When people find out I used to run my own cafés they naturally assume that I am a coffee enthusiast (true) and that I favour the espresso as my drink of choice (false). While it is true that I am a coffee enthusiast, I don’t consider myself a snob. The problem is that even the most basic conversation on good coffee quickly becomes too technical and, consequently, off-putting for most people. I have been guilty of this sin in the past. But this piece is my attempt at redemption.

There are several problems in trying to achieve a good cup of coffee. Notice how I don’t use the word “perfect". Where taste is concerned there can be no absolute ideal.

The first problem is mindset. For those of us brought up on spray-dried instant coffee or even chicory-rich filter coffee, it is hard to imagine that a good cup of coffee isn’t bitter. That the base notes are sweet. And that good coffee has subtleties that reveal themselves with the patience and perseverance of the drinker. Once you accept that good coffee is a cause worth pursuing, half the battle is won.

The next problem is that of availability. While the demand for better-than-instant has grown in India, it still doesn’t make sense for specialist roasters to be set up at every corner, source single-origin beans and courier 100g packs to customers. In an ideal world we would source fresh green beans and roast our own coffee. But, as I have discovered, getting even a half-decent roast at home involves specialized and expensive equipment and more time than someone with a full-time job can devote. Craft solutions for roasting coffee—like corn poppers or even stove-roasting—result in lifeless cups of joe.

I currently source my coffee from a roaster in Bangalore who supplied to my cafés earlier. Those without easy access to such a set-up could look to the aisles at the larger supermarket stores. Another option is to buy from the café chains themselves. In any case, look for a medium-roast and go from there. In no case should you buy pre-ground coffee. Grinding increases the surface area available for oxidation and things go downhill from there very quickly. Roasted whole beans are the absolute minimum we need for a cup that uplifts and refreshes.

Once the beans have been procured, there are four variables that affect the final brew. Master these and you should be on your way to great coffee. The first is quantity. By quantity we mean weight. Volume measures are too inexact for our needs. Get yourself a kitchen scale—one that can measure in 0.5g increments and which allows you to reset the “zero" by subtracting the container. Different methods use different amounts of coffee per cup. And changes in the other variables also affect the quantity needed. A simple Internet search should get you started, though.

The second variable is the grind size. So, the next thing we need is a grinder. More specifically, a burr grinder. One that crushes coffee beans uniformly between rotating planes—like a stone flour-mill—and doesn’t decimate them with blades. This, again, is an area of no compromise. Trust me on this.

The problem is that these just aren’t available in India. I use a $26.99 (around 1,675) Hario slim hand-operated grinder that my sister-in-law brought for me from the US. Try looking for that here and the only option I see is a 6,026 option (at www.zansaar.com/hario-skerton-hand-coffee-grinder-p-SALSP1925). Get that unless you have someone who can order it for you from a retailer abroad.

The third variable is temperature. As a general rule the higher the temperature the more the acid or bitter in the final brew. For this reason one of my favourite methods is cold brewing—200g of coarse-ground coffee beans stirred into 900ml of room-temperature water and then thrown in the fridge for 12 hours. Sieve through a cheesecloth and you have yourself a concentrate that gives you the cleanest, non-acidic coffee you have ever had. Make hot coffee by adding one part of this concentrate to one part boiling water or milk (protip: water). For cold coffee, use cold milk but I would recommend adding three tablespoons of condensed milk to 100ml of the concentrate and pouring over a tall glass filled with ice for a killer Vietnamese Iced Coffee. Get yourself a digital kitchen thermometer if you insist on precision with temperature.

The last variable is steeping time. The higher the temperature of water, the lower the time. A timer helps here. The one on your phone should do just fine.

And that’s it. With the basics in place, you are free to try different methods. Pour-overs are a good place to start. These involve pouring hot water over ground coffee in a filter and allowing the water to percolate down. Moka pots and vacuum pots use vapour pressure rather than gravity to move the water.

My daily staple is the AeroPress. I use a 6:1 blend of Arabica and Robusta at a medium roast and medium grind. Seventeen grams of coffee and 95 degrees Celsius water poured in three increments in an inverted Aeropress method (don’t ask). If that sounds too snobbish consider that this is my home set-up. At the office I drink three-four cups of Nescafé Gold instant coffee a day. And I’m happy.

Rajjat Gulati is assistant vice-president at an e-learning organization.

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