Wednesday, June 10, 2009


"Why do they always put mud in the coffee on paddle steamers?"

- William Thackeray, writer and traveller, 1850

Is there mud in your cup? Is your coffee less than inspiring?

It could be that your coffeemaker is dirty. If your coffee tastes muddy or metallic, or if it brews too slowly, I suggest going to the local grocery store and picking up a comercial bottle of coffeemaker cleaner. Follow the directions on the bottle. Most of us have heard about the vinegar treatment for coffeemakers, but I have never been impressed with the results. Go for the strongest thing you can find.

The second most common reason coffee is unsatisfying is that it is being brewed improperly. For most coffee makers, you should start with good cold water. Water that is hard, full of iron, or loaded with a lot of chlorine will make bad coffee. More often than I care to remember, I have been horrified by the results of brewing with hotel tap water. If you have any inkling it might be your water that's making the coffee brackish, try brewing a pot with some natural, bottled spring water. You will know right away if that's the problem. The difference will be dramatic.

It could also be that you need a new coffeemaker. Some coffeemakers don't heat the water hot enough to extract all the flavor from the beans. But most often, coffeemakers which make anemic coffee simply send the water through the grounds too fast and don't get them uniformly moist from the beginning. Ideally, a basket filter should have a mechanism that sprays the water like a small shower head onto the grounds, and the water should drip through into the pot slowly. I have a small Mr Coffee machine which makes four cups. I bought it for the size and the price ($10). When I found that the coffee it brewed was too thin, I simply added an extra filter. This causes the water to pass through more slowly, and now it makes a flavorful cup. My husband's favorite coffeemaker is a Black and Decker which we bought on vacation in Washington for $20. It pours easily without spilling and makes solid coffee, reliably, brew after brew. My oldest son Joshua started adding one extra scoop of grounds to each pot. That small change worked wonders for the quality of the brew. My preferred coffeemakers, however, are the ones made by Gevalia, which are also offered as free gifts for customers who sign up to receive shipments of their coffee. These coffeemakers are designed to produce a luxurious cup. They have cone-shaped filters, which are the perfect shape for capturing flavor; the water is heated to the ideal temperature; and everything is carefully designed for the optimum results.

The third reason coffee is unsatisfying, brackish, thin, bitter, or just tastes like mud lies in the beans themselves. Many supermarket blends use lower quality beans. Most coffees are a blend of beans, but the less scrupulous manufacturers use larger quantities of cheaper ones. The result is a cup of flat, thin coffee, entirely forgettable,or worse -- like ashes on the tongue. This type of coffee is common in large gatherings, chain restaurants, church fellowship dinners, ball games, offices, convenience stores, and yes, hotels. As I said before, when offered some of this variety of brew, I just drink water.

There's no reason for you to make that kind of coffee at home. For a few more pennies per cup, you can enjoy coffee that inspires. Experimenting a little will help you find your personal favorites. Walmart sells Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts coffee in their food section. Okay, I admit, Starbucks does get pricey if you use it all the time. But if you prefer darker roasts, it's a great way to make coffee you can love. My husband really likes Starbucks coffee, but we are also trying to be frugal. I started adding one or two scoops of their House Blend to each pot of ordinary, supermarket coffee. The transformation is pretty impressive, and the cost fits our budget. If you are solidly American in your coffee tastes, then Maxwell House has a number of new grinds that work fairly well. I've been pleased with their Columbian and South Pacific blends. A large can of these has been selling at Walmart lately for $6 to $8. That price is hard to beat. For my own finicky taste buds, my favorite everyday brew is Dunkin Donuts coffee, which I purchase by the pound at their stores. I buy two pounds together to get a discount. I make this coffee strong. It's warm, buttery notes are very satisfying to my palate and perfect for the soy milk I add to it.

For a dreamy cup of coffee that feels like dessert, I turn to Gevalia. Their Costa Rican Peaberry and Kona blends are some of the best coffee I have ever tasted in my entire life. Brewed just right, they are fantastic. But all the Gevalia varieties are excellent. I have relished their Antiguan, Kenyan, Peruvian and Columbian blends, too. You can sign up for their coffee delivery and space the packages as far apart as you like. My husband gave me a subscription for Gevalia coffee that comes every 8 weeks. I use it sparingly and thoughtfully, because it is expensive. But it still costs a lot less than a cup at Starbucks, Panera Bread, or the local bookstore.

So, this is my best suggestion for a heavenly cup. Go here to find out about how to join Gevalia. Sign up for a pound of their coffee and get the free coffeemaker. I guarantee you will be amazed by the quality of the brew in your cup. If you aren't satisfied or decide to discontinue, you can cancel at any time. They stand by their promise, their product, and their vision for great customer service. I have been a customer, canceled, become a customer again, had to cancel, and become a customer a third time over the last five years. Recently, I had to "suspend" my deliveries while we relocate. Through all of this, they have been pleasant and understanding. And in my opinion, their coffee can't be beat.

For motivation, I will leave you with a quote from Balzac in his Treatise on Modern Stimulants:

The coffee falls into your stomach, and straightaway there is a general commotion. Ideas begin to move like Battalions of the Grand Army on the battlefield when the battle takes place. Things remembered arrive at full gallop, ensign to the wind.

See? Coffee that inspires.


  1. All coffee is gross and upsets my stomach. Whine, whine, whine. (grin)

  2. Your "tea week" is coming, late summer or fall. I promise!

  3. I used to be a customer of Gevalia but they had my bank acct number and after one year they automatically billed me for a holiday package, ruining my bank budget for that month. This was back the day of check writing and time delays in banking. I did not sign up for that shipment, just an occasional order that they sent out without warning. So, just be aware of their practices when you deal with them. Great coffee though and I still use the coffee maker after 10 years. Now I drink Eight O'Clock coffee every morning. It is so good.


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