Frequently Asked Questions about Coffee

Version 3.11

Main Coffee Page

This FAQ is dedicated to coffee and all that goes with it.

There are several newsgroups in which these topics may be of relevance, including,, and alt.drugs.caffeine.

I welcome any and all contributions to this FAQ. If you do not agree with the info in here please let me know or write an article for the FAQ. If you feel you can explain something better than I have, by all means rewrite the article and send it in.

  1. How to brew the ultimate drink
    1. What is the best temperature to brew coffee?
    2. Quality of coffee
    3. What is the difference between arabica and robusta?
    4. Just how much ground coffee do I need for x amount of coffee?
  2. Preparation Methods
    1. Drip
    2. Press Pot aka French Press aka Cafetiere aka Bodum
    3. Espresso
    4. Vacuum
    5. Percolator
    6. Ibrik
  3. Peripherals and Secondary Storage
    1. Proper care of Coffee makers...
    2. How to clean espresso machine
    3. How to store coffee?
    4. What kind of grinder should I buy?
  4. Miscellaneous
    1. How do you spell Colombia/Colombian?
    2. How do you spell Espresso?
    3. Where did the term "cup of joe" come from?
    4. What is a Kopi Luak?
    5. How much caffeine is in decaf?
  5. Coffee Recipes
    1. Espresso
    2. Chocolate covered espresso beans
    3. Cappuccino
    4. Frappe
    5. How to make the best cup of coffee
    6. Turkish Coffee
    7. Irish Coffee
    8. Thai Iced Coffee
    9. Vietnamese Iced Coffee
    10. Melya
    11. Caffe Latte
  6. Flavoring
    1. Chicory
    2. Italian Syrups
    3. Other
  7. Espresso Drink Names/Terms
    1. Caffe Latte aka Cafe au Lait
    2. Cappuccino
    3. Americano
    4. Hammerhead
    5. Mocha
    6. Espresso Con Panna
    7. Double
    8. Ristretto
    9. Lungo
  8. Administrivia
    1. How do I get the newest copy of this FAQ?
    2. List of Contributors
    3. Copyright

One other fun note: I got a fresh vanilla bean recently and put it to good use by sealing it in an airtight container with my sugar. The sugar gets the faintest vanilla aroma and is incredible in Real Chocolate Milk (TM) and iced coffee.

One final note: this would probably be even better with iced espresso, because the espresso is so much more powerful and loses its taste less when it's cold.

Another recipe:

Prepare a pot of coffee at a good European strength (Miriam Nadel suggests 2 tablespoons per cup, which I'd say is about right). In the ground coffee, add 2 or 3 freshly ground cardamom pods. (I've used green ones, I imagine the brown ones would give a slightly different flavor.) Sweeten while hot, then cool quickly.

Serve over ice, with unsweetened evaporated milk (or heavy cream if you're feeling extra indulgent). To get the layered effect, place a spoon atop the coffee and pour the milk carefully into the spoon so that it floats on the top of the coffee.

The recipe I have calls for:

I'd probably use less water and more coffee and milk.

There is also a stronger version of Thai coffee called "Oliang or Oleng" which is very strong to me and to a lot of coffee lovers.

6 to 8 tablespoons ground espresso or French roast coffee, 4 to 6 green cardamom pods, crushed sugar to taste, half-and-half or cream and ice cubes

Put the cardamom pods and the ground dark-roast coffee into a coffee press, espresso maker, or the filter of a drip coffee maker (if using a drip-style coffee maker, use half the water). Brew coffee as for espresso, stir in sugar.

Fill a large glass with ice and pour coffee over ice, leaving about 1/2 inch at the top. Place a spoon at the surface of the coffee and slowly pour half-and-half or cream into the spoon, so that it spreads across the top of the coffee rather than sinking in. (You'll stir it in yourself anyway, but this is a much prettier presentation and it's as used in most Thai restaurants.)

As with Vietnamese coffee, the struggle here is to keep from downing this all in ten seconds.

And now for another look at Thai Iced Coffee

Surely, one can get coffee with condensed milk in Thailand. But when one speaks of "Thai Iced Coffee", as found in Thai restaurants in America, one is referring to "Oliang/Oleng" [there is no standard transliteration of the Thai alphabet, so the spelling varies.] In the FAQ one reads: "There is also a stronger version of Thai coffee called "Oleng" which is very strong to me and to a lot of coffee lovers." But this IS Thai Iced Coffee. And it is only strong if you brew it to be strong.

Oliang is a blend of coffee and other ingredients. The brand I have (Pantainorasingh Brand) states the percentages right on the label: 50% coffee, 25% corn, 20% soya bean, 5% sesame seed. This blend of coffee and roasted grains is really quite exquisite--a perfect marriage of flavors!

Traditionally, oliang is brewed with a "tung tom kah fe"--a metal ring with a handle to which is attached a muslin-like cloth bag. It is much like those cloth tea-strainers one finds in Europe, only larger, like a sock. One puts the coffee in the bag and pours over it water that has come to a boil - into a carafe. Let the bag full of coffee steep in the carafe for 10 minutes. Then add sugar and stir. Let it cool. Pour into a glass with ice, and add the dairy product of your choice on top. I use fresh half-and- half, but you can use condensed milk, evaporated milk, or a mix of the two, or of the three. The proportions of coffee - water - sugar, vary. I use 2/3 part oliang to 1 1/4 parts sugar to 6 parts water.

[The tung tom kah fe can be found at SE Asian grocery stores--after a bit of searching. In Seattle at Viet Wah or Mekong Ranier.]

Alternately, one can bring water to a boil in a pot, add the coffee, and remove from heat. Let the coffee steep for 10 minutes. Then strain through cheesecloth, a coffee filter, or a fine metal strainer. And continue as above.

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Vietnamese Iced Coffee

Same coffee as above. Sweetened condensed (not evaporated) milk, ice

Make even stronger coffee, preferably in a Vietnamese coffee maker. (This is a metal cylinder with tiny holes in the bottom and a perforated disc that fits into it; you put coffee in the bottom of the cylinder, place the disc atop it, then fill with boiling water and a very rich infusion of coffee drips slowly from the bottom.)

If you are using a Vietnamese coffee maker, put two tablespoons of sweetened condensed milk in the bottom of a cup and put the coffee maker on top of the cup. If you are making espresso or cafe filter (the infusion method where you press the plunger down through the grounds after several minutes of infusion), mix the sweetened condensed milk and the coffee any way you like.

When the milk is dissolved in the coffee (yes, dissolved *is* the right word here!), pour the combination over ice and sip.

Thai and Vietnamese coffees are very different.

Ca phe sua da (Vietnamese style iced coffee)

Place ground coffee in Vietnamese coffee press and screw lid down on the grounds. Put the sweetened condensed milk in the bottom of a coffee cup and set the coffee maker on the rim. Pour boiling water over the screw lid of the press; adjust the tension on the screw lid just till bubbles appear through the water, and the coffee drips slowly out the bottom of the press.

When all water has dripped through, stir the milk and coffee together. You can drink it like this, just warm, as ca phe sua neng, but I prefer it over ice, as ca phe sua da. To serve it that way, pour the milk-coffee mixture over ice, stir, and drink as slowly as you can manage. I always gulp mine too fast. :-)


A Vietnamese coffee press looks like a stainless steel top hat. There's a "brim" that rests on the coffee cup; in the middle of that is a cylinder with tiny perforations in the bottom. Above that rises a threaded rod, to which you screw the top of the press, which is a disc with similar tiny perforations. Water trickles through these, extracts flavor from the coffee, and then trickles through the bottom perforations. It is excruciatingly slow. Loosening the top disc speeds the process, but also weakens the resulting coffee and adds sediment to the brew.

If you can't find a Vietnamese coffee press, regular-strength espresso is an adequate substitute, particularly if made with French-roast beans or with a dark coffee with chicory. I've seen the commonly available Medaglia d'Oro brand coffee cans in Vietnamese restaurants, and it works, though you'll lose some of the subtle bitterness that the chicory offers. Luzianne brand coffee comes with chicory and is usable in Vietnamese coffee, though at home I generally get French roast from my normal coffee provider. My father tells me that when he visits Vietnamese friends in Florida that Luzianne and a local blend are the coffees sold in the local Vietnamese-run/shopped stores.

Of these two coffees, Vietnamese coffee should taste more or less like melted Haagen-Dazs coffee ice cream, while Thai iced coffee has a more fragrant and lighter flavor from the cardamom and half-and-half rather than the condensed milk. Both are exquisite, and not difficult to make once you've got the equipment.

As a final tip, I often use my old-fashioned on-the-stove espresso maker (the one shaped like an hourglass, where you put water in the bottom, coffee in the middle, and as it boils the coffee comes out in the top) for Thai iced coffee. The simplest way is merely to put the cardamom and sugar right in with the coffee, so that what comes out the top is ready to pour over ice and add half-and-half. It makes a delicious and very passable version of restaurant-style Thai iced coffee.

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Brew espresso; for this purpose, a Bialetti-style stovetop will work. In a coffee mug, place 1 teaspoon of unsweetened powdered cocoa; then cover a teaspoon with honey and drizzle it into the cup. Stir while the coffee brews; this is the fun part. The cocoa seems to coat the honey without mixing, so you get a dusty, sticky mass that looks as though it will never mix. Then all at once, presto! It looks like dark chocolate sauce. Pour hot espresso over the honey, stirring to dissolve. Serve with cream (optional). I have never served this cold but I imagine it would be interesting; I use it as a great hot drink for cold days, though, so all my memories are of gray skies, heavy sweaters, damp feet and big smiles.

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Caffe Latte

A Latte is usually a 3:1 ratio of steamed milk and espresso, but YMMV. Do what you like best.

Here's how I make a latte. First, I grind my beans to fill my shot filter. Those are the removable components in your portafilter (that arm thing). If you don't have a grinder, buy one, and buy a burr grinder - not one of those cheapo blade things.

So I grind my beans, fill my filter, and tamp it down tightly - that's the act of compressing the grind in the filter. Note: you can't really do this with the steam espresso filters because they are not designed for any real pressure (less than one bar I believe). If you do tamp a steam toy, the pressure release valve should kick in to save the day but if it does not work you are taking a chance with a very hot exploding machine. Don't tamp steam machines.

I load the espresso machine with the grinds, then turn on the machine, but to the steaming ready stage - not the espresso stage. Once it is ready, I steam my milk first.

Lattes are steamed milk, not frothed. Though again, it's your choice - if you want froth, go for it. Steam your milk to about 150F or so (you will notice a change in the steaming sound - it starts to rumble once it hits 150 or so). If you want froth, about midway, pull the steam nozzle to hover right at the surface - you want to hear a deep frothing sound - if the sound you hear is like blowing bubbles through a straw, you're too high.

Once the milk is steamed, I then take a small 4 oz. cup I have and place it under the portafilter. I switch over to making my espresso, and I brew the espresso.

I then pour the espresso into the cup with the milk. Most of my "coffee" cups are actually glass or stainless steel, or a combo of both, so I pour my espresso slowly and it creates a cool looking drink... the espresso sits near the top, just below the foam.

Add sugar, sprinkle the top with cinnamon and/or chocolate, and drink!

Oh, don't forget to clean your wand before you brew the espresso. It's quick - just grab a washcloth and scrub it clean, then run the wand once more to "flush it out" - this keeps milk from turning into harmful bacteria that makes your milk taste bad.

Once you've had your latte, dislodge the portafilter, dump your beans, give the brewhead a quick wipe, a good rinse on your filters, etc., and you're ready for your next one - less cleaning!

Note: Many people brew espresso then steam their milk. Many do it the way described here. The arguments go like this:
If you brew then steam the milk while you are waiting for the machine to reach steaming temperature, the espresso is getting old. On the other hand, if you steam then brew, you either have to let the machine cool a bit before making your shot, thus allowing the milk to cool, or you will be hitting the coffee grounds with steam and not hot water. Which is correct? I can not tell you. I rarely drink anything at home except straight shots so I don't worry myself with it too much. On a side note: if you really want the best I believe some home machines may have dual water reservoirs which will allow you to brew and steam simultaneously, or at least nearly simultaneously.


NOTE: Flavorings really should not be needed in good coffee but we all want something a little different every now and again. As a general rule, adding your own flavoring is a better approach to drinking flavored coffee than buying pre-flavored coffee. Commercially-flavored coffee usually uses a low quality bean since most of the flavor will be masked by the chemical flavorings anyway. So be warned - in many cases you are paying a lot for cheap beans that have had a chemical added to them to make them more palatable. It is my opinion that if you start with a good quality coffee, there is very little need for external flavoring except as an occasional change of pace. As in all things coffee, go with your taste. If you like flavored coffee by all means drink it!
One last note. If you buy flavored coffee wash all your coffee equipment thoroughly after brewing flavored coffee. The flavoring agents used will stick to anything used with them. Do not use the same grinder to grind flavored and unflavored coffee. It will take approximately 20 grinding of coffee to remove all the flavoring agents that stick to the internal part of the grinder.

  1. Chicory

    Chicory became popular in the United States as a coffee additive during the Union blockade of the South during the Civil War. It was also used again During World War II to "stretch" coffee (just ask your grandmother). It has lost popularity in the US as a coffee additive in recent years. Chicory is also used in Vietnamese coffee blends as well.
    As a flavoring, chicory has a tendency to mellow bitter coffee. Today chicory blend coffee is available canned with various ratios of coffee to chicory. There are several brands available today. I counted three when I went to the grocery store last. Chicory is also available by itself in many grocery stores, and I am told some health food stores carry chicory root as well. I recommend going with the method of buying your chicory and mixing it with fresh roasted coffee; by default any coffee you buy pre-ground and premixed will be stale when you get it. Concentration varies from 10-30% in most commercial blends.

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  2. Italian Syrups

    Italian syrups are popular as flavorings for espresso drinks and to a lesser extent other forms of coffee. Essentially what they are is sugar water with a flavoring added. In this they serve a dual purpose of flavoring the drink while sweetening. They also have a side role in weakening the drink they are added to. Over all I do not like Italian syrups for this last reason.
    Use your own judgement - they are very popular, so obviously many people do like them.

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  3. Other

    Chocolate syrup makes a great mocha. Much better than Italian syrups.

    Hot chocolate mix makes for a nice mocha and has sugar already added. I sometimes will give friends who do not like coffee a cup with a packet of instant hot chocolate mixed in to let them acquire a taste for coffee.

    Altoids make a nice peppermint coffee.

    Cinnamon is easy: just put it in the bottom of a filter for drip coffee. You can do the same for press coffee but you will have some extra sediment.

    For nut coffee: grind roasted nut of the variety you want and put it in with the coffee as it brews. Generally speaking this will not be as strong as chemical flavorings.

    Any extract you can buy can be used as a flavoring although I feel many extracts will give coffee a chemical flavor so you may get bad coffee with this method.

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