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How To Achieve the Thick Consistency of Peet's In-Store Drip Coffee? [Moved from San Francisco Bay Area board]

I'm hoping a former Peet's barrista would be willing to spill the beans on this one. Because Peet's drip coffee in the store is absolutely different, in terms of consistency - it's thicker, more full bodied, and almost espresso-like.

I've tried a ton of different methods (drip machines, espresso machines, Chemex, French press) but none yield that thick, almost syrupy consistency that you get in a store-bough Peet's. I've also tried grinding the coffee finer, yet that more often than not yields more bitterness than it does body. I've also tried a variety of different waters thinking that that might be the trick. And I've tried all of their variety of beans. Yet, at the end of the day, in the thousands of cups I have brewed, there's still that battle between the minerality of the water and coffee flavor. What I'd like to do is find a way to have the coffee taste fully take center stage, in a more viscous, syrupy way. I'm not looking to make espresso, but for that wonderfully thick middle ground that a good cup of Peet's embodies. Having tried to isolate all of the variables, I can't help but wonder if it's something that they do to the water to give it that heaviness. Any thoughts?

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  1. Are you using a decent grinder? Filtered water? Making sure the water is hot enough? Enough coffee grounds?

    You might try cold-brewing (eg toddy)--it's a different flavor, but it could be more towards what you're looking for.

    8 Replies
    1. re: xanadude

      Yes, to all of the above. Burr grinder, filtered water, heated to betw. 190 and 200 degrees, and enough coffee grinds.

      Cold brewing interests me, since I've never tried it...but what I'm searching for is viscosity - it's just a question of degree. But the difference, I think, is there - there's something Peet's does, in house, to give their coffee a thicker consistency than any other drip coffee I had. The closest analogue, in terms of fullness, would be espresso brewed on a stovetop mocha (a shade less thick than machine brewed espresso)...but Peet's is able to somehow get that thickness without the caffeine density of mocha'd espresso. I don't know if my description is making any sense, but I've been trying for years to somehow approximate Peet's viscosity, with no luck.

      1. re: Una_Spremuta

        We don't have Peet's shops out here and I've never been to one, but if I had to guess it relates to the filter media. Could it be that they're brewing press pots and pouring those into the airpots for holding at temperature and serving? Numerous cafes in the PNW do "drip" that way.

        Another possibility is that they're using some type of a Swiss Gold or other filter instead of paper so that more oils come through.

        When you find out definitively, please let us know.

        1. re: Panini Guy

          Try a Swiss Gold filter. Lets more of the oils through. The paper filters filter out too much of the richness of the coffee. My gold filter is as close as I can get to the old linen and muslin filters that my grandmothers used in their French drip pots. Hand dripping makes a difference - machines can't replace that slow, patient drip/pour over the grinds.

          1. re: MakingSense

            I've watched them closely, and it's a large paper filter, which rests above an industrial-sized coffee brewer. The water is released via spigot, which is suspended on a metal arm above the grinds. It could be that the spigot releases the water extra slowly, but it's hard to tell from a distance. I think Maria is right that it probably is a question of time, ie how long the water remains in contact with the ground coffee. It's interesting to note, as well, that the filter is oval and flat bottomed, which may contribute to the time of brewing.

            1. re: Una_Spremuta

              Could they have special filters that are thinner than the filters we can buy for home use? Or made of a different material? I notice a marked difference between coffee I make in the same way (I hand drip mine) with a paper filter and the gold one. Even when I use a small Braun machine, there's a diff between the paper and the gold. The paper sucks up the oils and the coffee has noticeably less body. Another type of paper might change that.
              I think Maria is right about the slow drip and the length of time that the water is in contact with the grounds.

          2. re: Panini Guy

            Peets in store uses big paper filters.

          3. re: Una_Spremuta

            Not all burr grinders, filters & drip makers are equal. We grind our coffee very fine (almost espresso) grind in our Gaggia burr grinder (if you get it ground at Peet's, get it ground to "7").

            We have a Capresso drip coffee maker, which makes a HUGE difference in the quality of coffee that comes out. And it has a special setting for making 3-5 cups that slows down the water or something. My husband uses it even when we make 7+ cups, because he says it makes it better tasting coffee.

            We use the unbleached paper filter...found it was better than the Swiss Gold filter. (The paper filter was recommended by a barista at Peet's.) The Gaggia grinder & the Capresso coffee maker are both sold at Peet's & were highly ranked on www.coffeegeek.com.

            We use bottled 'drinking' water instead of filtered water. The water in our area has a funky taste, even after being filtered, and it does affect the taste of the coffee.

            And as others have mentioned, make sure you're using enough coffee - between 1.5-2 Tbs of grinds for every 6oz cup.

            1. re: Una_Spremuta

              I've been to the Corporate HQ on an IT consulting project and learned about their techniques ad naseum... the coffee they make for their tasting panels is brewed at precisely (and boy where they adamant about this)... 187.5 degrees F

          4. I don't know the secret to getting thick coffee and am hoping someone has the answer. Just wanted to chime with a similar inexplicable experience. My husband is from South India where "filter coffee" is brewed every morning in a contraption consisting of two stackable cylindrical boxes. The top one has a perforated base. My pa-in-law lines the base with a damp piece of cloth, spoons in coffee grounds, tamps them ("gently", he says) and then pours in boiling water to fill the top cylinder, tops with a lid and this cylinder goes on to the bottom "collection" cylinder. After about 5-10 minutes there is thick coffee in the bottom cylinder. The few times I tried "helping out" in the kitchen by brewing the morning cuppa, somebody had to brew another batch because mine just poured through and turned out amazingly weak and watery. I was so disappointed! I checked with pa-in-law that I'd used enough grounds and so on. Mum-in-law said she'd been trying to get a thick brew like her husband for over 25 years! The only difference she and I can figure is the tamping. In any case, it appears that the slower that hot water drips through, the thicker the end product gets.

            1 Reply
            1. re: sweetTooth

              A friend of mine asks her beans to be "Turkish Ground" for making coffee in this manner.

            2. What you're talking about is lots of extraction and particulate in the coffee, so much so the liquid is nearly opaque. An extremely fine grind and slow passage of water through the grounds helps create this extraction. I'm sure tamping helps, but only in the way it slows the heated water from passing through quickly and so more the water is in contact with the grounds longer. Keep increasing the fineness of the grind, using more coffee and slowing the passage of water through the grounds till you get the extraction you want.

              1. Areyou using enough coffee? It's about twice the amount you think you should. Like two scoops per 6-oz cup.

                1 Reply
                1. re: mlgb

                  since scoops can vary the ratio is 2 Tbs to 6 oz of water. Use good filtered water but not distilled. Other components that are essential....good grinder, water at the right temperature and clean equipment.

                2. Here's a trick I learned from watching the guys at the Blue Bottle garage on Linden St. in SF. Use the paper drip method and stir it up each time you add water. The ground coffee tends to settle at the bottom, so stirring gets everything in contact with everything else = better extraction. More labor intensive for sure, but since I tried it I don't do it any other way!

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: kandagawa

                    Seconded. Stirring's a good idea.

                  2. I use Peet's at home, and some mornings I get it very thick, almost too thick! I have it ground for espresso at the shop. I hand pour water over the grounds, stirring them and pouring the water very slowly into a carafe. I just use a regular paper filter. I think the trick, like the others say is 1) use enough coffee, 2) hand pour water slowly (I circle around the filter, running water down the sides, not just the middle), and 3) stir the grounds so they get nice and agitated, extracting as much coffee as possible. Another plus with this method is that my countertop isn't cluttered with a coffeemaker, and cleanup is a breeze.

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: vickib

                      Sounds like a good system for the OP. The espresso grind also seems key.

                      1. re: maria lorraine

                        Incorporating chipman's comment below...yes, please grind your coffee fresh each time at home just before using. What I was agreeing with was the fineness of the grind, not having the coffee pre-ground.

                      2. re: vickib

                        The only problem with having it ground at the shop is that your coffee is stale by the time you get in your car. Think sliced bread left on the counter. coffee is basically very simple. Fresh beans,ground correctly just before brewing, water just off the boil,195-205 will give you good coffee no matter how you Brew it. OK, forget about the perculater, but most all other types will give you a good cup.

                      3. a friend who used to sell coffee machine service to office managers told me a trick was to double filter for richer flavor (even with less coffee). (Finely ground, of course)

                        1. I'm wondering if Peet's uses a different kind of water. The reason I say that is because I have a water ionizer (it was a gift) that changes the pH level of water. They recommend that teas and coffees be prepared with water of pH 8.5. I've noticed that the more alkaline the water, the more viscous the mouthfeel is.

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: Miss Needle

                            acidic vs. alkaline water may be the factor here. alkaloids in the coffee will dissolve differently, plus wouldn't there also be a difference in the mouth feel of acidic vs. alkaline water ALONE?

                            this lab instruction on extracting caffeine from coffee has some insight to offer in its discussion of alkaloids:

                            this article is very interesting about coffee, tea, caffeine (and among other things, theobromine, and dogs' problem with chocolate, and the best detergent to clean your coffeepot, and much, MUCH more for food geeks (like me, maybe you)...

                          2. This may be a terribly naive question, but is there any reason you prefer drip to French press? It seems like French press would be the easiest way to get maximum contact and extraction, and it would be easy enough to increase the fineness of the grind to achieve the viscosity you're looking for. Then you would also eliminate the variables of density secondary to tamping, volume of grounds, pour pattern and speed, filter type, etc.

                            Edit to add: never mind, I just saw the first line of your original post. Must have skimmed right over the French press part. I will say that when I accidentally grind my beans too fine and brew in a French press, it comes as close to Peet's as I've gotten at home.

                            1. I don't know Peet's exactly, but a few years ago I started to make coffee that matches your description. I usually just make one cup at a time right in the cup. I use a gold filter and lots of coffee as I like strong coffee. I use Equal Exchange's Love Buzz organic - it's the best coffee I've ever tasted.

                              I pour half and half in the cup first, put the filter on top of my mug, pour boiling water over the grounds and give the filter a few gentle shakes to get all the coffee out. A nice foam appears on top and the coffee tastes creamy and strong.

                              Writing this makes me want a cup now...

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: Asbestos mouth

                                So I've spent some time at the drawing board trying out a number of the above suggestions (thank you!) and here is what I've found. (Bear in mind that the below pertains exclusively to my Chemex, for which I have an irrational attachment).
                                1) Stirring - absolutely made the biggest difference in terms of extraction. It definitely slows down the process, producing a fuller, richer cup. The grounds, at the end, look different, too. Almost sludge like, a good indicator, I think that the smaller particulates are doing their work. I tried stirring continually thoughout the brewing process, and found that you can get too much of a good thing...two to three stirs per pour of water seems to do the trick - any more frequently than that and you risk a back-up and over-brewing.
                                2) Grounds size - I experimented with increasingly finer grounds of coffee, but found that you do reach a point at which the grounds become too small to allow a continous flow of water. Ultimately, medium ground coffee, in combination with a few judicious stirs, worked best.
                                3) Water- the big question mark, in my mind. The more I thought about it, the more I was impressed by Peet's ability to maintain the same taste and consistency across any number of stores in any number of different cities, with different water supplies (I've had Peet's in SF, LA, Boston, and NY (JFK, I think?) and I've also had it in a number of different restaurants, as well. The fact that all of the Peet's retail locations manage to produce a very similar viscous cup (while the home or restaurant-brewed Peet's tend to vary) makes me think that there is some water filtration going on. From experience, I've found that water can have an outsized effect on the taste of coffee, so logically, for me, it just makes sense that Peet's consistency is due in part to how they treat their water.

                                But lacking anything other than a supposition, vis a vis water treatment, I do have to say that the stirring the grounds tip was definitely useful - thanks!