Create your best cup of coffee with these tips.
WRITTEN BY CHRISTINA NELLEMANN
PHOTOS BY CANDICE VIVIEN
Mark Hirose, owner at Magpie Coffee Roasters in Reno, uses the Chemex coffee maker at his coffee shop
From cowboy to cold brew, there are as many ways to make a cup of coffee as there are beans in a bag. You might not be able to fully replicate your favorite coffeehouse experience, with its distinctive sights, sounds, and smells, but with a few tips from local coffeehouse owners, you can create an excellent cup of coffee at home.
Down to basics
While it’s tempting to spend a paycheck or two on the best Breville espresso maker, great coffee comes down to three basic factors: time, temperature, and pressure.
“You have to have the right equipment to control those things,” says Jake Wartgow, owner of DST Coffee. “I think the thing that needs to be understood is that coffee can be a little simpler than it looks.”
The Downtown Gardnerville building that houses DST Coffee and The Creamery ice cream shop is decorated with coveted blue Nevada license plates. Owned by fourth-generation Nevada siblings Amanda and Jake Wartgow, the shop gets its beans from Old World Coffee Lab in Reno.
Wartgow emphasizes control and consistency. He recommends that when brewing coffee at home, you should find the recipe, equipment, and timing you like, and then tweak it. He adds that your schedule might also dictate your style of joe.
“How much time do you want to spend making your coffee in the morning?” he asks. “The slower methods such as the Italian stovetop moka pot or even Turkish coffee are great, but what I do recommend for people is a French press because you can control (the time, temperature, and pressure) without having such expensive equipment. You can also batch brew French press coffee for larger groups.”
So why does your home brew just not quite taste the same as the cup served at your local coffeehouse?
“Coffee can come out so differently because you are using different temperatures of water, different grind sizes, and different coffee-to-water ratios, so you are going to get different extractions,” says Mark Hirose, owner of Magpie Coffee Roasters in Reno.
Hirose adds that water quality is key to coffeehouse beverages. Magpie uses a reverse-osmosis filter for its coffee made from a range of Latin American, African, and Indonesian beans. Magpie’s powerful espresso machine uses nine bars of pressure within 20 to 30 seconds to extract as much flavor from the beans as possible. This is the equivalent of 130 pounds of pressure per square inch.
Duplicating this process at home might not be entirely possible, but it’s also not necessary. Hirose recommends using any equipment you want but making sure that the filtered water is kept between 195 to 205 degrees Fahrenheit. Water that is too hot will extract the beans too quickly and create a bitter coffee, too cold and the coffee will be weak and sour. Hirose adds that the ideal brew time is between 2.5 and 4.5 minutes.
At home, Hirose likes to use a Bonavita brewer, and when traveling he uses an AeroPress. When making coffee for several people, he prefers the Chemex, a stylish glass carafe with a wooden necktie that dates back to the 1940s.
“It’s really a beautiful piece of equipment,” Hirose says. “The Chemex is in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art (in New York City), which is pretty cool. The Bonavita is automatic and take a lot of the guesswork out of the coffee-making process.
“Coffee is similar to wine in that the best way to drink those drinks is the way you like them,” Hirose adds. “Every coffee has its place in time. Sometimes you want a really murky diner coffee with cream and sugar added to it. Sometimes you want a lighter, more floral African coffee, where the bean speaks for itself.”
There doesn’t seem to be one superior way to brew coffee at home. The key seems to be to have fun and experiment. Try a different-sized grind, a new piece of equipment, a specialty blend, or unusual ingredients. Some experiments can literally be revolutionary.
Holla for café de olla
Café de olla (pronounced “oya”) was born during the Mexican Revolution in 1910. This fragrant coffee is brewed with various equipment but receives its seductive flavors from tea water infused with orange peel, cinnamon, star anise, cloves, and piloncillo (panela), a block of unrefined cane sugar. The tea water is traditionally made over an open flame in a cured clay pot called an olla.
Miguel Morales, co-owner of Mexican restaurant Plaza Maya and its adjoining bar and breakfast/lunch café, The Lounge @ Plaza Maya, on Wells Avenue in Reno, says both of his eateries serve café de olla during their breakfasts. Morales orders his beans from Reno’s Warrior Roasters (see related story) and Wood-Fire Roasted Coffee Co. and is working on a signature blend with Wood-Fire.
“Typically, the roasts from the Latin American region are lighter to medium, and we try to keep it as authentic as possible for the café de olla,” Morales says.
Plaza Maya’s adjoining gift shop, Luna, sells olla pots for home brewing. Morales suggests using the olla or any pot or kettle to steep the cinnamon and other ingredients for about two hours. Let the liquid cool and preserve it in a glass jar to use as the water base for coffee.
“It’s very warming and an overall comfort drink, and you get the nice coffee flavors that complement the orange and cinnamon,” Morales says. “We are trying to take over Reno with our café de olla.”
On a cool Nevada day, writer Christina Nellemann was transported to a warm village in Mexico while sipping a cup of café de olla at Plaza Maya.
Mark Hirose suggests this site for coffee-brewing ideas and recipes: Brewmethods.com
Magpie Coffee Roasters
Find Plaza Maya on Facebook