The Perfect Cup: Great Homemade Coffee with James Hoffmann | Christopher Kimball’s Milk Street

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Episode 613
March 2, 2023
Originally aired on May 13, 2022

The Perfect Cup: Great Homemade Coffee with James Hoffmann

The Perfect Cup: Great Homemade Coffee with James Hoffmann

YouTube coffee expert James Hoffmann shares the best, worst and weirdest coffee in the world—from his tried-and-true recipe for the ultimate cup at home to the time he tasted 70-year-old beans in Japan. Plus, Don and Petie Kladstrup tell us the story of the man who taught America to love Champagne; we make Beef Chili Colorado Tacos; and Adam Gopnik discusses the greatest food debates of our time.

Questions in this episode:

"I need some advice on how to make a basic lemon sugar cookie recipe more lemon-y and sweeter."

"I don’t like garlic. I was wondering if there’s something you can use instead?"

"What dried chilis should I get if I want to make my own blend of chili flakes?"

"What is chateau cheese? Can I use fresh lemon juice when making tomato sauce?"

James Hoffmann

Christopher Kimball: This is Milk Street Radio from PRX. I'm your host Christopher Kimball. YouTube creator James Hoffman has strong opinions about coffee. He cares of course about the flavor of the beans

James Hoffman: that should have some clear personality to it.

CK: He also has a lot to say about seemingly straightforward details, like water.

JH: Mineral content has a really appalling, depressing impact on the cup of coffee that you make.

CK: Today. James Hoffman on the best and worst ways to make a cup of coffee that's coming up later in the show. First, it's my interview with Don and Petie Kladstrup about Charles Heidsieck, the man who taught America to love champagne. Their book is called Champagne Charlie. Don and Petie. Welcome to Milk Street.

Don Kladstrup: Thank you.

Petie Kladstrup: Thanks for having us.

CK: Pleasure. We're talking champagne, especially the American side of the pond in the 19th century. But before we do that, you tell the history of champagne. And you start off with something that was amazing. That was Dom Perignon, worked strenuously your words to keep bubbles out of his champagne. Bubbles were considered a fault. I did not know that.

DK: Yeah, I think there are great myths about Dom Perignon. He invented bubbles. He was the inventor of champagne. He did no such thing. As you say, he fought strenuously against bubbles. He did everything in his power to eliminate those bubbles.

CK: So, I thought the method champignon’s you know, champagne was by definition, bubbly, but at the time, you could have a wine from Champagne region that was not bubbly.

PK: That's right, the first wines from Champagne, were still wines. And they were definitely in an effort to emulate the great wines of Burgundy. So, the wines were not only still they were a pale red in color.

CK: So now we get to Charles Heidsieck in the 1850s. He founded a great champagne house. He figures well, what's the greatest untapped market for champagne, the United States, which is probably a fairly big leap of faith, because I don't think given what I know about the 1850s, in the United States, people really knew much about champagne, or he had to do a big sales job to make champagne work here in the States, right?

DK: A huge sales job. Fortunately, Heidsieck was a man far ahead of his time, you know, long before the days of advertising and mass marketing. He was the one who realized that it was important to put a human face on the product that he was trying to sell.

PK: He was an incredible, indefatigable salesman, he attracted people and he was being invited to all of the main social events of the year. And talking about his champagne, it became so popular that people would go into a bar and order not a bottle of champagne, or even a bottle of Charles Heidsieck. They just said, bottle of Charles please

DK: He was a hard guy to miss. He had black wavy hair, a mustache, and he sported a goatee. He was also six foot three. And you know, whenever he showed up, people would just burst into song. There was a song that was written in his honor. And, you know, one can only assume that he probably sang along with them.

PK: And that's when he became Champagne Charlie.

CK: So, he returns to America in the mid 1850s. I think he wrote that he was selling 300,000 bottles of champagne a year as a big business. So, he owns like half the market. But he was facing problems with his sales agent, right?

DK: There were problems. The sales agent was not paying for the champagne that Heidsieck’s were shipping over to New York. And Heidsieck ended up having to confront him face to face saying, where's my money?

CK: And what year is this now?

PK: This would be 1861.

DK: Yeah, just as war was beginning.

CK: So, he's got problems with his distributor. He goes to the south, and then things get things get really nasty.

DK: That's right. It was there that he hoped, you know, he might be able to recuperate some of the money that he had been cheated out of, but no one had any money. What they did have was cotton. And Heidsieck agreed to accept that and try to ship it back to France and sell out there. And so that seemed like, you know, hey, this is something that could work. But it didn't because the two ships that Heidsieck ended up loading is cotton onto got gunned down by Union gunboats. They were sunk. Everything went to the bottom of the ocean. And Heidsieck was some despair he yeah, he was sunk as well.

CK: Well, he was sunk financially. But it got even worse because he was, I guess, carrying diplomatic pouch. And that got him to all sorts of political problems.

PK: That's right. On his last trip from Mobile to New Orleans, he agreed to carry the diplomatic pouch you mentioned. Well, when he got to New Orleans on that trip, the city had already fallen to Union forces, and Heidsieck was told to report to the commanding general, a man named General Benjamin Franklin Butler,

DK: Otherwise known as the beast, the local population there hated his guts.

PK: But the people Butler reserved, I think his greatest hatred for were the French. And when he saw Charles Heidsieck and saw the diplomatic pouch he erupted.

DK: Yeah, I mean, the incriminating evidence in that pouch was this letter from the French foreign minister, confirming that France was making uniforms for the Confederate Army. And when Butler saw that he saw red and decided, you know, Heidsieck should be put on trial as a spy for the Confederacy, and if found guilty, should be hung.

CK: So, he ends up in this prison on an island in the delta. So, I'm just quoting from you, “alligators would come in and try to get their snouts in through the bars and snap at the prisoners, Charles would pick up rocks and other things and throw them in the gaping jaws of these creatures. This was one of the ways he kept himself amused”. So this doesn't sound like a very fortuitous turn of events. Not at

PK: Not at all. It was a terrible spot. A swamp essentially, in the food was served was raw, all the meat and everything was raw. There was a lot of disease, yellow fever, it was a ghastly place. And Charles himself became very ill.

DK: Yeah, he was, according to some reports, near death. And it was during this time, that a huge letter writing campaign in his behalf was launched his friends writing to Washington saying, look, this man is innocent. He didn't know what the diplomatic pouch was carrying. Eventually, it worked.

PK: And the Lincoln administration realized that rather than have an international incident, it would be better just to release Heidsieck and send him home.

CK: So, he goes back to France. And at this point, his house of champagne has gone broke. (Yep) And then in yet another incredible twist of fate, he gets a knock on the door, a priest is there. And what is the tell Heidsieck,

PK: I have something to show you, I have a map for you. And he opened up the map and began walking his fingers across it, saying, this is yours. This one is also yours. Heidsieck was dumbfounded. Finally, it was all explained to him that the brother of the agent who had cheated Heidsieck had been appalled and ashamed by what his brother had done. At this point the brother, Thomas ___, left the family business and headed west. And he began buying up businesses, a lumber mill, a saloon and the land he bought was in a little well mining camp called Denver.

DK: Yeah. And the land that ___ had collected was or would be worth of a huge fortune. I mean, it's a third of the city of Denver. Wow. You know,

CK: That's a lot of land a lot of money and a whole lot of guilt. So, here's a guy who had enormous success, he becomes a media darling in the 1850s that ends up in jail in a swamp with alligators. He goes bankrupt, he gets half of Denver or a third of Denver deeded to him. So, the family business stay in the family after Heidsieck dies?

PK: It did for several generations. Like most of the major houses, today, it is owned by a larger corporation now, and yet it's maybe one of the few champagne houses where you still feel an incredible attachment to the founder.

DK: We were privileged to be invited for lunch at Champagne Charles Heidsieck. And I started to say, you know, you know, I once had a bottle of Heidsieck and the woman sitting next to me says, you don't say Heidsieck, you can say you ordered a bottle of Charles, but never just Heidsieck. She was really insulted

CK: Did you actually get serve lunch then or did they ask you to leave?

DK: Yeah, yeah, they let me stay around but you know I I made that mistake several times and each time got swatted down.

CK: Don and Petie the story of Champagne Charlie. Lots of ups and downs but I guess it ended well thank you.

PK: You're very welcome

DK: Thank you


CK: That was Don and Petie Kladstrup authors of Champagne Charlie the Frenchman who Taught Americans to Love Champagne. Now it's time to answer your cooking questions and kitchen mysteries with my co-host, Sara Moulton. Sara is of course the author of Home Cooking One on One. She also stars in Sara's Weeknight Meals on public television. Hi, Sara.

Sara Moulton: Hello, Chris,

CK: Do you want to take the first call?

SM: Yes, I do. Welcome to Milk Street who's calling.

Caller: Hi, this is Gwen in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

SM: Hi, Gwen. How can we help you today?

Caller: I am calling because I need some advice on how to make a basic lemon sugar cookie recipe more lemony and sweeter.

SM: Tell me what's in the current recipe you're making,

Caller: I cut the recipe in half because I don't like to usually make however many dozens a full recipe will make. With that being said, it calls for a cup of sugar, two and a quarter teaspoons of lemon juice, and then a half a tablespoon of lemon zest. What I do with that is just to amplify the sugar and the lemon part. I just add maybe one and a half to two tablespoons of sugar. And then I think I ended up adding like a tablespoon of lemon juice. The flavor ends up being really great but the cookies are deflated and they spread.

SM: And there's some egg in there and some flour and it's there leavoner as well.

Caller: There's baking powder and baking soda.

SM: Okay, I would really up the lemon flavor through the zest more than the juice because the juice is liquid, a batter can spread because there's too much liquid in there or there's too much sugar. Because sugars tend to make crispier or thinner cookies, what I would do, you probably added extra sugar because you added extra lemon too, so you had to balance the two. But if you just upped the zest, mix the zest by the way with the sugar, the sugar that was in the original recipe sort of to distribute it more really up the zest you could go significantly up. I think you might achieve what you want without having to add more sugar. The other thing is to of course, perhaps try chilling the dough before you bake it that might help too. Now I'm sure Chris is going to completely disagree.

CK: I am. Okay dump the lemon juice, lemon juice doesn't have nearly as much favor as the zest. Two put the sugar in a food processor. If you have one and zest the lemon right onto the sugar. What happens when you possess lemon is the oils which have a lot of flavor often get lost on the cutting board. So, you're giving up about half the flavor of the zest that way. So put the sugar in a small bowl zest zest on top of it. Put that in a food processor and process for about a minute. The zest and the sugar obviously get mixed together. And you really optimize the flavor of the lemon. In which case you're not going to have to add juice. And you're not going to have to add more sugar.

SM: I agree with Chris. I just want to throw out one more thing. There's a couple of different of those grating tools, the long thin ones. And there's some that are specifically for zest. And they're really fantastic. It just comes right off the lemon. It’s fantastic.

CK: That's a good point Sara is absolutely right If you get the right, the right size holes in shape. It's so easy to do. Yeah.

Caller: Excellent.

CK: Thanks for calling.

SM: All right Gwen

Caller: Thank you so much, both of you for your expertise.

CK: Alrighty. Bye.

SM: Bye bye.

CK: Welcome to Milk Street who's calling?

Caller: My name is Emma Stanton.

CK: How can we help you?

Caller Well, I don't like garlic. And the reason I don't like garlic because it leaves such an aftertaste. And I was wondering if there's something that you could use in place of garlic.

CK: Well, you and I were born with the same genetics about garlic. I can't stand the aftertaste either. So, I'll give you three suggestions.

Caller: Okay.

CK: In Italy, they often take whole cloves, and they might smash them a little bit and they cook them in let's say the oil while there could do something and then remove the garlic cloves before serving. So, you get a very nice, gentle, smooth garlic flavor without the aftertaste. Number two never use a garlic press thinly sliced cloves and put them in with the oil or whatever. And by not crushing the garlic, you also do not get a strong aftertaste. If neither of those work, I would just use shallots. They're not identical to garlic but you'll get some of that flavor. You're not going to get the strong aftertaste. Sara?

SM: Let me ask you a question. Do you like and I hate to make gross generalizations because this is really true about all Italian food, but you like Italian food?

Caller: Some of it. I have on vacation in Italy, and it didn't seem to bother me. I found that the garlic there was not as strong as the garlic in America.

CK: They don't mince it they use whole cloves. And if you don't break the garlic down,

SM: yeah, because when you rupture the garlic,

CK: You get that enzyme activity, and you get the allicin which is released.

SM: I think what happens here is that our garlic is sold old. It’s not as fresh as it should be.

Caller: Okay,

CK: But just never mince it. Don't crush it.

Caller: Okay

CK: Just leave it as whole as possible.

Caller: Now some people use like a garlic paste.

CK: No

Caller: Yeah, that's what I thought.

CK: that's called a worst-case scenario. That's not going to work out for you at all.

SM: Well, the other thing actually that works very nicely is taking a whole head of garlic cutting off the top. That's good. Wrapping it in foil, drizzling some olive oil on the cut top of it. So, you've just cut off the top quarter of it to expose all the cloves inside, put all of oil, wrap it in the foil and put it in, say a 350 oven until I don't know how long 45 minutes or so it should really really soften. And then you can just turn the whole head upside down and squeeze out the cloves and they are so sweet, and mild and yummy. And then you can just add that to recipes that ask you for garlic.

CK: Or you could do the same thing in a soup or stew. (Yeah) just make sure there's no loose paper on the outside. Cut off the top quarter. Throw it in the pot. Yeah, two hours later. fish it out. And wait it out. Yeah. And that's not going to give you that strong aftertaste. Yeah. Okay, that's good.

Caller: I Got it. Okay.

CK: Emma, thank you so much. It's been a pleasure.

SM: Yes.

Caller: Thank you so much. For all these tips. I appreciate it. Thanks. Take care.

SM: You too. Bye.

CK: Bye. This is Milk Street Radio. If you want to change the way you cook, just give us a ring anytime. Our number is 855-426-9843 one more time 855-426-9843 or simply email us at questions at Milk Street Welcome to Milk Street who's calling?

Caller: This is Daniel from Virginia.

CK: How are you?

Caller: Good. How are y'all doing?

CK: Pretty good. I think I think we are we're doing well. How can we help you?

Caller: That’s good enough for me. I was calling because I've really over the past year when getting into really using whole dried chilies for a variety of reasons for making sauces and you know, flavoring stews, and also lately making my own chili powder, which I really enjoy. And I've gotten pretty comfortable with using the usual suspects like you know, guajillo and ancho and all those. But you know, one particular condiment I really like is chili flake is crushed red pepper. I can't seem to figure out what dried chilies I should get my hand on if I want to make my own blend of crushed red pepper, something close to what we would normally buy in the stores. Are there particular peppers that I should look for or kind of where I should start?

CK: Well, if I were going to do this, I've not done it. I would just go find a mix of really interesting peppers. You mentioned guajillo peppers, which are my favorite, because they're really fruity. (Yeah) I find a lot of crushed red peppers you buy in the jar, or just about heat, you know, but they're not adding flavor. And then you know, if you spend time and place like well Oaxaca, for example, it's really not about the heat it's about the flavor. Our bok choy’s, you know what be interesting Calabrian chilies, but I wouldn't imitate what the supermarket as I go for fruity or more interesting flavors. And guajillo would be my number one choice and you mentioned that already. And I'd mix them up, you know, have two or three different kinds, as you said, just try them and it's going to be a lot better than what you buy in the store. So you can hardly go wrong with this. I mean, Sara, what do you think?

SM: Right, no, I agree. You're going to have to dry them. I mean, if you start with fresh chilies, I believe that the chili flakes are made either from a mix of all the other chilies or from cayenne, and they're dried chilies and then they dry them slowly, and then grind up the seeds and the chili itself, and that's what you find in those jars. But I agree with Chris take chilies that you like anyway, and you could certainly start with your own fresh chilies and dry very slowly in a dehydrator would be best, but I don't know Daniel, if you have one?

Caller: You know I have an oven with a convection fan and a pretty nice dehydrator setting that's worked for me to past

SM: Wow, good for you

CK: Just start with dried chilies. You know, you can get them by mail order that's what I would do.

SM: Okay.

CK: Well, I mean, it's just I mean, you can buy like 10 different varieties dried or ready so

Caller: And I have plenty of them if what I'm hearing is correct that just kind of approached it the wrong way and I can kind of get started today sort of playing around with it. I think that's pretty exciting.

CK: Our food editor Matt Card, he takes dried chilies he toasts them in a skillet right for a few minutes, stems him gets the seeds out and then crushes them. But I think toasting the dried chilies would probably be a good idea. I think that might heighten the flavor.

SM: Yeah, that would bring out more of the flavor.

Caller: Yeah, great. I'll give it a shot. That sounds great. Thanks, you all

SM: And you know what, Daniel, tell us how it goes.

Caller: I sure will. I'd be happy to do that. Yep, definitely thank you

SM: Okay. Take care

Caller: Okay, bye bye.

CK: He sounded like a man freed

SM: He's walking into the kitchen right now to do this. Yeah,

CK: I can do anything I want.

SM: We have these callers who are just amazing. They're so impressive. It makes me feel like a complete slouch over here. I mean, I make family dinner but that's it.

CK: I bet it's pretty good. You're listening to Milk Street Radio. Up next, we'll hear from James Hoffman about how to make the ultimate cup of coffee and hope that's here in just a moment. This is Milk Street Radio, I'm your host, Christopher Kimball. Right now, I'm joined by James Hoffman. On his popular YouTube channel, Hoffman teaches viewers how to make coffee. James, welcome to Milk Street.

James Hoffman: Thank you very much for having me.

CK: I've watched you on YouTube. I love your deep dives. Almost insane, deep dives into the world of coffee. I remember watching you review coffee making methods. You were talking about drip machines and how to fix drip machines to solve some of the obvious problems like the cold water stir. And you said this really threw me You said, I can taste the cold start in the drip machine. And I'm going like, that's pretty, that's pretty advanced. But

JH: I think I have to make something very clear. I'm not a naturally gifted taster. I practice hard. I taste a lot. And I think that that's most of it. But I don't think I have some particularly clever palette or unusual gift for it. And I think you know, I'm very cautious about this where I'm talking about the taste of coffee. If it is something that only one and 100 people can really pick out it doesn't matter really in the grand scheme of things. I'm interested in kind of everyone's coffee being a little bit better. So those tastes improvements, they have to be meaningful and noticeable to just about anybody.

CK: So, okay, so what is it we should be looking for? If you have a great cup of coffee, what is it you're looking for? It's not in a bad cup of coffee.

JH: Firstly, this balance, you want a little bit of everything in terms of facility sweetness, a little bitterness, but nothing should be loud or dominant. I think a bad cup of coffee is out of balance most of the time where it's too sour or it's too bitter. But a little bit of everything is very lovely. And then I was here the other thing is that it should have a little bit of character to it. It might be broadly fruity. It might be broadly chocolaty, but you know, there's no best flavor, but it should have some clear personality to it. I think.

CK: So, you know, I'm standing in a store I want to buy coffee helped me out, you know, what do I look for?

JH: But let's start with what you like, what what kind of coffee do you drink?

CK: I don't know if we have time to go into this. Because I'm very opinionated. Like asking me how to make an old version. I like medium roast. I do not like dark roast. I don't like a lot of bitterness or acidity. I'd like depth of character. I like lots of you know, chocolate notes. I don't like fruity notes at all. I think they're weird in coffee. But I just want that depth of roasted flavor without crossing into bitterness. That's what I want.

JH: So, coffee should be a nice broadchurch nothing is better than anything else. But generally speaking, there might be certain origins that you enjoy more places like Brazil or Guatemala or potentially Colombia are kind of producers of very sweet, very approachable coffees, you don't really want to see any oil on the outside of the beans. You don't want to see any kind of words that might give away a darker roast. If you see smokey on the side run away, if you see kind of any sort of darker caramelized words in there, treacle, those kinds of things run away from those. But beyond that, you're looking for a lot not descriptors, if they use hazelnuts, peanuts, those kind of things that that's that's kind of getting you into that ballpark, obviously, chocolate, toffee, caramel, I think beyond that there has to be unfortunately, a little trial and error and all of this sort of stuff. But roasting coffee consistently is genuinely, really, really very difficult.

CK: So, let's talk about coffee making methods. I use French press; I wish somebody would make a French press that sounds like a percolator than heaven. Here's my method, I use a medium to coarse grind, I only let it sit three to four minutes, your method took 10 to 12 minutes, was much more complex and interesting. So do you want to defend yourself here

JH: I’ll defend myself. So I don't think it's that complicated. What I want from a French press is what it's good at which is really even brewing. Because it's an infusion brewer, all of the coffee is hanging out with all of the water at the same time that it's a really technically good way to brew coffee. What I don't like about French press coffee is the last mouthful feeling like I've got a little bit of beach in there. I don't want the sandy silty gritty stuff in that. I don't like it. I don't want it in there. So, you know, I would add coffee to water or add water to coffee sorry. 60 grams per liter. medium grind actually, I like a slightly finer grind, and most people do after four minutes.

CK: Let me stop you there. Everybody I've read with well, French press, you need a coarse grind. You you definitely said medium grind. And why is that?

JH: I think it tastes better. I think that if you grind coarse, you'll end up with a slightly weaker cup than you needed to have. And I think by going a little finer, you don't get that harsh bitterness because of the way this sort of infusion __ works. It's very gentle. But you get a nice full rich cup from that slightly lower dose. And I think it tastes great,

CK: Good reason. So, after three or four minutes, I'm drinking my coffee, but you're not done.

JH: Well, I would say after three, four minutes, that coffee is still too hot to drink. And what I would rather do is leave it in the pot. And so, after four minutes, I've given that kind of crust a little stir, anything that is sort of floating around I’ll scoop that off and just throw it down the sink.

CK: Why do you let the crust sit there for three or four minutes, because if you don't stir it in at the beginning, you're not getting an even extraction right?

JH: Well, now that doesn't seem to be the case. Essentially, this method is kind of a copycat of the way that coffee professionals taste coffee every single day, we'll use just a bowl with ground coffee and hot water, mix it up like a French press. But we'll stir that crust after four minutes, we'll scoop off anything on top. And then we'll taste the resulting liquid. And the thing that we worked out is that even though the grounds are sitting at the bottom of that French press, they're not really extracting anymore. They're just kind of gone dormant, so to speak. But if I if I wait two minutes, three minutes, four minutes, a lot of that silty fine powder, coffee grounds that are floating around in that liquid, they sink to the bottom. And then I can just pour off the liquid on top that just feels much nicer to drink is much more enjoyable, and ultimately goes into my cup at kind of the right temperature for drinking.

CK: Now, you've said many times that the taste of a cup of coffee is mostly about the water. And you actually said you needed filtered water or gone by bottled water. But if you have hard water, that's going to be a nonstarter.

JH: Yeah, I sort of I hate the idea of recommending bottled water to people. So that's sort of it's the my worst case scenario solution, because no one feels good about it. But the water that you have the sort of minimal content has a really depressing impact on the cup of coffee that you make. And if there's a lot of limescale in there, not only will you scale up all your equipment, and that's bad, but the coffee you make will be very bland, very muted. It'll be kind of boring as a result. So relatively soft water makes better tasting coffee. I don't like that that's true, but it is. These days, however, there's more and more options that aren't bottled water. So, there's more and more kind of filters for coffee specifically, but it makes such a difference.

CK: I you started out as a croupier, a in a casino which I just love it. And then you as you pointed out, won the World Barista Championship in Tokyo in 2007. What happened in between?

JH: I sort of had walked out of a job quite literally on a Friday and sort of I'll see I won't see on Monday, I'm done. And no one really cared. And I needed a job very quickly and they were paying weekly to demonstrate coffee machines in a department store. Then even though I didn't drink or like a coffee, they pay paid weekly, and I had rent coming. So, I took the job.

CK: Wait, wait, wait. You didn't like coffee? How old were you?

JH: I was like 23. I'd never drunk hot drinks. People, you know, the first two weeks are painful to think about. I would make people coffee. And they'd be like, is it supposed to be this bitter? And I have no idea. Honestly, no idea. But do you want to buy one? But but I started to read about coffee. And what got me was the way that coffee is completely intertwined in cultures in different ways all over the world. I was like, oh, there's something here. And then I learned I really did like coffee a lot. And by 2007, I quit my job went off to compete in Tokyo. And, you know, the Tokyo experience was wild and wonderful. And I ended up winning the World Barista Championship. And they're a little bit like Sommelier competitions that are a little bit like sort of chefing competitions. They're kind of part dog show. But you make three drinks for each of the four judges, you make them each and espresso each a cappuccino and eject nonalcoholic coffee cocktail of some sort. I think 52 different countries were competing in the world competition in Tokyo the year that I won. And that was an indescribably weird experience where 3000 people were watching live in the room as you made coffee was just just beyond comprehension to me at that time, but it was amazing.

CK: Okay, so you know, here's the question with wine. I always think if you spend up to $30 a bottle, it's not much different than 70 or $80. A bottle. Is that also true of coffee?

JH: You know, I think I obviously have a bias here. But I think coffee has one of the best multiples to go from the cheap to the expensive wine, you go from $5 to $500. (Right) I think good coffee is comparatively speaking, extremely affordable. And I think it's cheaper than it should be. Yes, if you start to spend serious money, you're buying into something else, you're buying into kind of an intellectualized experience there, where it's meaningful to you about the story of this particular coffee or the experiment behind this particular lot. But from a sheer flavor perspective, you're not getting something better necessarily, you might be getting something weirder or more unusual or rarer, but not necessarily better. So, I think good coffee, great coffee is fantastic value for money. Unlike great wine, which is much harder to argue, you know, that $100 bottle of wine is good value, you know what I mean? But a $20 bag of coffee, I think is great value, you get a lot more liquid out of it. And I think you're drinking some of the best coffee in the world for not much more than some of the worst.

CK: I think you once tasted coffee made with beans from the about the time I was born in the 50s. I can't imagine those beans were still tasty, but maybe I'm wrong.

JH: There is a there's a place in Tokyo. And they specialize in sort of treating raw coffee, as if it was a fine wine that should be aged, I was taken there and immediately went for the oldest coffee on the menu, which was from Colombia and picked in 1952. They would roast it to order which is something that's not generally done, and they would grind it and brew it in front of you. And it was with a lot of ceremony, it was very expensive. And they replaced this very small cup of brewed coffee in front of me. And I was excited because I had no idea what I was going to taste. I took a sip. And at that point, I was reminded of the fact that the primary reason that we can taste things is to stop us eating things that might kill us. And in that moment, every alarm bell went off in my body of like, this is not safe to drink. And you know, don't don't do this. So yes, raw coffee should absolutely 100% not be aged.

CK: So, the wine world, you know, is full of trends, some of them silly. Is there a trend right now in the world of coffee that either just keeps you up at night makes you so angry? Or is there a trend you think is actually, you know, a really interesting trend?

JH: You know, I think the world of social media has accelerated trends in a whole other way. You know, at the start of the pandemic, the coffee trend was called Dalgona coffee or ____coffee, which was sort of whipped instant coffee to the point it was a mouse and this was broadly terrible but it was kind of fun to make. Right now, it's fresh orange juice with a shot of espresso. That is the sort of hot thing (oh no) absolutely. And people are like this, isn't it? This is actually good. Lord, like part of me is, you know, it's like you can't do that. But then there's the other part of me like people are enjoying coffee, people are going to brew a cup of coffee and they're excited. And I sort of have to keep that in mind the most. But yeah, it gets kind of silly really quickly.

CK: You know, I suspect though, you're a lot like me, you have very strong opinions about coffee because you love it (Sure). So, you don't have to apologize about people who want to do really dumb things like putting espresso in orange juice. There's no way that's a good idea, right?

JH: You know, orange juice. It's a local citric acid that's nice in most things. It's plenty of sugar.

CK: You're not going to defend this.

JH: All I'm saying is the food science behind it isn't terrible. I don't particularly like the idea of coffee and orange juice. I've tried packaged coffee and orange juice and it was terrible. But you know I could see how someone could like it, even if I think it's kind of weird.

CK: James, a great pleasure. And now you've challenged me to rethink everything I thought I knew about making coffee. James, thank you so much for being on Milk Street

JH: Thank you so much. Thanks for having me.

CK: That was YouTube creator and coffee expert James Hoffman. He has a book coming out this August. The title is How to Make the Best Coffee at Home. You know, my career has been focused on finding the best method for making a particular dish. And over many years, some have asked how there can be just one best way. Sure, different people have different tastes so one person's best chocolate chip cookie, may be someone else's runner up. James Hoffman reminds me however, that there is science and method to cooking. For years, I made what I thought was great French press coffee. When I converted to Hoffman's recipe, I enjoy a vastly improved cup. The takeaway is that the best version of anything is indeed a moving target. But let's all agree that not everything is relative. A bad cup of coffee is still a bad cup of coffee. You're listening to Milk Street Radio. It's time to chat with Lynn Clark about this week's recipe. Beef chili Colorado tacos. Lynn, how are you?

Lynn Clark: I'm doing well. Chris, how are you?

CK: Another quick travel story from yours truly, which I know you love so much.

LC: I do, I love them.

CK: So, I spent a couple of days in LA with Javier Cabrera. He edits LA Taco. He's also a consultant on the Netflix series Taco Chronicles. And he took me around to mostly food carts. And what was so interesting is, these are examples of hyper regional tacos and similar foods from northern Mexico that find an audience, right? Because LA has so many people either from those regions, or who love that food. And so, it can support these very specific styles that, for example, you're not going to see here in Boston, (right) And so the flowers which is like this footlong sort of cigar shaped fried tortillas stuffed with lamb and mole sauce, for example, a shrimp taco, which had sort of a secret recipe to it, which is great. But the one I found really would appeal to almost anyone was a beef chili Colorado taco it’s actually a burrito. And this was at Walter Soto's. It's called El Ruso Tacorita. It's a food truck. And, you know, was simple straightforward, didn't have 25 different ingredients, but it was so absolutely stunningly good, perfect execution. So, what is a beef chili Colorado burrito or taco,

LC: So chili Colorado is simply meat braised with red chilies. And so here we're going to use some New Mexican chilies. That's pretty much what they would use their California and or New Mexican chilies. What we're going for here is that kind of earthiness from dried chilies, not so much the heat, you can substitute with guajillo if you can't find New Mexican, they are a little bit spicier. And first we need to soften those dried chilies because we're going to make this really beautiful chili puree that we're going to cook some boneless chuck roast in. It's combined with a little bit of garlic, oregano, cumin, those dried chilies are softened, they get pureed. We cook off some of that chuck roast in big chunks to get some browning on it with a little bit of flour to thicken that chili puree just a tiny bit. And then that gets braised all together for a couple of hours on the stovetop the meat is really tender and moist, shredded. Color is beautiful. The flavor of that chili puree is really the star of this dish. You know it's got so much flavor so much earthiness. You really almost don't need anything else to put on top of this. So, we're making it as a taco. Top it with just a little bit of cilantro and chopped onion. Really important to use a flour tortilla here, homemade if you do it, or if you can find it at a Mexican market. I think you had it in a very different way.

CK: Well, El Ruso is famous for the soba __, which is the armpit tortilla. I watched his wife actually make it in the food truck. She starts you know the masa, but she does it all by hand. And then she starts shaping it and when it gets a little bigger like six, seven inches. She flips it back and forth on her forearms. Hence the term armpit tortilla because you basically use your arms without a press, and it gets it's huge. I mean it looks like this giant, you know, napkin or something I don't know round napkin. I miss you throws it on the grill quickly to finish them off. So, this burrito was big, as you can imagine.

LC: And also, not like a burrito that we think of here. There's no rice there's no you no fillings in it. It's just the meat inside this almost thin, chewy tortilla.

CK: Well, he serves lots of other tacos with beef and rice and other things in it. But this one, as you said, is just it's pure. And also, as you said, the chilies fruity. It's not really spicy. It's just absolutely stunning. So, these huge napkins sized tortillas are filled to bursting, you know, don't wear a suit, you know, get a large stack of napkins, and it kind of breaks the rule about never eating anything, you know, larger than your head.

LC: That's a rule?

CK: In my household. But anyway, I thought it was absolutely stunning. And it was such a great trip because you learned so much about you know, styles of tacos and burritos and other things that really don't exist in lots of other parts of the country. So, it's Walter Soto's el Ruso Tacorita, it's the chili Colorado taco or burrito. Thank you, Lynn.

LC: You're welcome. You can get the recipe for beef chili, Colorado tacos at Milk Street

CK: This is Milk Street Radio coming up Adam Gopnik on the greatest food debates of our time. We'll be back right after the break. I'm Christopher Kimball, you're listening to Milk Street Radio. It's time for Sara and me to take a few more of your calls.

SM: Welcome to Milk Street who's calling?

Caller: Hi, this is Margaret, in Vermont.

SM: Oh, well, we have to know where in Vermont, because Chris is here needs to know. Come on.

CK: Give it up. Where?

Caller: South Newfane Vermont. near Brattleboro. You know it?

CK: I stopped at the Brattleboro Co-op many, many, many times per year.

Caller: Oh, I'm there all the time. I've probably shoved you aside at some point.

CK: And the checkout people tell jokes, which is great. Okay, moving forward.

SM: Okay Margaret how can we help you today?

Caller: I have this old recipe of my mother's. I'm guessing it from the 70s for celery au gratin, which is something she used to make that I loved. And I've never made it because I'm stymied by its call for grated Chateau cheese. What in the world is Chateau cheese, please?

SM: Well, let's back up for a second. Tell me about this gratin. Tell me what the dish was like.

Caller: Oh, it was buttery and delicious and cheesy. You start with the cooked celery, butter, flour, pepper, milk, cheese and buttered breadcrumbs.

SM: The cheese was it sharp? Was it you know full of flavor?

Caller: I don’t remember because it's been so many years since I've had it. You know, I just remember that it was sort of gooey.

SM: There was a company out of Canada that made something called Chateau cheese that was like Velveeta, it was one of those ones that pasteurized cheese product. It's possible it was that kind of cheese.

Caller: When I looked it up. I was just finding all of these, you know, Chateau brand. fancy French cheeses. That's not what she would have used. She only shopped in supermarkets.

CK: Sara’s right.

Caller: You know, it wouldn't have been too fancy, or she wouldn't have made it.

CK: Yeah, it's the Canadian one.

SM: Well, if you want it to be similar to what she made, I think you have to use what would we say but more of an American cheese kind of thing. which melts well, it's processed the way it is and it melts, you know, A plus, I don't know. And you can get white American cheese so that it's not orange

CK: the Swiss cheese, they put on everything. raclette, it melts well,

SM: It's got a nice flavor.

Caller: Yeah, yeah. Yeah.

SM: I mean, if you want to make a classy one, use raclette. If you want to make what your mom made, I would say use American cheese. And I'm going to stop saying classy. It's all good.

Caller: It is helping me just sort of place it in, you know, the universe of cheeses to use that word because, you know, I'm just trying to think what my mom would have used. So, I'm thinking that I could try the raclette. Okay.

CK: Well from Chateau to raclette, there you go.

SM: All right. Thanks, Margaret.

CK: Best of luck.

Caller: Thank you so much. I'm going to make it really soon. And I'll let you know how it turns out.

SM: We love it when we hear back.

Caller: I’ll tell you

CK: Take care. Bye.

SM: Bye bye.

CK: This is Milk Street Radio. If you need help figuring out dinner, give us a ring anytime. 855-426-9843 one more time 855-426-9843 or email us at questions at Milk Street Welcome to Milk Street who's calling?

Caller: This is Alice Taylor.

CK: How are you?

Caller: I'm great. Thank you. It's nice to talk to you

CK: Nice to talk to you. How can we help you?

Caller: I have a question about canning tomatoes. I have been using real lemon from the bottle to get the acid back in it with an also a teaspoon of salt. Can I use fresh lemon juice instead of using the bottled lemon? Will it give me enough to acid?

CK: Yes, I think so. You know I bought but if you're canning, you want to make sure you get the pH, right. So, you'd want to check with your extension service or whatever. Yeah, you want to make sure that if the pH is off, you have a problem.

Caller: I've never had a quart go bad but I just wondered if I could use freesh

SM: Well, the thing about fresh is lemons differ in their acidity.

CK: How much lemon juice are you supposed to add for a quart jar?

Caller: I don't remember it's a different like a tablespoon for a quart and a teaspoon for a pint something like that. There's a difference? I think you probably but I always use a teaspoon of salt. And then I think two tablespoons of lemon juice for a quart. And they're always good and they're always delicious. But I just wondered if I could use fresh lemon rather than the bottle of lemon juice

SM: I would check with your extension. All right, for somebody who has a fear of canning.

CK: Sara wakes up every night at 2 in the morning worried about killing people

SM: Yeah, I would just make sure., yeah

Caller: All right. Thank you. All right. Okay. Take care. Take care. Bye.

SM: Bye bye.

CK: Next up, it's Adam Gopnik. Adam, what's up this week?

Adam Gopnik: Well, Chris, I've been exploring what the great food debates of our time are so that I would not merely be indulging in my own frivolous philosophical speculations be it addressing directly the things that really matter to our listeners. But here's the fascinating thing, Chris, when I started Googling, the great food controversies of our time, turned out not to be what I expected, which is vegetarianism versus meat eating, or sustainability, versus mass agriculture. All those things that you and I have talked about. That's not what turns up first. Instead, what turns up first, are those incredibly trivial things, right? Which chicken wing part is better? Can you fold over a piece of pizza? Or do you have to eat it flat

CK: Is a hot dog a sandwich?

AG: Is a hot dog a sandwich? Can you put ketchup on a hot dog? Now, at first, I was sort of shocked right by the seeming triviality of these preoccupations. But when you think about it, one of the many, many roles that food plays in our civilization is to teach us to value minut discriminations. We use food to teach ourselves that little things count very big. So, when you think about why people would care about questions like if deep dish pizza can even be called pizza, I am a New Yorker, as you know, and therefore whenever I am in Chicago, I find what they call pizza to be this bizarre concoction of lukewarm tomato sauce and day-old bread. I don't get it. But why then do we care about what happens at dinner? It's the primal place where we learn to make the minut discriminations that give us an aesthetic life.

CK: Well, a couple of weeks ago, I posted a short video on apple pie. And one of the things I said was never put cinnamon in your apple pie. 450,000 views later and 500 comments, most of them not very positive, I'd have to point out, I realized I'd really struck a culinary chord. You know, I think food and maybe sports are two things. People have strong opinions about because they have, especially with food firsthand experience, right? We have no first-hand experience on Proust one of your favorite topics, but we do about food because we do it every day.

c: Yes, that's another way of understanding not that it's foundational to our discriminations, but because there's so little at stake that we can freely express our tastes in that way. But my bigger question for you is why would you not put cinnamon in Apple Pie.

CK: Do we have enough time to discuss? Okay, I'll give you the short version. (Please) if you buy good apples that have flavor, ah, what you don't want to do is take one of the strongest spices out there and cover up the subtle flavor of the apple so

AG: now it will come in with you heard that somebody who searches is for Winesaps stat at every farmers market I completely agree. But exactly this conversation exemplifies exactly what I was talking about. We can invest in the question of cinnamon and apple pie. And when we try and take it apart, dissect it, what are we really arguing about? We're arguing about the disappearance of broad varieties and apples, right? We're really exploring a whole vein of sensibility that we get to explore and very few other aspects of our life, exactly, as you said, because we don't always have them in common. Believe me, there's a million things to talk about in Proust. But you have to read Proust first, there are a million things to argue about with apple pies, and everybody enjoys an apple pie.

CK: So, I'll leave you with a final question which you answer, which is a hot dog a sandwich.

AG: A hot dog is not a sandwich, and it can never have ketchup on it. A slice of pizza is obscene when it is rolled over. It should only be eaten flat. And yes, there should always be beans and chili.

CK: And don't make deep dish pizza.

SM: Don't make it and don't sell it. There are reasons why we call Chicago the second city.

CK: Oh, there goes that market. Adam thank you so much.

AG: Pleasure, Chris.

CK: That was Adam Gopnik, staff writer at The New Yorker. That's it for today. You can find this episode and all of our episodes on Apple podcast, Spotify, Milk Street, or wherever you get your podcasts. You can learn all about Milk Street at 177 Milk There you can download each week's recipe, watch our television show, and learn about our magazine and our latest cookbook. The World in a Skillet. We're on Facebook at Christopher Kimball's Milk Street, Instagram, and Twitter at 177 Milk Street. We'll be back next week and thanks as always for listening.

Christopher Kimball's Milk Street Radio is produced by Milk Street in association with GBH co-founder Melissa Baldino, executive producer Annie Sensabaugh, Senior Editor Melissa Allison, producer Sarah Clapp, Assistant Producer Caroline Davis with production help from Debby Paddock. Additional editing by Sidney Lewis audio mixing by Jay Allison and Atlantic Public Media and Woods Hole Massachusetts. The music by Toubab Krewe, additional music by George Brandl Egloff. Christopher Kimball’s Milk Street Radio is distributed by PRX.