By Jann Wiswall

The Ellicottville area is fortunate to have some of the coziest, hippest coffee shops around. From Katy’s Café and Coffee Culture on Washington Street in the village, to Beans to Brew on Main Street in the historic district of Springville, to the dozens of other spots within a small radius, you can take your pick and claim your favorite with relative ease.

But what makes a great cup of coffee? And how do you replicate the coffee shop cup at home?

To be sure, people can be passionate about this topic and – let’s face it – anything to do with personal taste is, by definition, subjective. But most people have endured a crummy cup of coffee in their lives, and there’s no reason to do that again! So, here are some tips from some experts in the business.

Buy good, fresh beans from good roasting companies.

The beans are the key, of course, to good coffee making. Katy Herbach, owner of Katy’s Café in Ellicottville, purchases well-sourced beans from a Lackawanna-based coffee roasting company. “I tried many coffees before opening my restaurant, and by far this is the best I found,” she said. “They deliver their beans in vacuum-sealed bags every two weeks, so my coffee is always the freshest it can be.”

Freshness is key, agrees Michele Roberts, owner of Beans to Brew Café in Springville, and so is roasting. Before opening her shop in October 2012, she made it her business to learn everything she could about coffee roasting. “I found a roaster who provides certified organic, fair-trade beans.” The roaster, who Roberts keeps as a trade secret, sources beans from Africa, South America and Hawaii and roasts the beans in small batches, which avoids burning the beans – a problem that she says large-scale roasters often have.

Coffee Culture in Ellicottville, a chain with nine stores in the U.S. and more than 60 in Canada, prides itself on roasting its own beans at its plant in Toronto. Manager Frank Morlock said that Coffee Culture sells four blends: its own house blend, a dark roast, a Swiss-water decaf and a fair-trade organic blend. All are roasted to the company’s exacting specifications and the beans are shipped regularly to ensure freshness.

Both Beans to Brew Café and Coffee Culture sell their beans in bags to take home.

Grind your own beans.

All of our experts agree that the only way to guarantee the freshest possible taste from those carefully chosen beans you bought is to grind them yourself for each and every pot or cup of coffee you make. They also agree that the best type of grinder to use is a burr grinder, which grinds the beans into uniform pieces. If you have a blade grinder, that’s fine, but you might want to run the beans through it twice to get a smoother grind.

Don’t have a grinder? Most coffee shops will grind their beans for you, and many grocery stores have grinders as well. While keeping your freshly ground coffee in the freezer helps, coffee will absorb odors, so try buying less coffee more often. Again, freshness is a major factor in making a great cup of coffee.

Experiment with coffee-to-water ratios.

Roberts points out that most people measure their coffee by tablespoons after it’s been ground. Instead, she suggests, measure the whole coffee beans by weight and then grind. At Beans to Brew Cafe, “we use a ratio of 4 ounces of whole coffee beans to 8 cups of water.” Coffee Culture recommends a ratio of approximately 2 teaspoons of ground coffee to ¾ cup filtered water. Depending on your personal preference, you can experiment with ratios until you find the one that suits you best.

Don’t let your coffee sit and burn.

Good coffee shops never let their pots of coffee sit on burners all morning, and neither should you. If you find your morning coffee tastes burned, try making only what you’re going to consume in an hour or two, then make another smaller pot if needed. Roberts’ shop pours its coffee into air pots. Thermal carafes also work well and are available from many coffee maker manufacturers.

Strong vs. mild.

If you like your coffee strong, one option is to use more coffee and less water. But that won’t necessarily give you the result you have in mind. A better strategy is to try a darker roast. Dark roasts spend more time in the roaster, allowing the flavors to strengthen. Light or medium blends, conversely, spend less time in the roaster. And incidentally, Roberts wants you to know that darker roasts generally have less caffeine than lighter roasts; more roasting time removes more caffeine.

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