Perfection in a Cup

Barefoot Coffee’s Andy Newbom masters the sublime brew

Bareboot Coffee's founder Andy Newbom carefully evaluates the fragrance of the roast before tasting it.

Photograph by Kyle Chesser

Coffee is a moody temptress. Most of us need her so desperately in the morning, and sometimes again in the afternoon. But how do we get the best cup from our beans?

Andy Newbom of Barefoot Coffee says there are three elements to master for a sweet, tempting brew: The ratio of coffee to water, a proper grind, and a quality brewing method.

The downfalls of improper ratio lead to under- or over-extracting your coffee. Over-extracting is when you push too much water through too little coffee, and all the nasty bitterness is forced into your cup. Under-extracting creates weak, watery coffee. “There’s a reasonably small window of the right amount of water and the right amount of coffee to go across it,” Newbom says.

What’s the most critical factor? “The most important thing that can happen [to coffee beans] is a good grinder,” Newbom says. “Whatever your budget is, spend it all on the grinder.”

As for the brewing method, “coffeemakers, like Mr. Coffee … are the worst possible way to make coffee. Most home brewers generally don’t get above 170 degrees, which isn’t even close to brewing temperatures ... 200 to 205 degrees is what they need to be,” says Newbom.

Another hint? When they refer to coffee “cups,” coffee manufacturers mean one cup equals six ounces, not the standard eight ounces that Americans are used to. Forgoing the coffeemaker, there are two different methods for getting an excellent cup of coffee at home: the Chemex or the French press.

Newbom’s Chemex is shiny and very retro-looking—an hourglass-shaped vessel with a large white filter sticking out of the top (like a more elegant version of the better known Melitta coffee maker). “I’ve been really liking the Chemex lately … You’re not getting any particles and then you’re tasting the coffee more directly,” Newbom says.

He carefully measures the ingredients: 50 grams of coffee and 640 grams of water. He sets his grinder to 30 for a coarse grind and makes sure the water temperature is just above 200 degrees. He pours in the water slowly. The Chemex filters are very thick and take out most of the particles (no, they are not bleached).

To get the right temperature at home, set the teakettle on the stove, turn it off at the whistle, then wait about one minute. The temperature should be 200 to 205 degrees.

We wait patiently, while the coffee cools in our cups for a moment, before we taste. The coffee is chocolatey, bright, and smooth across the tongue. The texture is clean and airy. We taste it again, after the coffee has cooled, and the taste is different. Some of the fruitiness is gone; it feels softer on the tongue. Newbom says the fruit will come back as it cools more. If you’re a person who forgets your coffee cup all over the house, you’re going to get different flavors at each temperature from the same cup of coffee.

French Press
One of the quickest and easiest ways to make coffee is with a French press. Newbom uses 110 grams of coffee for 48 ounces of water, plus a coarse-ground coffee. The grind has a direct impact on the coffee’s taste. You’ll find more “low” tones with a finer grind, and “higher” tones with a coarser grind.

Newbom sets the grinder in the high 30s for a coarse setting. He dumps the grinds in the press, then fills it to the top line with pre-heated water. Time is the most critical element with the French press. “It’s less art, more science,” Newbom says. “This one is incredibly precise; it has to be four minutes,” Newbom says.

When the hot water is poured onto the coffee in the press, the froth and foam rise and bubble. Newbom calls this a “bloom,” because the coffee is actually expanding. At two minutes, he “breaks the crust,” or stirs the coffee. At three minutes, 45 seconds, he stirs it again, sending the big, heavy particles sinking to the bottom. Then he scoops off some of the creamy foam on top—his preference, but not required.  Just before four minutes, he pushes the stopper down on the press, noting there should be a lot of resistance with a coarse grind. You can take this step a few seconds early, but never past four minutes.

We taste the exact same coffee that we used in the Chemex, now made with the press. It looks creamier and thicker. The oils are visible, swirling on top. It’s a brighter taste than before, but with a deep, underlying timber. It doesn’t taste like the same beans, but Newbom assures me that’s the beauty of coffee—its incredible diversity and nuance of flavors.

Making coffee in a Chemex or French press will take about five minutes more than using an electric coffee maker, but your tongue and caffeine receptors will be eternally grateful. The equipment for these back-to-basics tools runs at about $30-$40.

To find out more about how to brew properly at home, sign up for one of Barefoot Coffee’s free classes, offered every Tuesday at 7 p.m. Other weekly class offerings include coffee tasting, home espresso making, and home milk-steaming. 

Barefoot Coffee: 5237 Stevens Creek Blvd., Santa Clara, ,

Also read: A Passion for Coffee