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35.9251°N, 86.8689°W
Franklin, TN, USA

Coffee. The word inspires so much emotion. Flights of caffeinated fancy. Climbing out of a stupor, waking from a dream that held your mind the night before. Like building a fire, everyone has their favorite method: There are infinite best ways to brew coffee, from pour-over to drip to espresso or Chemex.

There is poetry in the coffee term – the inherent staccato of the often-Italian words we use to define size, coffee-to-milk ratio, and relatively frothiness of the foam. Ristretto. Lungo. Cortado.

Coffee is also an inherently geographic story. From drinks names (Americano) and brewing methods (French press) to roast types (New Orleans, European, Viennese, Italian, French) and regional coffee bean varietals (sometimes broken down so far as the farm and plot where they were grown), geography defines much of what we understand about coffee before it touches our lips.

In a way, coffee is like baseball. Both are granular and attractive to those drawn to the trivial. Their most ardent fans are predisposed to deep dives and revel in superlatives. Best right-handed pitcher, best coffee shop in Chelsea (Cafe Grumpy, if you were wondering), most third base steals, most caffeine per serving. It's hard to have a lukewarm interest. Like Airstream travel trailers, the fandom here is filled with die-hards.

The secret is that whether it's a baseball stat, a travel trailer brand, or a cup of coffee, it's only as complicated as you want it to be. You can appreciate the bulk beans you get at the grocery, as well as the five-minute pour-over you get in Manhattan. The best cup of coffee might have nothing to do with the coffee itself, and more to do with the conversation, the book you're reading, the ambiance of a backyard terrace, or the quiet morning on the couch before the kids get up.

Whether you’re an aficionado or prefer the pre-ground simplicity of coffee in a round, red plastic tub, there’s no denying how much work goes into your coffee before it ever reaches your preferred method of brewing. So much of the flavor and consistency of coffee comes in the roasting process, an art which the folks at Honest Coffee in Franklin, Tennessee have mastered.

“It’s equal parts art and science,” says Honest Coffee’s head roaster, Matt Leonhardt.

The science is in controlling the temperature. The art is in the senses. Coffee roasters listen for the distinctive popping of the roasting coffee beans as they reach a temperature of approximately 385 °F  – what coffee roasters call the “first crack.”

“The coffee beans are literally cracking open,” says Matt as he listens to the coffee churning in Honest’s industrial roaster. “The split as the oils and water inside them heat up.”

Depending on when the coffee roasting process is halted, different roast profiles can be achieved.

“If we stop after that first crack we’ll get a very light roast,” says Matt. “Between 410 and about 437 you have your medium roasts. Then there’ll be a second crack, when the beans crack again, and from there out you have your dark roasts.”

Light roasts tend to exhibit more of the bean’s regional flavor profile. The darker the roast, the more the roast itself begins to dominate the flavor, leading to what some call a “burnt” flavor – though, as with most things in the coffee world, that’s a matter of preference.

“The best coffee you can get is coffee that’s just been roasted,” says Matt – a sentiment shared by those with an abiding sense of dedication to the art and craft of coffee. “You might brew it this way or that way, but if the coffee’s been roasted fresh, then you’ve got a good start.”

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When you’re in Franklin, stop in at Honest Coffee to experience their dedication to expert roasting yourself. Or order a bag or two from Airstream Supply Co. and have it shipped directly to your door. While you wait, you can perfect your brewing technique with our tips and tricks, including an ultra-precise brewing method from Laura Austin, one of Airstream's favorite Endless Caravan participants.

Coffee 101: Tips for a better cup of coffee

  • Clean your coffee maker: It's not fun, it's a little messy, but there's no single more important thing you can do to get great tasting coffee at home.
  • Invest in a kitchen scale: You don't need to put on a lab coat to explore the science behind great coffee. Weighing your beans before you grind them ensures one element of consistency.
  • Try a new coffee mug: Sure you can keep drinking out of your favorite ceramic mug ("World's Greatest Boss" anyone?), but nothing cools hot coffee down faster. With insulation technology growing by leaps and bounds, there's no excuse for drinking cold coffee. (We really like the 10 oz. tumblers from Otterbox!)
  • Explore the world of espresso: It used to be you needed to fork out five grand on an Italian espresso machine to enjoy this treat. But portable espresso makers (like this one from Simpresso) make espresso at home – or on the road, on the trail, or in the parking lot before the big game – a breeze.
  • Grind your own beans: You don't need a hand grinder, necessarily (though it can be invigorating). But buying whole beans and grinding them yourself delivers better flavor every time.
  • Try different types of coffee: Like good wine or spirits, there's a wide spectrum of flavors and consistencies. Experiment with different regions, continents, and roasts. Even the most experience coffee afficianados can find something new.

Advice from a master

In the spring of 2018, photographer Laura Austin took a Nest by Airstream out on the road as part of Airstream's Endless Caravan. Along the way, Austin – a self-confessed coffee geek – shared her recipe for the perfect cup.

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  • Weigh out the beans. For one cup, I use 20 grams of beans. (The beans are the most important part!)
  • Grind your own beans to maintain freshness. For French press, you want the grinds the consistency of course salt.
  • Pour the grinds into the French press.
  • Pour enough boiled water into the press just to cover the beans. Let sit for 30 seconds.
  • Pour the rest of the correct ratio of water into the French press. For this method, I do 14:1, water to coffee. (So, 280 grams water for the 20 grams of coffee.)
  • Put the lid of the French press on and press down halfway.
  • Let sit and brew for 4 minutes.
  • Press down all the way and pour into a cup.
  • Enjoy a really good cup of coffee.
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