Just as there are some people who are happy drinking wine that comes out of a box, there are people who are happy drinking the rotgut that emerges from typical office machine.

Even so, a truly excellent cup of coffee rarely fails to make someone's morning a little brighter. It's Christmas Eve. If you and your staff are working, you've got one last day to dole out a little holiday cheer. Do something nice for them. My suggestion? Make them a great cup of coffee. They'll appreciate the caffeine upgrade--and they'll also thoroughly enjoy the fact that you, the boss, are serving them.

This post explains how to make great office coffee. It's separated into two parts: some facts about coffee that you ought to know before you start, followed by step-by-step instructions.

The Facts

  • Coffee is naturally sweet. Contrary to popular belief, coffee is naturally sweet not bitter. The bitterness comes not from the coffee, but rather from storing the coffee incorrectly and preparing it badly.
  • Good coffee needs no additives. People feel the need for sweeteners and whiteners because they're starting with bad coffee. It's like pouring Sprite into vinegary wine to make it drinkable.
  • Coffee is as variable as wine. Coffees from different parts of the world (indeed from different fields in the same area) have very different flavors--as unique and identifiable as the different varieties of wine.  Those nuances disappear when you add chemicals and milk products.

The Recipe

1. Buy fresh-roasted beans. Coffee becomes bitter (and loses its natural sweetness) when it's exosed to the air after roasting, which causes an increase in the amount of tannin.

Ideally, you want your beans to have been roasted within a couple of weeks of making the coffee. As a general rule, this means buying from a roastery (even if by mail) rather than a supermarket.  I buy my coffee from A&E Coffee Roastery, but you should try to find a local one.

2. Store the beans in an airtight container. Again, the idea is to limit the amount of contact with the air so that the coffee remains sweet.

3. Grind the beans immediately before brewing. The main reason that store-bought and kiosk-bought coffee is so awful is that it's been ground days, even weeks or months (!) ahead of time.  That geometrically increases the contact between the air and the coffee, virtually guaranteeing a pot of got-to-be-latte-to-be-drinkable sewage.

4. Use brewing implements made of glass.  When you brew coffee, the residue quickly goes bitter, and if you're brewing with plastic, it's impossible to clean the residue completely without scoring the plastic, which then retains more residue.

Don't believe me?  Pull out the basket of the brewing machine at work and run a paper towel around the grooves.  The skid mark on the towel is the gunk you're drinking when you brew with plastic.

Unlike with plastic, you can clean ALL the residue off of glass implements. That's why I recommend the Chemex method.

5. Brew in small quantities.  Coffee should be consumed immediately after brewing. The longer it sits in the pot, the more the tannins take over the flavors. Reheating coffee is a mistake; it never tastes quite right.

6. Store in a glass thermos. Microwaving coffee to heat it up completely ruins the flavore. If you absolutely MUST store brewed coffee, you can put it in a thermos and it will remain drinkable for 3-4 hours. If possible, use a thermos that has a glass interior rather than a metal one, because metal ones can't be cleaned as thoroughly.

If the above sounds like I'm a bit of snobby, it's probably because, well, I'm a coffee snob. On the other hand, I'm perfectly happy to drink wine that comes out of a box.

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