How to Make the Perfect Cup of Coffee
Jul 13, 2010

Yes, there is such a thing as the perfect cup of coffee. We caught up with Todd Carmichael, co-founder of La Colombe Torrefaction and the first American to cross Antarctica to the South Pole alone on foot. Not surprisingly, one of the first things he did upon returning from the frigid continent was make an excellent cup of coffee.

So, what does a frostbitten and emaciated coffee roaster with every machine and a dizzying array of beans at his disposal make as his first cup of coffee? Here are the main ingredients.

The machine: In a world gone mad on elaborate contraptions, the Krupps and Cuisinart five-cup gold filter brewers still reign king. If you’re embarrassed by this, don’t be. Even hipsters, getting bored with the bong-looking slow-brew paraphernalia, are starting to admit it (here’s how to survive the horrible hipster coffee trend). Drip brewers are wonderfully American and although they do not look exotic, they deliver.

Ladies and gents, it’s now safe to order coffee in restaurants.

The coffee: If it’s great coffee you’re looking for, and you’re not out to study the nuances of one particular single origin against another, go for a blend — the depth, the roundness and the completeness cannot be matched by a single origin — even the one purportedly harvested at the foot of Valhalla.

Could your coffee be killing you slowly?

The grind: Go fine. With coffee, surface area is important: the finer the grind, the more surface area. I’m not suggesting Turkish grind here, but the finest your brewer can handle is best. After all, a little “silt” in the cup never killed anyone, and the brew will seriously please you.

Find out what a lovingly prepared cuppa joe feels like.

Things to leave out: Whipped cream, sugar substitutes, flavored syrups and spices like cinnamon and nutmeg. This is coffee you’re making, not pumpkin pie.

A little Irish whiskey, though, is absolutely fine.

Optional additives: Real sugar if you are so inclined. Real cream, especially if you’re calcium deficient. If you like these things, this is where you may need to ignore aficionado advice. Remember, in coffee, “purist” is often just another word for “fascist.” This is your cup of coffee, so take ownership of it and dress it the way you wish, keeping in mind that a man’s cup is his castle.

Try these delicious breakfasts to complement your coffee.

If you respect these simple tenets, it may not take walking 700 miles across Antarctica for you not to take certain things for granted, and indeed, make the best cup of coffee on the planet — every day.

Why Your Coffee Could Be Killing You Slowly
June 16, 2010 at 1:50PM by Todd Carmichael

That “freshly roasted organic” coffee you’re drinking? It is probably not very good for you — nor is it organic. Here’s why: Coffee is roasted in exhaust — not exactly the same kind of exhaust that spews from your neighbor’s Hummer, but the principle is not much different. Nearly all coffee, and all the good stuff, is cooked in the heat of a gas burner where hot air is generated by burning fuel and forcing the resulting hot air through coffee beans tumbling in a drum. Although this is perfectly legal, it isn’t as harmless as you might think.

Not too long ago, studies conducted in places as far-flung as Germany and Cincinnati found that the additives in natural gas and the chemical reactions in the roasting drum create hydrogen sulfide (H2S), which is poisonous and flammable. Worse, measurable amounts of this deadly gas linger in the bean long after it has bean roasted. This is what one scientist had to say:

“Coffee beans which are roasted with flame gases are bathed in the combustion gases and as a consequence take up a part of the deleterious combustion gases, especially H2S. Such adhering gases cannot be completely removed by an airing lasting 8 to 10 hours and more.”

The key here is to allow the bean to “breath off” these gases for a period of four to five days, sadly calling into question the “freshly roasted” campaigns of nearly every roaster on the planet — they mean what they say, serving beans that are right out of the roaster. (They’re sacrificing flavor by doing that, incidentally — four to five days is also the amount of time it takes for the tasty oils of the bean to mature.)

This is the first time anyone outside a small sliver of the scientific community is reading about this information. It was shared recently with members of the coffee community and was received as warmly as a halitosis lip lock — particularly by the organic ones, for good reason. Organic roasters are well within the parameters set by authorities to be classified as organic, but it makes you wonder about those parameters. Isn’t organic supposed to mean chemical-free? So to many, the whole topic is best ignored.

To this roaster’s mind, and to the coffee-drinker looking for a little purity in his organic coffee, the fact that you are ingesting something that has had prolonged contact with a deadly poisonous gas puts labeling it “organic” in a tough spot, and frankly, defeats the purpose of asking a Third World farmer to stake his livelihood on risky, expensive organic farming.

Before you spit out your latte, keep in mind these amounts are not exactly deadly, just like the insecticide you may have ingested drinking non-organic wine isn’t deadly. When all is said and done, everyone should go organic, especially people who can afford to shop at Whole Foods, and every coffee roaster should let his product breathe. But why ask a farmer living off the price of a cappuccino to take the organic risk when the roaster is just going to introduce it to hydrogen sulfide anyway? My advice: Skip the organic up-charge and spend the difference on an organic muffin.

Todd Carmichael is the co-founder of La Colombe Torrefaction and is the first American to cross Antarctica to the South Pole alone on foot.