The Pragmatic Coder’s Guide To The Perfect Cup of Coffee

Earlier this month — January 4th to be precise — Iposted an entry regardingoptimal software development practices (herein archived form), one of the most important points being thatteams should “FocusOn Results Instead of Effort and Sacrifice“.


Focusing on results instead of effort and sacrifice canbe realized in many ways; For instance by using the easiestpossible tools and technologies that acceptably achieve yourresults. By cancelling long, drawn out meetings that everyone hatesif the meetings don’t achieve results. By ditching any process thatis nothing more than cargo-cult remnants.

It’s a simple perception change that forces one toevaluate the actual benefit yielded by extended efforts, ratherthan blindly applying brute force with hopes that it magicallyyields returns.

This rule isn’t just for workplace practices, though, butapplies to our day-to-day living as well.  For instance makinga delicious cup of coffee.

I recently came across a widely referenced piece, “ACoder’s Guide To Coffee“, which details the various steps thatone should take to achieve a drinkable cup of coffee. It’s aninteresting read, and serves as an entertaining bit of additionalknowledge about the craft of brewing. Nonetheless, as I read it Iimagined countless people creating subpar, or even just par, cupsof coffee, confident that the additional care, concern, and manualeffort they put into the effort guarantees them a better cup ofcoffee.

It doesn’t.

In fact it could lead to much worse results, not to mention thatit took a lot more effort to yield those worse results in the firstplace.

My Coffee Pedigree

Most of the time I drink packaged coffee, brewed in anoften-dirty automatic drip coffee maker (it isn’t the height ofscience getting water just below the boiling point, and infact many automatic drips work by boiling water up from thereservoir, letting it cools the perfect amount whiledispensing. In essence the water temperature is guaranteed perfectby the thermodynamics of the design). It requires close to noeffort on my part, yet most of the time my coffee is (in my humbleopinion) extremely good. For any normal coffee drinker itwould be close to the “perfect cup”, and unless you had dedicatedyour life to the classification of coffee, or you’re on to drinking only coffee defecated from civets, you probably won’tnotice the difference from the most effort-encrusted specialtycoffee. The only thing my coffee lacks is the placebo effect ofimagined advantages.

Getting the “perfect cup” was incredibly easy: I found theperfect water/coffee ratio for my particular tastes, my cheap dripcoffee maker does a very credible job (and provides water at theperfect temperature), and I brew small enough pots that coffeeisn’t sitting for very long before being consumed.

I tried a wide variety of grind brands and roasts, andeventually found a couple that are predictably good, so they’re mystaple. Occasionally I buy some of the “bulk” gourmet coffees(although the results there have been negative as often as they’vebeen positive. The large coffee manufacturers seem to have theprocess down to much more of a science than the local coffeehouse).

Even the most common, most pedestrian, package ground coffee ismade with 100% Arabica beans, so that isn’t too much of a concern,and the whole Robusta red herring is a bit of cheap,disposable advice.

So without further ado. Here’s the amazing magic of making thepragmatic perfect cup of coffee!

The Pragmatic Coder’s Guide To The Perfect Cup of Coffee.

  • Try various coffee brands until you find one that matchesyour taste. There is no “ultimate” coffee, and one person’s winneris another person’s dud. The major coffee brands use excellentbeans, and have extremely tight quality control, so any illusionthat it’s a crapshot or that the quality is second rate ismisguided. Of course you should care for the freshness of coffee asyou would with any food product, ensuring it’s in an airtightcontainer in a non-spoiling environment.
  • NEVER take anything from the pot/carafe while it’sbrewing, and apply corporal punishment to those whodo. Most office coffee stinks because a jerk came and took a cupright after the brew started, taking with it most of the flavor. Asgrinds release flavor  second at a rate looselylike [Flavour Per Second]=1/([Seconds Into the Brew]^2),what’s left is some discoloured water that smells like anashtray.
  • Try various ratios of coffee/water until you find what worksfor you. Many office coffee is supplied in little prepackaged packsthat are too small for most tastes, so combine one and onequarter, or one and a third, or whatever quantity makes the perfectcup.
  • Drink a batch quickly, and if it regularly sits then startbrewing smaller batches. You can maintain the taste longer bybrewing into, or transferring to, an insulated carafe.
  • Never microwave coffee. Again there is no obvious reason for it- Microwaving is simply supposed to excite the water molecules,raising the temperature of the cup – but microwaved coffeealways…ALWAYS…tastes terrible. If it cools too much, tossit.

That’s it.

Focusing on hand roasting your beans, or manually brewing, isabsurd when the overwhelming majority of the population can’t evenaccomplish the basics consistently. Following those simple rulesgets you to the point of extraordinarily diminished returns, and itis the Pragmatic Perfect Cup.

Of course you could hand craft your own gatheringcontainers, walk 500 miles barefoot to hand pick only the cutestbeans from the largest jar, brew with the most remarkably purespring water after having it blessed by the saint of coffee in apot made of the purest of silver, using beans ground with ancientEgyptian artifacts, but that doesn’t mean that you’ll yield abetter cup of coffee, unless you’re susceptible to the placebofalse return effect.

Oh, and occasionally clean the pot. I think I’ll go do thatright now.