Miami may have long been a cafecito and colada kind of town, but make no mistake: it wasn’t until Joel Pollock and his wife, Leticia, two years ago swung open the doors to Panther Coffee, their Wynwood emporium of meticulously brewed specialty java, that we finally became a bona fide coffee city. Each with their own coffee pedigrees—she was a barista trainer for a high-end coffeemaker line in her native Brazil; he, a roaster in Portland, Oregon—they moved to Miami after marrying and deciding to open a business together. “We wanted to combine his roasting experience with my front of the house coffee and customer experience,” Leticia recalls. But how did they find their way to the Magic City? “New York was out of the question because it was too expensive. Plus, we wanted somewhere new and exciting and something closer to my family in Brazil,” she said. “So we went onto Priceline, saw tickets to Miami and a cheap hotel, and we just came. At the hotel in the mornings we’d ask, where’s the coffee shop? The only thing people would point us to was Starbucks. We realized we were in the right place.” Since opening, they’ve earned kudos from The New York Times, won the Good Food Award for responsibly produced foods and opened a second location in Sunset Harbour. All of which makes them more than qualified to share tips on how to make a great cup of coffee at home.
BUY FRESH COFFEE ONCE A WEEK Always, always use fresh roasted coffee, Leticia advises, because “nothing beats freshness.” Green coffee is good for about six months, she adds, “but once the beans are roasted they become very sensitive to light, heat and oxygen.” She suggests buying your coffee once a week so that the floral notes and nuances do not fade.
DO THE GRINDING YOURSELF “Everybody should have a little grinder. If you can’t have it,” Leticia says, stopping herself in mid-sentence, “you know what? Never mind—a cheap one costs $40 and you should have it! Even a cheap one is better than buying coffee that’s already ground. The point is: you need to grind your own beans. If you absolutely don’t want to deal with a grinder, buy the whole beans and grind it at the market. A lot of markets—like Whole Foods—have a grinder right there, on-site.” Why is this so important? “If the coffee beans oxidate quickly and lose their flavor once they’ve been roasted, once they’re ground it happens a hundred times faster,” Leticia said, “and you’ll lose all the characteristics you wanted in the first place.”
AND GRIND IT JUST RIGHT But how do you know what grind is right? “If it looks like powder, it’s too fine. And if you can determine the shapes of the grounds, it’s too coarse. Those are the extremes,” Leticia said. “Anything in the middle is usually fine.” In fact, you can slightly adjust the grind to your liking, she said, which can be a key element in bringing out certain characteristics of the coffee. “The finer the grind, the more you’ll bring out the chocolate and caramel notes of the bean. The coarser the grind, the brighter and more floral it will taste.”
WATCH THE HEAT If you’re brewing coffee by hand (rather than in an automatic coffee maker) and have boiled your own water, “make sure you let it cool down for about 30 seconds before pouring it over the grounds,” Leticia said. If the water is too hot it will scorch the grounds, causing the coffee to taste bitter.
BE CURIOUS There is no perfect ratio or recipe for coffee, Leticia said, so she advises to be curious and “experiment. If you’ve always been using two tablespoons of coffee to six ounces of water, try using three tablespoons instead. See what it does to the taste, and see if you like it.” You can also “grind it a little bit finer or a little bit coarser and that will change the taste too. Coffee is so interesting and complex. It’s worth exploring to find what you like.”