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Chicago’s High Priest of Coffee Has Some Tips for You

Chris Chacko’s four-point plan for better homebrewed coffee

Sparrow Coffee Roastery founder Chris Chacko’s beans are so good that Noah Sandoval of four-star Oriole chose a custom Sparrow blend to cap off his epic tasting menu. Or, rather, Chacko chose Sandoval—the 48-year-old coffee fanatic (profiled in Chicago’s May issue) turns down roughly half the chefs who approach him.

For those who can’t drop hundreds of dollars on dinner for a taste of the city’s best java, Chacko kindly offered tips on how to brew top-notch coffee at home.

Coffee scale illustration
Illustrations: John Kenzie

1. Weigh your coffee

Using a scale to measure by weight is more precise than eyeballing for volume, and that precision is essential for achieving the right extraction, says Chacko.

 

Aeropress illustration

2. Use an Aeropress

This compact plunger-based system (around $30) yields a concentrated brew that you can dilute to your liking. “It’s very straightforward and makes excellent coffee.”

 

Coffee cup illustration

3. Let your cup cool

Our palates aren’t designed to taste coffee at 180 degrees, the temperature at which most coffeehouse brews are served. Give it a minute or two; 160 degrees is ideal. “As the coffee cools, acidity gives way to the beans’ inherent sweetness.”

 

Black coffee illustration

4. Try it black first

With good-quality coffee, you want to taste the purity of the beans and brew before adding cream or sugar, which can overamplify certain flavors and tamp down others. “You’ll start to appreciate how beautiful coffee can be.”

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