My marriage comes with perks, starting first thing in the morning when my wife brews a robust cup of coffee. She fills a Melitta filter with a small mountain, a mini Vesuvius, of ground beans.
Her habit costs less than if she were a chain smoker—and probably with fewer eventual medical complications—but it’s nonetheless substantial.
It also seems to me that she could make just as excellent a cup of coffee—providing sufficient buzz to get her out of bed and through the morning—with half the beans.
Since she isn’t interested in my advice, I decided to enlist the support of the baristas at Blue Bottle, an artisanal Oakland, Calif., coffee company with seven locations in New York City.
They take coffee seriously, perhaps slightly too seriously. But I visited their Chelsea cafe Thursday afternoon with one purpose: to learn the proper amount of coffee it takes to make a cup; and then to persuade my wife that while I can appreciate as much as the next guy the sense of well-being that comes from abundance, she could still have her coffee and put the extra money into art, or our daughter’s college tuition.
Blue Bottle, which offers free weekend coffee-making classes, prefers to roast its beans on the lighter side than other retailers, according to Juan Hernandez, the Chelsea cafe’s manager. That facilitates the release of “floral, citrusy” notes in some of the varieties of coffee Blue Bottle sells.
I can’t say I’ve ever conjured either adjective in regards to coffee. Maybe because my wife and I, in our ignorance, have been buying it over-roasted.
To release this bouquet—I asked that we employ the drip, or pour over technique, because that’s what we do at home—we would be using a pearly white ceramic Bonmac dripper rather than the funky brown plastic one we normally use.
“This is bamboo,” Mr. Hernandez explained, of the #2 filter.
I assume ours is made of humble paper.
“You can get sediment in the coffee,” Mr. Hernandez cautioned. “With bamboo you don’t.”
And to pour the water he used a small swan neck kettle. “It gives absolute control over where and how much water you’re pouring.”
We use a conventional kettle, and our primary challenge—speaking of sediment—is preventing a wave of falling water from washing the grounds over the lip of the dripper and into the cup.
We also don’t use a scale to measure the proper amount of coffee, something the manager described as “very important.”
Added Shawna Sharie, Blue Bottle’s New York director of retail, “We measure all our coffees down to 1/10th gram. Even 1/10th of a gram will change the flavor profile.”
Blue Bottle recommends 30 grams of coffee (just over an ounce) to 350 grams (12.5 ounces) of water—the water divided into an initial 60 gram pour to release the beans “bloom,” and then a 30-second wait before embarking on a second pour.
The suggested technique is to start pouring at the center of the coffee bed and spiral outward toward the walls, until all the coffee is saturated.
Perhaps my wife wasn’t as obsessive as I thought.
“You need a timer,” Mr. Hernandez said. “If you spend 5 to 10 minutes you’re taking too long.”
“The goal is 2½ to 3½ minutes,” Ms. Sharie added.
Add a timer to our shopping list.
“If you really want to improve your coffee, get a great grinder,” Mr. Hernandez said, recommending a “flat burr” grinder to eliminate the risk of “inconsistent grind size.”
“It will be bitter” if you employ inferior grinding technology, he warned. “At the same time really sour.”
Ms. Sharie recommended a grind size finer than sea salt but coarser than table salt.
I’d always been content that my wife’s coffee was strong, as opposed to the swill they typically serve in coffee shops and diners. I was starting to think I needed to set my sights higher.
Unsurprisingly, the experts decried the grinders at the high-end grocery stores where we normally purchase our caffeine.
“You’re mixing very expensive artisanal coffee with lower-grade coffee,” Mr. Hernandez claimed. “Also, they don’t clean their machines. You might be getting coffee from last year.”
The big moment had come, or almost: the pour. “Once you have rolling bubbles, take it off the heat and wait 30 seconds,” Mr. Hernandez told me. “You never want to pour boiling water on coffee.”
“You’re going to burn the coffee.”
Waiting brings the temperature down just below 200 degrees, apparently the pouring sweet spot.
Blue Bottle also employs other brewing techniques, including using a siphon. It’s prepared by a siphonista, a job description with which I was previously unfamiliar. “You have to go through a special program and shadow a current siphonista,” it was explained to me.
I didn’t think I was ready to spend the $9 a cup for that privilege.
Besides, I admitted squeamishly, I drink iced coffee year round—taking an initial swig of the hot stuff, then putting the rest in the freezer until I’m ready for breakfast.
“There is no wrong way to drink coffee,” Mr. Hernandez assured me.
You could have fooled me.