March 1, 2011

To Taste

There are foods so simple that even I can prepare them, so easy that even I will prepare them. You might think, then, that these base stir fries and porridges would have something like agreed upon rules for preparation. That is, there ought to be recipes. And there are recipes; it's just that they can't seem to agree on even the most basic of concepts. Does my one cup of rolled oats need 2 cups of water or 1 3/4? Should I add the oats to the water, then boil? Or should I get the water going first? And what about salt?

Does it matter?

Well, no. At least it shouldn't. But there are personalities like mine, persons who need to feel they are doing it "right". The process is as important as the product.

That in mind, how ought one dose coffee for brewing? It's a simple question, and one that, by now, you might think we'd have answered. But if there is a consensus, it's cleverly hidden behind a veil of dissent.

1 tbs coffee per 6 fl oz water is the set point advocated by most grocery store coffee bags. This probably owes to the fact that -- putting it nicely -- their target demographic is not so concerned with the taste of coffee. Thus we have the artisans, who advocate for twice as much, 2 tbs per 6 fl oz. They want you to taste every nuance and detail of their beans.

Both, at least, agree upon 6 fl oz as the base unit of liquid measure. But that is far from a consensus. Since an American cup is 8 oz, for ease of measurement and... other reasons, perhaps, some advocate for using 1 or 2 tbs of coffee per 8 oz of water, instead of 6.

Again I have to ask, does it matter? And again I have to say, not really.

I don't mean that dose has no effect on flavor. It is one of the most important factors. But there is no right way to do it, even if we assume uniformity of grind, brewing technique, etc. And we really can't assume that. A french press is not a Melitta is not a Chemex. Even a $15 Mr. Coffee is not a $110 Mr. Coffee. Thus it's a fallacy to assume that this one variable is the only thing that ought to be toggled, when in fact there are no constants.

The truth, then, is this: Do what produces a cup you like. It's not a satisfactory answer for those who, like me, want the "right" way. But it is probably correct, in this context and others.

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