The Perfect Cup of Coffee

Monday January 10, 2011 I sit here trying to glean inspiration from a few of the books in the BPS library (‘The Perfect Cup’ by Timothy James Castle, ‘The Professional Barista’s Handbook’ by Scott Rao, and ‘Uncommon Grounds’ by Mark Pendergrast), I begin to ponder ‘just what is the perfect cup of coffee?’.  I consider myself moderately geeky when it comes to coffee.  I like to experiment with different brew methods, different coffees, and I’ve started dabbling with roasting at home.  So, when pondering what the perfect cup of coffee is, my mind immediately starts with the basics: clean equipment, quality coffee/water, grind, how much coffee, etc.  As Pendergrast states:


‘Despite all the mystique and hoopla, brewing a good cup of coffee is relatively simple.  Grind recently roasted whole beans….Bring cold, pure water to a near boil.  Let the not-quite boiling water remain in contact with the ground coffee at the proper ratio-2tbsp of coffee per 6 oz. water- for four or five minutes.  Pour the filtered coffee into your cup….Drink immediately.  Sigh contentedly.’



However, he does go on to say:


‘I have to admit there are finer points that true coffee aficionados can (and do) discuss endlessly….God help you if you want to read about espresso, which is treated as if it were an esoteric art best performed by Leonardo da Vinci on speed.’


Funny stuff.  I admit that I can get caught up in the minutia of brewing and tasting; it’s fun (really!).  But, where does that leave us?  With so many variables and miniscule tweaks, finding the perfect cup seems like a daunting and even unattainable task sometimes. 


It gets better.  Who’s to say my idea of the perfect cup is your idea of the perfect cup.  I recently took my non-geeky sister to one of my favorite local coffee shops.  She ordered a vanilla, honey, cinnamon latté and told me later that it was the best cup of coffee she had ever had.  My immediate reaction to her statement was ‘What?! That’s not a cup of coffee!’.  Don’t get me wrong.   That latté was made with real honey, real cinnamon, a high quality brand of vanilla syrup, coffee roasted fresh on premises, and prepared by a barista who is crazy good at texturing milk.  It was mighty tasty, but my idea of a ‘cup of coffee’ was different.  I’m not going to pull the purist act and turn my nose up at a flavored latté.  I enjoy developing recipes and strive to keep up to date on the latest and greatest flavors and products, but I usually group those creations into the specialty drinks/beverage category (not ‘cup of coffee’).  Specialty drinks are creative, delicious ways for a coffee shop to distinguish itself and appeal to one of the largest segments of coffee drinking folks.  That’s right, coffee drinking folks.  My sister’s comment, and my subsequent reaction, was a light bulb moment.  The perfect cup of coffee is truly subjective, and not limited to espresso or ‘black’ coffee (milk and sugar with that?).


You may say tomato while I say tomahto, but I’ll raise my mug of Ethiopian Amaro Gayo (brewed in a pour over, no cream and sugar) and happily say ‘Cheers to diversity and to all you coffee drinking peeps….whatever your favorite cup may be!’.   


Have your own idea about what the perfect cup is and want to share?  Email me

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