Engineering the Perfect Cup of Coffee

In March, Café de Colombia—the Colombian National Coffee Federation—brought me to Colombia to learn more about coffee. It was awesome. Though they paid for my trip, they didn’t require me to write anything or dictate what I wrote. Still, that is why this post is about coffee. And illustrated with photos of Colombia.

View from Finca

The view from the coffee farm I visited in Colombia

In March, Café de Colombia—the Colombian National Coffee Federation—brought me to Colombia to learn more about coffee. It was awesome, but I wish my husband could have come. Not because I’m one of those weird co-dependent people that can’t bear a few days without my spouse, but because what I learned on the trip is that for all the effort my husband puts into engineering the perfect cup of coffee, there is an equal (or greater) amount of effort going into engineering the perfect coffee bean.

If you were to have told me, at any point before the age of 28, that I would have the kind of husband who brought me coffee in bed, I would not have believed you. For starters, I’d already been dating the man I would eventually marry, and not only had he never once brought me anything in bed, I have high standards and the only coffee I’d ever seen him turn down was some we’d bought from a tourist stand in Laos that he’s pretty sure had been stretched with woodchips.

Coffee Beans in hand

Green coffee beans in the weathered hand of a coffee farmer

But traveling opens eyes. And we went to San Francisco and walked into Blue Bottle, Ritual, and Four Barrel. We went to Chicago and stopped in every morning at Intelligentsia. We started bringing home beans from all these places, but it wasn’t cutting it. First, the Mr. Coffee was tossed in favor of French press.

I should have seen the signs. It was like the kombucha, and before that the pasta, and to an even greater extent, the seven bikes that live in our basement, receiving tiny upgrades, tweaks, constant improvements. Don’t get me wrong, if the man can’t use the right “your,” at least he can fix the furnace.

Coffee Beans

Coffee beans, on the tree, ready to pick

But I’m a writer: when I’m writing a blogpost or editing a photo, I try to get it good enough. I look for that balance between time and quality. He’s an engineer: everything requires continuous tweaking in search of a perfection that doesn’t exist. There’s always something else that can be done.

Soon enough the French press found a new permanent home, unused on the top shelf. If I’d known then what I know now, I’d have mourned the last moments in which I was capable of brewing a cup of coffee in my own house.

Don Arilio

Don Arilio, the coffee farmer whose farm I visited

Last week, my husband complained that our kitchen scale didn’t do decimal points to accurately measure his coffee beans. I told him to use grams instead of ounces. He responded that he already was. The kettle we now have, on the other hand, not only has numbers after the decimal point for the temperature, it can hold water at precisely that tenth of a degree for as long as necessary. A time length for brewing that I don’t know, but which is programmed into his cell phone.

Meanwhile, in Colombia, I walked the grounds of a coffee farm. I visited a research center that tests beans to identify the specific chemical compounds that made up each region’s crop so that they could get DOP status—like how Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese can only be made in Emilia-Romagna, and Champagne only in Champagne. I watched researchers test trees to figure out which seed grows best in the soil of each part of the country. Despite an earthquake happening while I stood in the mill, I watched what a quality control check in a rural co-op looked like. And through it all, I wished my husband could be there.

Sorting for Quality

Watching coffee beans get sorted–pre-earthquake

In part because I love him and know he’d be interested in seeing what goes into his coffee beans before they get to him, and in part because I can already see him thinking through his new-found information to figure out just how he can use it to brew an even better cup of coffee.


  1. I was recently at a friend’s tour stop at Book Larder (Steeped) and she extolled the virtues of having a kettle that can bring water to a specific temperature.

  2. Happy to check out your blog via the Writing American Food Facebook group. What an experience to see this first hand! Hopefully your husband appreciated your notes from the trip. I will be in Panama in September, and hopefully I’ll be able to learn more about the coffee process as well.

  3. Thank you for the information