Geekiness is all the rage these days. Every dog has its day, as they say; but with Revenge of the Nerds and Devo opening the door almost 40 years ago, this peer group is here to stay. Look no further than the success of "The Big Bang Theory" and the remake of "Cosmos" for proof.
When it comes to culinary arts, the term geek seems to get replaced by "foodie." In either case, it seems to describe anyone who takes considerably more than a casual interest in a subject.
There is no lack of geek appeal when it comes to coffee, as any brewing process that takes a little more effort than sticking a cartridge in a slot (drip brewing aside), can be seen as having cachet. Using a vacuum brewer or French press vindicates the proud belief that the brewmaster is in full control of his or her craft, and therefore is to be revered and admired for exhibiting the skill and determination required to extract the perfect cup.
Variations in brewing have been around since coffee first left Yemen. Some are too impractical for anyone but the highest rank of foodies: cold-brewing for example. If you have a specialty store and wish to serve iced coffee using this method, there may be some justification for this brewing method, but for day-to-day consumption, the resulting brew lacks some of the finer aroma and flavor intricacies of a hot brewed coffee. Smooth, but not stellar.
For a good source of information on how to cold-brew, and proof of how complex one can make the brewing process, just go to americastestkitchenfeed.com and search for "cold brew coffee."
Space does not allow us to look at every brewing method ever devised, so let's focus on and examine some of the top favorites; I'll pass along my personal thoughts on each. I say "personal" because coffee taste perceptions are always subjective, and you will need to try all of these approaches (and perhaps others) to truly find your inner geek.
French Press. You may well have tried this method, as it is widely used, and a great way to make coffee while off camping in the deep woods. The French press contains a metal mesh filter screen that plunges coffee grounds through hot water, and traps them at the bottom of a carafe shaped to snugly hold the mesh filter against all sides so that no grounds remain in the brew. Medium- to coarse-ground coffee is needed so as not to clog the mesh.
This method is quite quick and simple although removing the spent grounds can be a messy challenge if you do not believe in throwing solids down the sink drain. Many people rave about the resultant brew from this method, although I personally do not enjoy the chalky sediment that remains in the coffee. It does brew up a nice smooth cup, but I am not fond of the chewiness.
Vacuum Method. A visually outstanding method of brewing, this may well be the ultimate coffee geek's dream, as it melds a bit of science into the brewing process. Vacuum brewing also results in a very nice cup.
It is not overly difficult to use, and is actually quite an old brewing technique first patented in the early 1800s. There are horizontal as well as vertical versions of this brewing device, and I actually bought a horizontal unit for my dad many years ago as a gift. (I think it was used twice).
The vertical style consists of a glass globe/carafe below and a second glass globe above, with a rubber stopper in between to hold the two together.
Grounds start on top, with the water in the bottom chamber. When the lower carafe is heated, the expansion of the water vapor forces the hot water up through the stopper/filter into the top chamber, where it puts the grounds into suspension. Once removed from the heating element, the vapor cools, creating a vacuum that draws the water back down into the bottom carafe. Voilà, you have a wonderful presentation and a resultant clean, smooth brew.
I love this method, but with two carafes comes double the cleanup, and there is still a good wait for your beverage. It's wonderful for dinner parties but not practical enough for a quick morning cup.
Aeropress. This little beauty is a recent creation, and seems to take some features from both the French press and the vacuum system. It uses two chambers à la the vacuum method, and a plunger similar to the French press. It differs in the placement of a filter between the chambers and the introduction of air between the plunger and the actual liquid and grounds, so you get a nice, drier bed of spent grounds than the French press, and so a bit more straightforward cleanup.
I have not used mine long enough, nor often enough, to speak to the longevity of this device, but I do like the resulting brew very much.
In this day and age of "quicker is better" and the potential for mediocrity inherent in that belief, it can be enjoyable and rewarding to try alternative ideas, if only to better understand the passion in others. After all, it is in the journey, not the destination, that most of the enjoyment lies.
An operator who experiments with things like the above mentioned, and does some show-and-tell with them for his salesforce, can develop a certain confidence that aids in qualifying his or her company as expert, and might appeal to the one or two coffee geeks in a location to whom everyone turns for advice on coffee. Get them on your side, and you can spur sales and improve account retention.
KEVIN DAW is president of Heritage Coffee Co. (London, ON, Canada), a private-label roaster serving the breaktime management industries. A 30-year veteran of OCS, water delivery and vending operations, he has concentrated on coffee roasting for the past two decades.