In 1930s, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology was already long established as the epicenter of American scientific research. M.I.T. graduates were running industrial giants like General Motors, General Electric, and Eastman Kodak. Fortune Magazine published articles on subjects like the university’s gargantuan six-million-volt Van de Graaff generator. Who would’ve imagined that a young Samuel Prescott, Dean of Science, was then ensconced in a three-year quest to realize the perfect cup of coffee? At M.I.T., no one paid any attention to the slander about coffee being “slow poison” or inducing moral promiscuity. Just as wine’s never been just wine in France, in America, coffee’s never been just coffee.
Prescott’s “tasting squad” sampled, over the next several years, coffee brewed under all kinds of conditions. Coffee was boiled, dripped, and filtered. Water of varying hardnesses was heated at different temperatures. Aluminum, copper, nickel, tin plate, and glass pots were all tested. Prescott (now known about the Cambridge campus as “coffee-maker without peer”) finally concluded, “the ideal cup of coffee should be made in glass or stone, with coffee freshly ground, and water a few degrees below boiling. Never boil, and never reuse the grounds.”
Since the 1930s, an endless stream of manufacturers of coffeemakers have followed up on Professor Prescott’s clinical trials, utilizing the M.I.T. tasting squad’s two key variables in a coffeemaker’s performance: the water temperature and the brew process. The optimal temperature for coffee brewing is 200 degrees Fahrenheit. (Your brew will be under-extracted if the temperature’s lower, over-extracted when higher.) All kinds of coffeemakers will vie for your attention – French press, percolators, Napolitanos, espresso makers, and even vacuum pots – but when it comes to the control of flavor and aroma, any card-carrying coffee nerd will tell you flat out that manual coffeemakers (a.k.a. pour-over coffeemakers) provide the tastiest, most magical and memorable brews. And among the pour-overs, hands down, the shapely drip cone style reigns supreme.
The drip cone’s simplicity constitutes both its efficiency and its beauty. You place your drip cone – containing a filter – smack on top of your favorite mug or carafe. Next, you pour your water (at its perfect temperature) over the coffee grounds, manually regulating the flow, and creating optimal turbulence thanks to the cone’s elegant design. Since all the water is angled toward a common point, the oils and flavor are extracted more evenly than in a flat basket. You have superior drainage, one-cup-at-a-time freshness, and superb distillation.
Finally, you will want to be aware of the comparative qualities of the two most popular filters available for drip cones. Gold filters – composed of a fine-hued screen – allow the purest oils to gratify your taste buds. Coffee veteranos will note the gold filter’s richer taste. The downside is tiny bits of the ground can penetrate the mesh as well. While paper filters might raise eyebrows among gold filter snobs, the taste is hailed as smoother. Plus, there’s nothing to clean.