poured two ounces of the coffee (using a measuring cup) every 30 seconds starting when 2 minutes had elapsed. I tasted them sequentially. I also set aside a little (in different cups) to compare at the end: 2 minutes, 4 minutes, and 6 minutes brew times for that comparison.
The Coffee: Vienna Coffee Co., Eithiopian Harrar Longberry Horse, medium roast
The Smell of the Beans: This coffee has a rich, satisfying scent that begs to be brewed. It's quite exciting and characteristic of a pleasant breakfast or afternoon coffee.
The Smell of the Brew: The website mentions that this coffee smells like a fresh-cut blueberry muffin, and insomuch as a coffee can smell like a blueberry muffin, I'd agree with that statement. If you're not really into coffee, then you'll maybe barely notice it. If you're really into coffee, then it's rather prominent.

How The Flavor Develops
  • 2:00: The coffee is a little flat and weak with a slight sourness to it compared with what I'm used to from a medium roast after two minutes. There's almost no hint of the blueberry muffin flavor present, though the smell is already clear.
  • 2:30: Body has started to develop, and though still a bit on the sour side, the brew is far more balanced at this point. It was much more pleasant than the previous brew. Otherwise, it was generally the same.
  • 3:00: The body of the coffee felt much more developed by three minutes into the brewing time, and most of the sourness had disappeared leaving a pleasant, if light, balanced cup. The blueberry scent was prominent and even noticeable in the flavor profile.
  • 3:30: Repeat the last time marker's notes, increasing in each way from the previous time.
  • 4:00: I think this is probably when this coffee hit its peak at this particular starting temperature. The cup was very balanced, all of the aromas were present, the blueberry muffin scent and flavor were fairly obvious, and there wasn't really a trace of sourness or prominent bitterness.
  • 4:30: This was very similar to the previous time, though the blueberry muffin notes were diminishing and were replaced instead with a more robust, black-coffee bitterness, though the brew was still quite pleasant at this point.
  • 5:00: Though the coffee was still fairly good at this point, most of the subtlety was lost to the black-coffee flavor. It seemed to be taking on a woody taste at this point which wasn't completely pleasant.
  • 5:30: The woodiness of the flavor definitely increased since the five-minute mark. The coffee's enjoyability is definitely on the downhill by this point.
  • 6:00: At this brewing temperature and time, the coffee has lost most of its magic and subtlety and actually tastes quite woody and flat. This is too long at this heat.
Recomparing 2, 4, and 6: The notes made above at the 2, 4, and 6-minute marks were all drastically exaggerated tasting them directly next to each other. At full brewing heat, this coffee certainly wins with a 4-minute brew. Very short brews make a cup that's unbalanced toward sourness with an undeveloped body and flavor profile, and excessively long brews allow a bitter woody flavor (it tasted kind of like I added sticks from my yard to the grindings) and a flat cup that begs for milk and sugar to try to even it out.

Important Note: My brother has had a good deal of success with brewing this coffee over the 5-6 minute range using a significantly cooler starting temperature (180-190 F). I'm too jacked up to want to conduct that experiment now. My recollection of the experience is that the blueberry notes are vastly more prominent that way, surviving even the addition of cream and sugar, thus allowing for a very pleasant breakfast cup.

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Peaceful Wanderer said...

Doing this experiment myself (I'm the aforementioned brother) with several different types of coffee, I thought I would add a few of my coffee experiences regarding experimentation with brewing time and temperature, in particular, my lower temperature brews. It is somewhat a matter or taste, but I've found that I like what I might call The Rule of Opposites when I brew my coffee in a french press. What I mean by this is that for lighter roasts, I've had success in developing a full bodied, balanced cup of coffee by doing a longer steeping time. This time is usually on the order of 5-6 minutes after first pouring the water, which I let sit for approximately 2 minutes after boiling to cool. For darker roasts, I prefer a shorter steeping time of about the 3-4 minute range. This allows the delicate flavors to survive and not be overpowered by the richness of a dark roast. But then again, to each their own, right? I hope some people get the chance to read this and be inspired to experiment with coffee brewing themselves.

Jim said...

Cool insights, aforementioned brother! Thanks for the tips.