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Good coffee deserves good brewing!

Good brewwing is as important as the other critical components of a cup of good coffee. With the exception of brew-on-premises coffee bars, in the mold of Veneto's in Seattle and Coopers in New York, the out-of-home market is still subject to an awesome ocean of not very intelligently brewed coffee.

An intelligent brew is one that brings out all that the growers had in mind while they were pouring their souls into the stuff during the last year. Brewing practices must address this fundamental requirement by keeping the lid on out-of-home coffee to water brewing ratirios. The effort to produce more cups, of necessarily lesser taste, is the proposition of the old institutional roaster and OCS operator. We must avoid the debasing practice of drowning coffee. If we fall for this folly, as they did, it won't matter how much care we put into the blend or the roast, our corporate bones will lie with those of the other coffeesouri, in the La Brea Pits.

By now its axiomatic that better beans make better coffee. The mere fact that we all recognize that phrase means that both the low and the mighty have accepted the truth of the statement at last. So why is it so difficult to understand that better beans can't make the difference if the brewing recipe is all wrong.

During the 1950's, the Coffee Brewing Institute conducted a series of tests to determine if one brand of coffee could scientifically make a claim that it made more cups than one could claim greater potency and, hence, greater cup yield per pound. You would have thought that would have put a stop to lighter-than-air packages, but of course it did not.

In November, 1957 the Coffee Brewing Institute published a bulletin entitled, The Soluble Solids in Beverage Coffee as an Index to Cup Quality. "For the first time," wrote Dr. Ernest E. Lockheart, sdentific director of the Institute, "brewing procedures, brewing equipment, and the effects of water, timing, temperature, and almost any other factor that influences the quality of beverage except blend, could be studied and put into perspective."

The Coffee Hydrometer test for determining soluble solids in solution in a sample of coffee, described in the above publication, and in The Coffee Hydrometer, published in 1959, was a practical way to measure coffee beverage quality. It was a cumbersome exercise, required expensive equipment, and a set of conversion tables and graphs. Hydrometer testing never addressed whether the beverage tasted any good, but it was a beginning. It taught that the ideal cup (in terms of soluble solids) was brewed at 2.25 gallons of water to the pound of coffee. If you were young and impressionable, as I was at 12 years old, the lesson stuck.

In 1973, Ted Lingle, now executive director of the Specialty Coffee Association of America, developed an electronic device for ascertaining, fee beverages. The Coffee Conductivity Meter he invented is marketed by Presto-Tech, Los Angeles, California.

Brewing 4.57 gallons to the pound of coffee (yielding approximately 88/6-ounce servings) is what you are doing when you prepare 1.75 oz of coffee in a half-gallon bottle brewer. Sadly, this practice is common. I have seen pouches of 1.1 ounce or 7.28 gallons to the pound yielding 140/6ounce servings. Thirty years ago, Eugene Laughery of the Coffee Brewing Institute was voicing concern over the "national all time high of 64 cups to the pound." Laughery didn't know the half of what was coming.

Most specialty wholesalers still do not produce fractional weight coffee pouches. Many of those that do are divisions of larger institutional roasters who have the form and fill equipment that makes fractional weight packaging economic to produce. It is common to find specialty divisions selling a case of 80/2-ounce packages for bottle brewers. While this ratirio of 4 gallons of water to the pound (77/6-ounce servings) is better than the coffee standard we see in the above applications, it is a far cry from where proper brewing practice should be. As specialties continues to seek new friends in the institutional and foodservice field, the specialty roaster must not leave his scruples behind in his quest for fortune, and tonnage.

Much of specialty coffee's success in the foodservice arena is due to the installation of on-sight portion control grinders on the Grindmaster and Bum model, and the ground coffee dispensers on the Curtis type.

A 3.0 ounce charge yields a brew equal to 2.25 gallons to the pound when the brewer is set to throw 48 ounces of water. That's about right-- the same 3.0 ounces in 54 ounces of water increases the ratio to 2.75 gallons. At 60 ounces, the ratio is 2.75 gallons to the pound, and at 64 ounces, it is 2.92 gallons or 56/6-ounce servings.

Quality minded roasters today are packing 3-ounce fractional packages. There are some intrepid roasters, as Robert Farinon' s Eastern Coffee Co. in New York City, who continue to package fractional weight pouches of over 3.0 ounces for half-gallon brewers, but this is unusual.

Maintaining the 2.25 gallon ratio to the pound requires a charge of 9.0 ounces in a 1.5 gallon satellite brewer. You could adjust the water flow to 170 ounces and load with an 8-ounce charge of coffee. As in the old adage, "Don't raise the bridge. Lower the water," we can adjust the ratio by increasing/decreasing either the water or the amount of coffee used in the brew cycle of any brewer employed.

When you brew it right--no more than 2.25 gallons to the pound-- American style coffee is about 1.25% coffee essence. The rest is water. You can begin to see how important the character of the water you use is. For a short discussion on the importance of water quality see, Water: If you won't drink it, don't brew with it, by Shea Sturdivant, (Tea & Coffee, July 1990). For a more detailed report see, Water Quality Problems and Treatments, published by Specialty Coffee Association of America, (subject file: IV-C-2 Nov. 1991).

Speaking of beverage quality, as a matter of fact, if your coffee is brewing at under 2.25 ounces of coffee brewed in 64 ounces of water (3.81 gallons to the pound) you're probably better off forgetting about taste and just concentrating on price. When grounds are gasping for air in all that water, nothing can help them except a merciful burial at sea.

"Good Coffee Deserves Good Brewing," a slogan developed by the National Coffee Association at the close of the 1950's, meant nothing to coffee folks then. The coffee executives of that day paid for their lack of comprehension by spending the rest of their working lives watching coffee fade on the American scene, while they blamed their competitor for what they themselves were responsible.

The growing specialty trade must heed the call now. "Good Coffee Deserves Good Brewing!" It is possible that specialties may become the mainstream of the American coffee world in the coming years. The trade must remember the lessons of its roots in American culture. The learned lessons of the past 30 years are that people respond positively to folks who offer them honest coffee, honest coffee information, and coffee they enjoy buying and drinking.
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Author:Schoenholt, Donald N.
Publication:Tea & Coffee Trade Journal
Date:Mar 1, 1993
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