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The Perfect Cup of Coffee

Martha Stewart Living Television

The second a coffee bean has finished roasting, time, temperature, and the air around us work against it to compromise its quality; a perfect bean becomes less so with every passing hour, losing flavor and character the longer it's stored. 

Jerry Baldwin, director of Peet's Coffee & Tea of Berkeley, California, estimates that 90 percent of the coffee most Americans drink is stale. Founded in 1966, Peet's was one of the first companies in America to proffer specialty roasts of coffee and to insist on roasting it and serving it in their shops according to methods that guarantee the best cup possible. Today, Jerry joins Martha to demonstrate the best way to store fresh-roasted beans and brew a sublime cup of coffee at home.

The purchase date of your coffee isn't nearly as important as the roasting date, so when buying coffee, look to be sure it was recently roasted. Jerry recommends buying beans in small quantities to prevent them from sitting for too long in storage; any coffee you'll use within a couple of days can be kept in an airtight container in the refrigerator; the rest should find a spot in the freezer, where the beans will keep for up to a month.

To achieve the freshest flavor, grind your coffee just before you brew it. Small grinders are inexpensive and easy to find -- just be sure to wipe them out with a paper towel after each use. When grinding the beans, gently rotate the grinder to ensure that the beans are evenly ground.

Using the best water available is essential when making coffee; if your tap water has an unpleasant taste, you can purchase a purifying filter. One problem inherent in many coffeemakers is that the temperature of the water isn't hot enough when it pours over the ground beans; what results is a blander, far less interesting brew. For best results, Jerry recommends using a press pot, also known as a French press, instead of an electric coffeemaker. 

In a kettle, bring water to a boil, then let it stand for about a minute. Use 2 level tablespoons of ground coffee for each 6 ounces of water, or 2 ounces per quart. (Follow the same instructions if you're brewing decaffeinated coffee, but increase the ratio slightly to enhance the flavor. If the brewed coffee is too strong, you can add a bit more water to dilute it.) 

Place the coffee in the press pot, and pour the water over it. If it bubbles, this is another sign of its freshness; fresh coffee releases gas as it comes into contact with hot water, a process called blooming. Gently slosh the water in the pot to saturate all the grounds, and allow them to steep for two to three minutes. Carefully push the press pot's top (which contains the filter) to the bottom of the pot, and pour the coffee into heated mugs.

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