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How to Get a Half-Decent Cup of Caffeinated Coffee

How to Get a Half-Decent Cup of Caffeinated Coffee

coffee

    The art of coffee making might not seem like the sort of topic you’d expect to see in a publication like this one. But there’s no reason that it shouldn’t be covered: we use caffeine as a productivity and lifestyle tool, using it to wake up in the mornings, keep ourselves going longer than usual when deadlines approach and emergencies arise, and even to enhance the effects of twenty minute naps known as “caffeine naps.”

    Not all coffee is created equal — some methods of delivery will provide more taste and caffeine than others. There are also different tips and tricks you can apply to get more of the caffeine out of the bean and into the cup during the brewing process.

    Note: Don’t even try and convince me that coffee is bad and I should remove it from my lifestyle. Even if you win me over intellectually, I’ve spent way too much money on the habit to change my mind now. ;) And while we’re still using italics, the image is by VisualPanic.

    And if you’d like to know how to defend yourself from the assailants of our faith, check out this article I wrote around about this time last year.

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    Throw Out the Instant

    You shouldn’t be drinking that instant swill. It tastes like garbage. But taste is not the most central focus of this article: caffeine delivery is. On that note, you should still throw out the instant.

    Depend on your morning cup of instant coffee to “get you going”? Here’s the breakdown on caffeine content in a variety of types of coffee thanks to Energy Fiend, in milligrams of caffeine per ounce of beverage:

    • Coffee (brewed): 13.44
    • Coffee (drip): 18.12
    • Coffee (espresso): 51.33
    • Coffee (instant): 7.12

    And for comparison’s sake:

    • Coca-Cola Classic: 2.88
    • Diet Coke: 3.75
    • Dr Pepper: 3.42
    • Mountain Dew: 4.58
    • Red Bull: 9.64

    In short, while instant might yield better results than most soft drinks, it is the worst performer among varying types of coffee at delivering caffeine. You might also notice that energy drinks like Red Bull don’t hold a candle to a decently brewed coffee.

    Buy Cheaper Coffee — Arabica vs Robusta

    So I said “half-decent” cup of coffee in the headline. This particular point has absolutely nothing to do with decency of taste; what I’m about to suggest will actually worsen the taste, and truth be told I wouldn’t actually ever choose to do this myself, as an espresso brewing hobbyist who does it for the taste. But if you drink coffee purely for the caffeine, your choice might be different.

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    There are two types of coffee bean: arabica and robusta. The pros and cons of each can be easily summarized.

    • Arabica tastes much better, but has around 1% caffeine content.
    • Robusta tastes like monkey hairs, but has around 2% caffeine content.

    If you hate coffee no matter what kind it is, go for the robusta so you can get more caffeine while drinking less.

    If you do care about the quality of the beans, you might want to look around for an arabica bean that is grown for its higher-than-average caffeine content such as Black Magic.

    Spend Your Money on the Grinder

    Thinking about dropping a few hundred on an espresso machine and grabbing a $20 grinder to go with it? Think again.

    When it comes to coffee equipment, the grinder is the most important piece of gear, and is also one of those pesky devices where you need to pay fairly respectable amounts of money for something that does the job properly, depending on what that job is. I’m not as familiar with the American market but the absolute minimum spend for a quality grinder that does espresso, French press, filter and percolator is about AU$220 (US$150) at this time.

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    Espresso can’t be made without a fine grind. Cheap grinders cannot grind fine enough. The level of grind and the level of tamp pressure are the two factors that generally affect pour time, which should be between 23 and 30 seconds for a shot of espresso. A cheap grinder and cheap espresso machine will usually get you a 10 second pour, which is far too quick. On the flip side, grind too fine and you will choke your machine and nothing will come out.

    When it comes to budgeting for your gear, Mark Prince of CoffeeGeek.com recommends that a budget of US$300 for espresso machine and grinder should start with a split of $150 designated for the machine and $150 designated for the grinder, and you can slowly back off the portion of funds dedicated to the grinder as your budget goes up.

    But what you care about is the caffeine, right? A coffee brewed from a finer grind yields a higher caffeine content than one made with a coarse grind. While brewed coffee in our list above had a lower caffeine content than drip coffee, French press tastes a whole lot better and if you follow these instructions for French press brewing from the founder of Sweet Maria’s you should be able to get a cup of plunger coffee that packs more of a punch. Of course, I doubt that’s his motive for brewing that way, but it works.

    A note: just because French press, percolator and filter coffee will let you get away with a coarser grind, they still have to be even grinds. That means your average $20 grinder will not do.

    Turkish coffee requires a grind even finer than espresso and should yield a high caffeine content (though I have no evidence), which may explain why the two dedicated Turkish coffee drinkers I know are always yelling at each other.

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    Myth: Darker Roast = More Caffeine

    It’s not true. It’s a myth. The level of roast actually has very little impact on caffeine levels in coffee, so feel free to experiment with different roast levels and find out what tastes best for you without feeling deprived. Intuitively speaking I would’ve thought the opposite — that a heavier roasting process would destroy more of the caffeine than a lighter roast would, but that’s not true either.

    The caffeine content of a bean is influenced by its type and origin, not roast level.

    What to Buy

    So you want to give up drinking instant but don’t know what sort of coffee equipment or brewing method to go for. My recommendations…

    You want cheap and convenient. Get a French press and a decent grinder. Any French press will do (don’t worry whether your model is insulated or not, because after ten minutes your coffee is stale anyway), and you don’t need a grinder that can grind particularly fine but you do need one that grind evenly, so get a burr grinder. Don’t buy one of those “whipper-snipper” pieces of junk.

    You want quality and caffeine. Not to imply that you can’t get a quality brew from a French press — bean brokers and roasters use French press to test beans because espresso ruins many of the subtleties in the flavor — but if you want to pack a lot of caffeine into a quality cup of coffee and maybe pick up a complicated but fascinating art form, I recommend espresso brewing.

    Espresso brewing is fun and involved, and sometimes difficult (regularly difficult at first). The resulting cup of coffee is much more your own creation than regular brewed coffee because of all the variables involved. And in my opinion, it’s the best tasting. In this case, you need a decent espresso machine that you’ve done plenty of research on and a high quality grinder — it’s an option that requires more money and more research into the gear you buy.

    If you want to continue exploring coffee, I suggest a site like CoffeeGeek.com — run by people who know way more about coffee than me.

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    Last Updated on August 16, 2018

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder That Works)

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder That Works)

    No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

    Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

    Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system”.

    A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

    Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

    In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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    The power of habit

    A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

    For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

    This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

    The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

    That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being six hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

    Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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    The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

    Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

    But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

    The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

    The wonderful thing about triggers (reminders)

    A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

    For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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    But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

    If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

    For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

    These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

    For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

    How to make a reminder works for you

    Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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    Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

    Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

    My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

    Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

    I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

    Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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