Sun, 23 Jun 2002

Good java boils down to preparation and freshness

Adam Diamond lives and breathes coffee. It's all part of his work as a store operations consultant for Starbucks Coffee International.

With Arabica sourced from the world's major producing centers of Indonesia, Latin America and Africa (Robusta is often used for instant coffee and as essence, but also drunk as a specialty coffee by some Indonesians), the American is on hand to help ensure that the best product reaches consumers.

For Diamond, who is currently a consultant for the opening months of the Starbucks at Plaza Indonesia, Central Jakarta, coffee drinking is an art and a ritual.

He cups a small beaker of a brew in his hands, thumbs pointed forward, to savor its aroma. Is it sweet or spicy? Is it fruity? If so, does it most resemble a citrus or a berry?

In his daily work life, Diamond eschews cologne to make sure he can get the most out of the coffee aroma, as our sense of smell accounts for about 90 percent of our sense of taste.

Also up there in importance in coffee-tasting are the acidity and the body, which is the weight or thickness of a beverage on the tongue; they all culminate in the overall impression of the flavor.

It all boils down to PGWF, or proportion, grind, water and freshness. Here are some tips from Diamond and Starbucks, which provides brochures at its stores on all manner of coffee-related subjects, on how to make the best cup of coffee at home.

* Boiling causes bitterness, so never boil coffee, because most of its taste comes from the oil in the beans. Coffee should be made off the boil, from 90 degrees Celsius to 96 degrees Celsius.

* Use fresh cold water. Water is 98 percent of every cup, and filtered or distilled water is best.

* For best results, use 10 grams of ground coffee for each 180 ml of water. Keep these proportions consistent, regardless of the quantity you make. To moderate your coffee's strength, simply add hot water after it has been made.

* Use the correct grind for your coffeemaker. Too fine a grind will cause overextraction and bitterness. Too coarse a grind leads to watery coffee. For drip brewers, the appropriate grind should allow the coffee to finish dripping in several minutes. Ask a barista (coffee expert) at a specialty store about what grind is best for your maker.

* Diamond believes the best way to make coffee is the coffee press, or French press, because it retains the most body and flavor. Although drip coffeemakers are improving with the addition of metal mesh and synthetic filters, paper filters remove subtle flavors and add a taste of their own.

* Ideally, you should not keep your ground coffee beans longer than a week, because they will probably lose their flavor through exposure to light, heat and moisture. Buy only enough for the week ahead, and it's probably best to chuck those cartons that have been sitting on the shelf for longer than you can remember.

* Do not reheat coffee. Make it fresh each time you serve it, and make only as much as you plan to drink. Coffee holds its flavor best at 86 degrees Celsius (Starbucks throws out unused pots of coffee after an hour). Never reuse the grounds, except on your garden: Diamond says grounds make a great fertilizer. (Bruce Emond)