Kona Coffee Tasting

February 5, 2009 – 8:24 am

Several friends who normally add cream and sugar were content to drink it black.

A short time ago, I invited several friends over to join me in a little experiment.  The goal of the experiment was to taste the difference when a a high quality coffee is brewed in several different ways.  With the help of my friends, we were able to compare side by side a Drip Brew, the Technivorm Drip Brew, the Aeropress, and a French Press.  The coffee to be used was 100% Kona medium roast from a single farm, hand carried from Hawaii. 

Kona Cherry

The scientific method would have us change only a single variable between each brew method.  However, our plans were immediately disrupted upon realizing that each brew method also indicates a different grind coarseness.  Drat! How could we possibly evaluate, in a scientific way, the subjective reaction to a multivariate production process?  We’d wing it.

I know in the wine tasting world there is lengthy training in learning to describe how a wine tastes.  The same holds true in the Coffee world - “cupping”.   This includes a detailed description of taste, acidity, aftertaste, and body.  Originally, I planned to subject my friends to a detailed spreadsheet where they would be required to evaluate each brew method - but this seemed an onerous task for brunch.  So again, We’d wing it.  

Drip Brew

This is what most Americans use to brew coffee every morning. It’s easy to clean, it’s relatively fast, and the results can be pretty good. The main deficiency is precise water temperature control and distribution. My Cuisinart has a sprinkler-head type water distribution, but the temperature isn’t always perfect. It has served me faithfully for five years so far, and this morning was no exception. The resulting brew was smooth, rich, aromatic, and flavorful.

Cuisinart Drip Brew


The main thing my friends noted was the lack of an acidic bite. This is one of the characteristics of Kona - it’s relatively lower in acidic.

Technivorm

The Technivorm family of products solve the aforementioned problems with drip brew: temperature control and an even water distribution. The water goes into the upper chamber, and then is heated in the lower chamber. It cannot go up the pipe to the drip until it is at the exact temperature.

Technivorm Drip Brew


The drip head is like a rectangular sprinkler, distributing the water evenly.

Technivorm Brew Head

The end result: I was stunned by how much better this tasted. The smoothness was smoother, the richness was richer, every aspect of the flavor was just “better”. The downside of the Technivorm? It’ll set you back at least $250.

Aeropress
On the complete opposite end of the price spectrum we compared the $30 Aeropress, from the makers of the Aerobie flying disc. This simple method involves a single use filter at the bottom of a plastic tube for the coffee and hot water, and a plunger to press it all down into the cup. We boiled water, waited for it to cool to 185F, then poured it into the Aeropress and plunged!

Aeropress


The taste comparison was a hard call as it was a much darker, stronger brew than the drip due to a different grind and different proportions of coffee to water. You can’t really compare Drip Brew to an Espresso brew directly (apples and oranges). I can say it tasted as good as any home made espresso I’ve ever had. Many of my friends were surprised at the high quality of the brew. And the cleanup is a snap: just plunge the ‘puck’ into the trash and rinse the whole thing in the sink. You can make Americano coffee with the Aeropress as well - just by diluting the pressed coffee.

French Press
Lastly we tried the age-old, simple French Press. The results here were as expected: really great. If you like coffee from a French Press, even the most precise machine will have a hard time matching the simple elegance. (The Aeropress came close in my opinion.) I did not get a photo of the French Press in action, so you might want to check out the Wikipedia article if you haven’t seen one before.

French Press Wikipedia

Summary
The fact that the same coffee can taste so drastically different when brewed by dripping water through it, or pressing water through it, or letting it soak in water, is nothing short of amazing to me. Yes, the chemistry is all science, but the effect of that chemistry on your tongue is totally subjective. What you like in Coffee is up to you, but I hope that doesn’t prevent you from exploring the other ways coffee can be consumed.

Oh, and does anyone have a Clover they’d like to loan me?

  1. 7 Responses to “Kona Coffee Tasting”

  2. Hey. I am not the coffee lover you are, but…I am going to Kenya in April. If you are interested I can send you some directly from the source. Just let me know. From what I understand the coffee from there is amazing.

    By Denise on Feb 5, 2009

  3. That would be fantastic! Kenyan is one of my favorite single origin coffees (along with coffe from Ethiopia and Sumatra). Have a great trip!

    By Chad on Feb 5, 2009

  4. Dude, I think the closest clover to you might be the one at the drum hill rotary Starbuxx in Chelmsford. If you go to their website, you can get a list of locations.

    By MikeA on Feb 5, 2009

  5. I have to place my vote for the Technivorm, that was some great brew. The french press was a very close second. In all honesty the coffee was so incredibly good that all of the preparations far exceeded the average coffee drinking experience. I was really surprised by how very different they all tasted, though.

    By Shannon on Feb 5, 2009

  6. I had a great time. I am glad I crashed the coffee tasting! My favorite was the Technivorm. I’m glad you put the name, because I would have never guessed that! The coffee from the “plunger” was about the strongest coffee I’ve had. It make you grow hair on your chest! I had to give my coffee to Jason :-) Looking forward to the next tasting!

    By Claudina on Feb 5, 2009

  7. hm, i dont like the coffee too much expect cappuccino but im going to try this one any day

    By Security Garage Doors on Apr 12, 2009

  8. I am a great fan of a real cup of coffee, I always use a French press and am quiet happy to let the coffee draw while easing the press down, but this post has given me some food for though, I would like to try some of the other options, but I’m not sure if I would like to spend the money involved for an experiment.

    By Neil on Apr 14, 2009

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