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Brewing the Perfect Cup of Coffee

A star barista shares tips with Food & Wine's Emily Carrus.

Residents of New York City's East Village who are in need of a caffeine fix head straight to tiny Abraço, where co-owner and barista Jamie McCormick makes some of the best coffee in America. He's especially famed for his drip coffee, which is ground and brewed to order.

At coffee bars around the country, customers desire perfect drip coffee with the same fervor they do fancy espresso drinks—and are eager to re-create it in their own kitchens. McCormick says his secret is using a porcelain single-serve dripper—a ceramic gizmo that rests on top of the mug and holds a filter full of ground coffee. "I prefer this method over the French press, because the coffee comes out austere and clean. With a press, there are often residual grounds," he says. "At my shop I strive for consistency, but at home it's great to experiment and see what you like." Here, McCormick shares his five best home-brewing tips:

1. Buy newly roasted, whole beans

"Use whole beans that are no more than eight days past their roast date. Coffee roasters that are really on top of trends always label their beans with a roast date, so you know how old they are. Never start with preground beans—by the time you buy them, they've lost all the great coffee characteristics that they had in the first place."

2. Mind the grind

"A lot of people think it's important to have a fancy burr grinder, but at home I've always had success using an inexpensive blade grinder. That's what I use, and that's what my mom always used. Some roasters will tell you to grind your beans 'finer than sand,' but sand is different on every beach! I use Stinson Beach sand in San Francisco as a guide, but generally, I would say to use a grind that is just a little finer than kosher salt."

3. Prepare the dripper

"Start with a clean dripper, also called a filter holder. Use a porcelain size 4 coffee cone filter holder (available at Sweet Maria's)—plastic ones can leach chemicals when heated. The plastic versions are also often dark brown in color, so you can't tell if they've been properly cleaned. You should always preheat the dripper: Boil a pot of water, then let it cool for two or three minutes, until it is about 196 degrees—the temperature that gives you the best brewing results—and pour some through the dripper before adding the filter."

4. Consider airflow

"A size 4 dripper can hold both sizes 4 and 6 of conical-shaped unbleached filters, but I recommend using size 4 because there is a bit more space between to accommodate airflow. In addition, brew from the dripper into a mug that holds at least 10 ounces of liquid, or you won't have room for all of the coffee to drip."

5. "Bloom" the grounds before you brew

"For one cup of coffee, place about 8.5 tablespoons of coffee grounds in the filter. 'Bloom' the grounds by pouring five ounces of the 196-degree water slowly and delicately in a spiral over them, then let them sit for 25 to 30 seconds before pouring an additional 8.5 ounces of water in the same gentle, even spiral. Then let gravity do the work! A certain amount of water will remain in the grounds, depending on the age of the coffee. If you have to add more water, pour it directly into the center of the grounds so you do not disturb the sides, where impurities may have settled."

Published September 2008
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