A long time ago, someone decided we should grind coffee, and that’s the way it’s been done ever since. During my life, I’ve probably tasted 10,000 cups of coffee and every single one of those preparations began with grinding roasted coffee beans. But, what if 3,000 years ago the person who first ground coffee steered us wrong?
The truth is, grinders don’t do anything to improve the flavor of coffee—they just break roasted beans into smaller pieces so they will brew more quickly. The best grinders are simply the ones that do the least amount of damage to coffee’s flavor in the process. Damage can be done in two ways:
- Heat from grinding can degrade the flavor of coffee through oxidation (oxidation is the same process that turns apples brown or causes metal to rust) or
- The grinder can create particles with inconsistent size, which then extract at different rates.
When the particles extract at different rates, you get sour flavors from under extraction and bitter flavors from over extraction. Those off-flavors are created by grinding, and are actually a big part of what we perceive as the inherent bitterness of coffee. This is sort of like if you burned steak every time you cooked it and then came to believe that steak itself tasted burnt instead of understanding burnt-ness as a byproduct of a process and not the ingredient.
The best, smoothest cups of coffee are usually made from coffee ground in an expensive grinder that creates consistently sized particles and produces little heat. But even the best grinders aren’t perfect, so why do we use them at all? We use them because they greatly increase the speed of the brewing process. Until today, I assumed that we always grind coffee because whole beans simply won’t extract their flavor into water, or at best, that it would take an entire day to brew a cup of coffee using whole beans.
But now, I know better. I’m enlightened. My mind has been expanded. I’ve walked on the coals and not been singed because I am pure of heart. Today, I learned that you can brew coffee using whole beans, without a grinder, and create a delicious, amazing cup in just an hour.
This is the truth: when we sat around in the Good Folks roastery and drank our first cup of coffee brewed from unground beans, we didn’t really know what to say. Zach took a drink and then just looked at his cup in silence. Matt said “this was great…right?.” I took three sips before stomping my foot on the ground and shouting “WOOO!” like I’d scored a touchdown. And right now, we have a lot of ideas, but I can’t say how we will fully leverage this realization to learn more about coffee and to provide better coffee for our customers. What I can do is tell you how to do this at home, so you can try for yourself:
RECIPE: Grinderless Brewed Coffee
Ingredients and Equipment:
- Water, heated to boiling
- Small sauce pot
- 1 pint Mason Jar
- Whole bean coffee (Our first delicious experiment was with our Colombian lot from Enodth Paz Mosquera, which is currently on sale.)
- Fill mason jar with coffee to the 3 oz level using the tick marks on the side of the jar.
- Add 1 cup of hot water. If you use tick marks on the side, get the water level to one cup taking note that the coffee beans will float slightly above the water level.
- Place the mason jar inside the sauce pot and then fill pot with more hot water to match the water level of the jar. Place pot on the stove and keep at a bare simmer (start with 50% heat on the stove and lower or raise if necessary) for one hour.
- Carefully remove jar from water using tongs or a towel, then slowly pour brewed coffee into a cup, leaving the spent (and now much darker) beans behind.
- Taste a truly unique and amazing cup of coffee and share with your friends.