On the road…again!
Afghanistan to Zambia
Chronicles of a Footloose Forester
By Dick Pellek
Stand Your Grounds
(Opinions Count, But Facts Matter)
It was an innocent remark. Our house guest suggested that our morning coffee was too strong because we used too many scoops of coffee grounds. We like strong coffee and have been using the same basic formula for a number of years; one scoop or a little less for each cup of coffee desired. True, some visitors remarked that our coffee was strong, and they knew enough to add plain water to dilute theirs, so we did not see that as a compelling reason to change our method.
His opinion about the coffee being strong related to his personal taste but his statement about us adding too many scoops called for verification. What turned out to be a simple experiment was conducted to demonstrate the actual volume of coffee grounds used, based on the recommendations of others and compared to our own.
To begin, the Footloose Forester looked on the label of two different coffee brands that we had in the kitchen. Both Maxwell House and Folgers had printed instructions for preparing a single cup of coffee—one Tablespoon of grounds for each typical cup of 6 ounces. Next the Footloose Forester prepared the demonstration by selecting a shallow bowl. He added a single Tablespoon of coffee grounds to the empty plastic coffee scoop we have been using for years. A heaping Tablespoon of grounds was more than double the amount that would fit into our plastic scoop. After discarding the dry grounds back into its original container, he repeated the exercise using a level Tablespoon. It was still about double the capacity of our favored scoop. Then he chose a teaspoon to measure out one scoop. Even the smaller teaspoon of grounds exceeded the volume capacity of our plastic scoop. Alas, there is neither a standard Tablespoon nor a standard teaspoon in our drawer. What may look like a Tablespoon doesn't always contain the standard measure of a Tablespoon. The same goes for a teaspoon--they come in slightly different sizes, so have slightly different measures. Likewise, coffee scoops come in different sizes.
Another problem with assuming that written instructions are reasonable has to do with the glass carafe that collects the percolated coffee in our coffee maker. The numbers etched into the side of the carafe do not refer to the actual number of cups percolated. Each successive volume marking from 2-12 does not means cups, partly because there is no standard size for coffee cups. If a person measures out the water in a 6 once cup, you discover that a little more than 5 cups fills our carafe up to the number 12 marking.
Thus, plain water added to the #12 marking makes 5-6 cups of coffee, regardless of strength. Anyone of the opinion that the manufacturer meant that it suggests the number of cups brewed should think again.
We had the opportunity to compare volume measurements with another coffee maker and its carafe, at the apartment of our in-laws. The small Faberware coffe maker with the carafe marked as 4 cups used one 16.9 ounce plastic bottle of water, to the exact level. Since the water at the correct level may have yielded 4 cups, each cup was calculated at 4.22 ounces each.
The lesson in this chronicle is about deciding between the opinions of guests verses the facts that could be demonstrated. In the opinion of our house guest, our coffee is too strong because we use too many scoops of coffee grounds. Indeed, our coffee is strong but it is not due to using too many scoops. If we used the recommended amount of one Tablespoon, according to the information given on the Folgers or Maxwell House labels, the coffee might be twice as strong. And having 6 cups of fresh coffee means filling up the carafe beyond the #12 mark.
To be as accurate as possible, anyone who wants to get reproducible volumes of either coffee grounds or water for the coffee maker should measure the desired amount with a liquid, say a juice. No heaping Tablespoons or teaspoons when you use orange juice, no guessing about the volumes of teacups or jumbo coffee mugs.