Holiday Brewing Survival Guide

As the holiday season begins rolling in, there’s one lingering fear we experience every year as we’re heading home to celebrate: how are we going to get decent coffee?

It’s 2016, and the home coffee landscape for much of America isn’t very pretty. In your best case scenarios, your family members may have an automatic drip machine back home. But more than likely, you’re faced with the harsh reality of the K-Cup. 

But fear not! There are ways to make the most of these brewing devices, and to hopefully get some okay coffee out of it. What follows are our tips for surviving the holidays in a coffee desert.

The Coffee

First things first… we need to talk about the coffee itself. Freshness is going to be key in this scenario. If you enter the fold with weeks old coffee, you’re going to have an even more uphill battle than you do already. Buy something as fresh as you can, within a week of roast if possible. 

Besides the obvious reasons for going after freshness, the emphasis here has to do with the next portion of our guide: grinding. 

Grinding

It’s safe to assume that at most of the homes you may be visiting this holiday, there likely won’t be appropriate coffee grinding equipment. You may run into your standard, cheap-o blade grinder, but that’s almost as bad as no grinder at all. 

So, what to do? We have two recommendations. The first option, and probably easiest, is to have the beans pre-ground upon purchase from your local coffee roaster. Doing this will at least ensure an even grind consistency, and a grind size that is calibrated to how you’ll be brewing (more on this later). 

If you’re mail-ordering your coffee, and you’re stuck at your relative’s, the second option is to visit your local grocery store, head over to the coffee section, and do a bit of sneaky grinding on their grinder. It’s okay! Nobody will mind. And if they do, just beg them to let you do it this one time. It'll be fine! 

One helpful tip… pinch a bit of coffee from your new bag and run it through the grinder first. This will clean out some of the flavor from the grocery store coffee from the grinder.

And look, we know what you’re thinking. “Isn’t pre-grinding bad?” Generally, we don’t recommend it… but desperate times call for desperate measures. And when your only other option is whatever cheap blade grinder they'll have at your relative's house, it's better to pre-grind so you can have a bit more control over the size, and get a better consistency in the particle size.

So — now you have the coffee, and you have it pre-ground (and nobody in the grocery store yelled at you). It’s time to dive into the recipes. What follows are recipes for both an automatic drip machine and a Keurig pod brewer.

These recipes do not utilize weight based measurement as we normally would, running under the assumption that you won’t have access to a kitchen/gram scale at your relative’s home. We’ll be using volume (aka: tablespoons) for these recipes. This is usually a no-no, as each coffee has a different density, but we’re ball parking here. We just want to get you through this. 

Auto Drip Recipe:

The nice thing with most of these machines is that they have standard markings on the water tank to help you measure volume. Usually on an auto-drip machine, cups are thought of as 5oz of coffee. So, if we want to make 2 mugs of coffee, we’re going to brew with 25oz of water, or at the “5 Cup” line of the machine. Fill it to there with water. And if you can, use filtered water. It'll help. A lot.

You’ll want to have the coffee ground fine-medium. A little on the finer side is better. This will help guarantee a certain level of extraction, even if it isn’t totally perfect. 

For your dose, you’ll want to use about 7 leveled tablespoons of ground coffee. After your first brew, you’ll have to be the judge of whether or not it came out weak, but this ballpark amount should be relatively close to the proper ratio. If the coffee tastes watery, add a bit more next time, and try again. Since we won’t have the luxury of trying new grind sizes, you’ll have to make do with dose adjustments. 

 

Keurig Recipe:

The main event!

So, a few disclaimers before we get into the Keurig portion of this survival guide. First, this falls strictly into the “for emergencies only” category. This method is kind of wacky. You’re going to look slightly crazy, and your family might make fun of you. Be prepared. 

Second, to do this successfully, you’ll need access to a reusable K-Cup that allows you to use your own coffee. If your family doesn't have one, stop at a big box store on your way and grab one. 

Additionally, the grind size is going to be really important here. So ideally, have your local specialty shop pre-grind the coffee for you as fine as they can. A grocery store grinder may not even be able to go as fine as you’ll need. 

So — with all of those disclaimers out of the way: here is ReAnimator’s official Keurig recipe. 

It’s easy to hate on the Keurig. And admittedly, we’re going to do it a bit here. The issue is, the features of the Keurig that make it convenient for people (speed and convenience, mainly), make it very bad for brewing decent coffee. The K-Cups are just too small to fit the amount of coffee inside that would make for an appropriate brew ratio. On top of that, the brewer makes the coffee so quickly, that even if you cram enough grinds inside the pod, the extraction process happens too fast. The water almost immediately finds a path to channel through (no longer interacting with the coffee) and you end up with a watery, bland mess. It’s just not designed to do what we want it to do (brew coffee well). 

However, we’ve created a strange workaround that has actually managed to give a decent product in our tests: pre-brewing the coffee. 

You probably haven’t heard of or thought about “pre-brewing” coffee before, because it doesn’t make any sense. But through our experiments with the Keurig, the realization we had was that you needed to “fast forward,” for lack of a better term, through the early stages of extraction with the coffee you are brewing. That early stage of extraction is where the lighter, acidity-driven aspects of flavor tend to expose themselves. When you just throw a nice coffee into the Keurig, you end up getting a little bit of that bright stuff, and then as it begins to channel, a whole lot of water. It tastes terrible. 

So by pre-brewing the coffee we are using for a given extraction, we kind of move past those early stages. That way, by the time the pod enters the Keurig, we’re getting into some of the deeper sweetness found in the late stages of extraction, and then all the extra water the Keurig that channels through serves to kind of dilute and balance the flavors. It’s kind of crazy, but it works. 

Here’s how to do it:

Have your coffee ground as fine as possible by your local specialty cafe. A grocery store grinder may not work for this.

Fill your reusable pod as much as you can with ground coffee. Tap it against the counter a bunch to let the grinds settle, and add more. No scoops needed. Just cram it in there.

Now, you’ll need to find some kind of shallow cup or bowl. A 1-cup measuring cup would work well. Place the filled pod inside this cup, and fill the cup with hot water from the stove. Do not pour the water directly on the coffee, just pour around it until it just comes to the top of the pod, but not over it. 

Once you’re done pouring, let steep for 2 minutes. While steeping, use a small spoon/knife/stick to stir inside of the pod, around the edges, letting more of the water enter the side-walls of the pod and interact with the coffee. It might get kind of messy. It’s okay. Also, please note, by this point your relatives are probably worried about you.

After 2:00, carefully remove the pod from the hot water, close it up, and place it into the Keurig. Discard the water that the pod was steeping in. We don't want that.

You’ll want to brew the smallest size drink possible (usually about 6oz on a regular Keurig).

And when you're all set, hit brew.

After all this, you should be left with a beverage that for all of the insanity and slight embarrassment you put into it, is sweet, clean, and full bodied. It may not be the best coffee you've ever had, but it certainly might be the best you've ever had on a Keurig.  

Enjoy the holidays, and the coffee.