Confessions of a Recovering Coffee Snob

By Matthew Abel


Full disclosure: I used to be a coffee snob.

Fuller disclosure:  This tells you coffee snobbery is a roller coaster, it’s a process wherein depending upon your drinking habit people will find you overbearing, haughty, adorable, or insane.

The term as I use it lay on this side of obsession.  I was almost there, obsessing.  A Chemex brewer was in my shopping cart and I only needed to click “Finalize” before I realized what trouble I was in.

It all started as these things usually do with an actual cup of coffee.  For years good coffee solely meant fresh coffee.  Several summers working at a state park and drinking coffee made hours ago via drip machine had ruined my senses.  Until they were awoken by a cup of hot joe brewed solely for me.

Well brewed coffee is a revelation.  Made with quality beans, ground to appropriate size, brewed with filtered water at the correct temperature and the drink changes from black bitterness drunk solely to awaken (sometimes solely via taste buds, ignoring caffeine altogether) to a complex flavored brew in competition with wine (there are over 800 flavor-affecting compounds in coffee, compared to around 100 for wine).  Well-brewed coffee has no bitter tang, no muddy aftertaste.  It has a slightly sweet underlying flavor, tempered by the acidity.

Of course, once I’d had real coffee I couldn’t go back!  Return to the urn?  Doubtful.  I even scoffed at the Starbucks folks with their corporate joe and their burned beans.  Ha!  What did THEY know about coffee?  I had leapfrogged the corporate stage of snobbery and jumped right into the small coffeehouse stage!

And, inevitably, I moved on to homebrew.Confessions of a Coffee Snob

To make coffee at home – the best coffee – is to grow your knowledge in alchemy.  First you realize you should grind your own beans.  Once ground, the raw product quickly loses flavor.  So, you grind only when brewing.  But how?  A French Press?  A single cupper?  Water for coffee should be between 195 and 205 degrees and you start temp-ing your water. For a standard cup, you need two tablespoons (1/8 cup) of grounds so you measure that.  You measure the water.

You slowly go mad.

Your coffee, which could normally be blearily poured from a giant carafe now requires you to be fully awake and ready to brew at 3am so you can enjoy your 6am cup.

I used to be a coffee snob.

Well, after a while you realize the twenty dollar blade grinder you bought is garbage.  So you start looking for a burr grinder to regulate your grind size.  Your plastic single cup brewer loses heat, so you invest in ceramic.  The kettle on the stove is picking up slight burnt notes so you get an electric kettle.  The small footprint of the drip machine has been replaced with glass tubes and Bunsen burners as you perfect your recipe.  Your time has shrunk, the cup can be brewed with maximum efficiency.

But are you getting a slight dead grass flavor during sip 17?  And is there just a milligram too much sludge remaining on the bottom?  To the lab!

I researched all the methods.  I scoffed at Keurigs with their littering cups, laughed at people who said they liked “good coffee” when all they did was buy their own beans.  I’d moved past snobbery, perhaps.  This was not a good place.

Walking my daughter, my eyes bleary from a long morning of producing three ounces of java, I saw it.  It was three dollars, sold out of a woman’s yard.

A drip machine.

I used to be a coffee snob.  Now?  I brew twelve cups on Monday and it lasts me to Wednesday.

Life’s too short.  If I want good coffee I’ll pay someone else to make it.