Brew a Better Cup of Life
Updated: Feb 20
It's a Monday.
The alarm goes off, you groggily roll over to silence the shrieking box of light on your nightstand, and reluctantly rise to start the day. You get a shower, get dressed, and rummage through the fridge for something to eat.
Then you look at your watch. Uh oh. If you don't leave soon, you'll be late! But you haven't had your coffee!
Perhaps, just this once, you could go without. Instantly, your caffeine dependent brain screams in protest; "Give us the hot bean juice!"
Yielding to your tired brain, you start brewing a pot of coffee. As you continue to prep for your day, the house gradually fills with the robust and sweet aromas of coffee beans as the coffee pot slowly fills drip by drip with your liquid salvation.
Smiling with anticipation, you pour yourself a mug, inhale deeply, take a sip, and....
It's bitter. Burnt. The exact opposite of what the aromas in the air led you to believe what this would taste like. How could it be so different?
Grimacing, you sip anyway. It's not the best, but it gets the job done. right?
What a dangerous mindset that can be. It sacrifices the possibility of something better for something expedient. While it's true that fast-brew coffee will kick your tired brain into high gear, those burnt grounds aren't enjoyable. Drip coffee has become the cornerstone of early and late risers alike, but there are other tastier and sweeter ways that would produce a brew much closer in taste to those delectable coffee shop aromas permeating your home every morning. Ways that take more time and planning.
Enter cold brew! Here's the catch. Instead of having a cup of go juice on demand, you have to pre-brew the blend at least a day in advance...
And that's the interesting part, isn't it? We all long for quality. But when we realize we have to invest time and energy into making something of quality...we balk!
Anything that requires an investment of time is fled from as one flees from being bound by a large chain.
Because, that's how long term investment seems to be viewed through the modern lens. As a chain.
"Do I have to start my coffee brewing process a day in advance? Why can't I just use the drip coffee? It's so much easier". A valid question for sure, and style of coffee brew ultimately relies upon the preferences of the drinker. But for the purposes of this elaborate metaphor, let us assume, for this scenario, that our sleepy protagonist is repulsed by the bitter nature of his drip coffee and truly desires something sweeter.
His unwillingness to forgo having a mug of steamed arabica tells us something telling about him; He highly values having coffee be a part of his morning routine. And if that is the case, despite the protagonists discomfort at devoting extra time to this ritual, doesn't the value placed upon the ritual by his unwillingness to forgo it, demand a certain level of attention? That is, if our protagonist wishes to have a sweeter cup of coffee, he is, in a sense, compelled to devote time and resources to making a cup of coffee that meets his raised standards.
Standards that a last minute brew of drip-coffee no longer fulfill.
Speaking of standards, and how each type of coffee may live up to or fall short of the taste preferences of the drinker, why is cold brew coffee so much sweeter than traditional drip? Why is it worse to be hot, rather than not?
The answer is fascinating, and also delves into some heady chemistry while revealing a really neat philosophical concept. Hold on!
When comparing hot brew and cold brew coffee, let us consider what it is we are trying to do with coffee beans; Ultimately, we desire to extract certain compounds from ground-up coffee beans and to dissolve these compounds within water to create a solution that wakes us up in the morning, so how we go about this is important because each brewing technique produces a different coffee, each with their own unique chemical and flavor profile.
To avoid an overly bitter tasting coffee, the bulk of this secret lies within the roasting of the coffee bean, which is outside of the brewing process, but is where a bean can be turned bitter or not so bitter. Chemically, the characteristically bitter flavor of coffee can be largely (but not solely) attributed to two chemicals:
3-caffeoylquinic-1, 5-lactone and 4-caffeylquinic-1, 5-lactone.
Curiously, these compounds aren't found within unroasted beans. Only through the process of roasting do they form. Generally, the longer and darker the roast, the more bitter the coffee will taste due to it having more of the bitter molecules.
Let's briefly return to our groggy protagonist. For our purposes, let us assume that our friend has chosen a light to medium roast to minimize the levels of bitter molecules found within the roasted beans. Now, lets brew. The brewing process is the final step that will determine flavor, and we have already established that hot brew coffee tends to be more bitter.
But why is that?
In any chemical reaction, the addition of energy to that reaction will usually speed it along. We've already seen this with the formation of the bitter molecules within beans during the roasting process. In the brewing process, this involves the extraction and dissolution of chemical compounds within water, so fundamentally this is a chemical reaction, as the roasting was, which means the addition of heat, via the hot water in a hot brew process, will affect the process.
Concerning hot brew coffee, the addition of heat specifically speeds along the oxidation of molecules generally responsible for the sweet flavor of coffee, such as Quinic Acid and Trigonelline.
So, how is cold brew different? Well, all the same molecules are there. The only difference is that this time, all the molecules must slowly dissolve into solution, rather than being hastily sped along by heat. When this is done over a 12-24 hr period, a fascinating thing happens. As the water is cold, the bitter molecules less readily dissolve in the water. As a matter of a fact, as beans are coarsely ground in a cold brew, rather than finely ground, the combined effect of lessened surface area and colder solvent results in most of those bitter molecules staying locked within the beans! Plus, remember Quinic Acid and Trigonelline? The "sweet" molecules? These guys are rather unstable, and can quickly break down into less-than-sweet molecules in a hot brew. Like, within five minutes. There's a reason people always ask for a fresh pot of coffee at a diner.
To sum it up, the hot brew process gives you a drink loaded with unstable molecules that readily break down into smaller, more bitter molecules that make you grimace, wheres the cold brew process does a better job at keeping those bitter molecules locked away in the bean ground long enough to let sweeter molecules have a chance to dissolve and brighten your day.
A little more time and effort can give you a coffee that better meets your expectations upon smelling the sweet smells of brewing coffee.
More time and effort results in higher quality A principle not limited to the brewing of coffee; rather, one that can and should be applied to every day of our lives.
If I barely give any time or attention to my significant other, how much longer do you think they'll want to be with me? If the only time I devote to studying for a class is filled with distractions and a half-focused mind, how can I expect results that aren't the same? We all want timeless and hardy friendships, old looking stuff that has a story to tell, and a life worth living but we're unwilling to endure the hardships for the experiences...unwilling to let the shiny paint get a little scuffed...too scared that the choices we've made have knocked us from the yellow brick road of success into the roadside ditch of despair. More on that in my next article. Until then, I'll leave you with this thought; Like brewing coffee, building a life requires patience, effort, and vigilance.
So, you've got quite the story in front on you. Take it at the pace of a chapter a day.