At some point in a student’s life, they’re introduced to coffee – and many of us haven’t looked back since.
For me, it was pretty late in the game. I became fond of green tea and matcha in high school, but I did not learn to experiment with coffee until college began.
Eventually, I started drinking coffee regularly and my tastebuds matured. I craved a smooth, rich and flavorful cup of joe. It was around this time that I realized that the beans available to me on campus are less than consistent.
On the Hill, coffee quality can vary. Beans from The Study at Hedrick are sourced from The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, though how those beans are processed and brewed greatly affect the resulting coffee. The brews on main campus are also good – Kerckhoff’s new Public Domain brew and Peet’s Coffee make a decent cup.
With all of this uncertainty and the increasing amount of my budget dedicated to maintaining my caffeine fix, I started to think, “Why not brew my own?”
College coffee-brewing is a time-tested question, and there is even a class on campus dedicated to it. Palettes and preferences vary, but the universal goals for a college barista seem to be cheapness and decent flavor. I went to work after considering what I valued in a cup of coffee.
However, I did not want to buy a machine or French press. The challenge was to be creative: How could I make coffee with materials found in a college dorm? I did not want to spend additional money on supplies that could only be used for coffee. The objective was to find a brewing method that one could theoretically conduct anytime, without much preparation or thinking.
The only supplies I bought were the beans themselves. My personal choice was Keurig’s The Original Donut Shop flavor; the pods are simple and basic enough, with a hint of a chocolatey flavor. Target sells them at an 48 count for $28.99. They are not as environmentally friendly, but the grinds are pre-portioned out. The first step is access to hot water, and I had that readily enough in my dorm room sink. The question was: How do we filter?
There are a couple good answers to this coffee filtration situation.
To begin, some folks would insist there is no need for a filter. In fact, the cowboy coffee method – named for its prevalence in the Old West and camping – boils grinds in a water pot. After the water has boiled for about 30 seconds, you turn off the heat and add a cup of cold water. Supposedly, the grinds sink to the bottom and you can decant the brew afterward.
For those inclined to filter, paper towels are pretty accessible, and they make a decent substitute. Using a rubber band, I fit the paper towel over the top of the cup and let it filter the coffee. After experimenting with paper towels, I found the brew to be too strong and rough; I prefer smoothness.
My next answer was a sock.
Sock coffee is exactly what it sounds like. Most of the information I could uncover about it came from a few videos on YouTube, featuring gruff, middle-aged men using socks as coffee filters.
First and foremost, I would recommend that sock-centric baristas use a fresh, spare sock. Regardless of the sock’s usage or age, it’s important to boil the sock before use as well. There could be spare chemicals or additives in the sock and boiling it can at least purge those.
It helps to fit the sock over a stiff loop of some kind, to create a sort of net, much like the kind used by coffee vendors in other countries. Portable, reusable nets are a favorite among street vendors and they don’t require a lot of hassle.
Place the grinds into your sock and pour with hot water over the cup. Variants on this technique include steeping the sock grinds in the cup or accumulating grinds over a longer period of time for strength.
I also tried the lazy grind accumulation method. In this technique, used grinds from a previous brew are kept in the sock and not washed out. Surprisingly, I really enjoyed the acidity and strength of the coffee. There are theories that aged grinds confer more acidity to the brew, though it depends on factors like filter type, water temperature and many other things.
After reviewing my receipt, I was delighted to know that using an existing spare sock with my coffee cost about 60 cents a cup. The taste is up for debate, but for a plain, run-of-the-mill coffee, I found this method is the way to go.
When it’s 2 a.m. and your midterm is in less than seven hours, a cup of coffee using these two methods does the job. I never predicted I’d be a coffee fiend, but college is the time to try new things – especially if they save money.
Experimenting with new methods at home could lead to an exceptionally terrible cup or, in this case, a delicious new way to make and share coffee with friends and classmates.