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Data, A Coffee Story: How To Make The Perfect Cup

My recipe is taken from my new book, Data, A Love Story: How I Gamed Online Dating to Meet My Match (Dutton/ Penguin 2013). Coffee plays a big role in the narrative.

Prep
Cook
Serves 1person
Ingredients
coffee grinder
measuring spoons
kitchen thermometer
kitchen timer
1
chopstick, disposable, bamboo preferred
any three different types of whole coffee beans
boiling water
notebook and pen, or a blank spreadsheet on your tablet or laptop
your favorite coffee mug
french press with a new, clean mesh filter
Directions
1.
Making the perfect cup of coffee is all about matching the flavor profile and texture to your individual palate. Therefore, in order to create the perfect cup of coffee for you, we need to experiment. It’s time to collect some data!
2.
To prepare your notebook or spreadsheet, make columns for each of the following: coffee brand, roast (dark, espresso, light), coffee volume, water volume, time, and tasting notes.
3.
Get all of your equipment ready. Prepare a kettle to boil water to between 190–205°F. If you are using an Instahot tap on your sink, do a quick test to learn the average temperature of your hot water. If it’s under 190°F, you’ll need to heat it more. If it’s over 205°F, allow it to cool to within the temperature range.
4.
As the water heats, remove the lid and plunger from your French press. Fill the press, along with your coffee mug, with enough hot water to heat both. This water can be outside of the 190–205°F range. Your goal is to heat and prepare your press for the coffee mixture and your mug for the finished coffee. Swirl the hot water around and then let it rest as you proceed to the next step.
5.
Prepare to grind your coffee beans, but don’t grind them just yet! Select the first type of whole beans and mark down the brand and roast in your notes. At this point, you need to decide on a volume baseline to use in your mixture, and you also need to decide what size to grind your beans. As it turns out, grind size matters more than the amount of coffee used. You’ll want to make absolutely sure to get a coarse, but uniform, particle distribution within the water you’re about to add. Take a moment to grind a quarter handful of beans. Do they look uniform and coarse enough so that they’ll rest on top of the mesh screen but won’t cause it to clog? If not, make adjustments. You may also consider investing in an electric burr grinder, which is a bit more expensive than a conventional grinder but does the job extremely well.
6.
Once you’ve settled on a grind, prepare just enough beans to yield approximately 3 Tbsp. of ground coffee. By this point, your kettle should be boiling, or you should be ready and able to get the properly heated water out of your Instahot.
7.
Now, pour the water that’s currently in your French press and coffee mug into the sink. Depending on the size of your press, you’ll need more or less coffee. I like one heaping Tbsp. per 5 oz. of water for darker roasts, and about 1 1/2 heaping Tbsp. of coffee per 5 oz. of water for lighter roasts. Whichever you choose, mark down the volume in your notes.
8.
Important note: Only make as much coffee as you want to consume within 10 minutes. You don’t want French press coffee hanging around in the pot. It will over extract and gradually gain acidity, and will taste worse the longer it sits.
9.
Slowly pour 5 oz. of hot water over the coffee grounds in your French press. You’ll find that at this point, the coffee starts to float and maybe even froth on the surface of the water. That’s okay.
10.
Using the chopstick, stir the beans and water very, very gently so that the beans are distributed through the carafe. I recommend a bamboo chopstick, because it won’t interfere with the flavor of the coffee. If you use a spoon or butter knife, you’ll notice more metallic and acidic notes than you’ll probably like. Do not cover the press at this point. Allow the coffee grounds to bloom. Set a timer for 4 minutes. During the brewing period, the coffee grounds will froth and combine into a hard layer.
11.
At the 3 1/2 minute mark, skim the top layer of the coffee grounds off very gently. You can use the same chopstick or even a plastic spoon. Now, affix the French press plunger and filter into place and using slow, steady pressure, press the plunger all the way down. Allow the sediment to settle at the bottom of the French press.
12.
Slowly pour yourself a cup of coffee, into which I trust you’re not adding any milk, sugar, or other adulterants. By this point, it should be close to the right drinking temperature, so take a few sips, but definitely don’t drink any more. There’s more work to be done!
13.
How does this first cup of coffee taste? On a scale of 1–10, how acidic is it? How bitter is it? Can you taste any other subtle flavors, like citrus or chocolate? Mark down all of your taste experiences in your notebook or spreadsheet. There are three variables you can test further: water ratio, steeping time, and coffee bean (and obviously some additional variables within that last category, such as roasts, brands, and grinds). Now, repeat the process by adjusting and testing only one variable at a time. Then try the other two coffee beans. Keep experimenting and repeating until you find the perfect coffee flavor, balance, and texture for you.

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