If you are anything like me your initial coffee drinking experiences meant that coffee was simply a caffeine delivery system and your aim was to find the most palatable way to imbibe that caffeine. Then, one day, boom! you discover specialty coffee and realise that, rather than being a carrier for caffeine and sugar and syrups, coffee is actually an amazing drink. You no longer have to settle for bitter, ashy or sour covered over by sweeteners. Instead you can taste cocoa notes, berry, caramel, and a host of other nuanced flavors thanks to the wide variety of specialty beans grown around the world.
Now that you have discovered specialty coffee and have located your specialty coffee roaster, and more than likely have an amazing cafe full of highly trained baristas who are able to offer you gustatory fulfilment, you inevitably ask: “How can I make my coffee at home taste this good?”
The first answer to this question – after knowledge of the bean has been covered – is to point out that your amazing espresso bars and cafes (not to be confused with the plethora of bitter ashy [crap coffee] sellers) use equipment worth thousands of dollars. Sellers of crap coffee (if you’re a cafe owner and want to up-your-game then contact us firstname.lastname@example.org) use cheap commercial equipment, the specialty coffee industry uses precision made equipment of the highest calibre. Dont worry, to make great coffee at home you don’t need to own a specialty coffee cafe and the associated equipment BUT you do need to have quality home brewing equipment which will cost a little more that your average department store stuff. But that is for another blog which will be covered later.
(In this blog I’m focussing on coffee brewing methods in general using filter or French Press type equipment and not looking at making a great espresso at home.)
The Grind, The Ratio, The Time, The Water
Have you wondered why your grind for French Press (plunger) is coarse while you filter grind is finer? When extracting the coffee flavours, or soluble solids, the ground coffee is exposed to the hot water. If the exposure is too long, then over-extraction occurs. This simply means that once the desired soluble solids have dissolved and extracted, the unwanted flavors begin to leach from the bean making your drink bitter. If the exposure is too short, or under-extracted, your coffee will be sour.
With a filter brewer the water flows through the basket of ground coffee so your grind needs to be finer (though not as fine as required for espresso) to get the right amount of extraction. In the French Press your water sits for a period of time so a coarser grind is required.
To avoid making a bad cup of coffee whilst using great beans requires the right extraction from your equipment. To get your extraction right, you will need to know the following:
- the best grind size for your brew method
- the correct ratio of coffee to water – begin with 14g coffee (most home scales can switch between grams and ounces) to 200ml water (about 7oz)
- the precise time that the beans are exposed to the water (French Press – try 4 minutes)
One other point to make here is about the water. The coffee:water ratio is about 1:16 – a good starting ratio that can be changed depending on preference – so the majority of your morning coffee is made up of water. You have spent time and money ensuring your beans are the best so it is important that the major component – water – is also right. We always use filleted water, preferably reverse osmosis, but definitely not tap water. Filtered water, as well as preserving the flavor of your coffee, also saves your equipment from the corrosive nature of unfiltered water.
When I make a coffee the first thing I do is warm the cup I’m going to drink from and also the part of the equipment that will take the brewed coffee. I will do this using hot water and letting it sit for a while. I will bring the water to the boil then weigh out the beans and grind them. Bringing the water to the boil and letting it sit for a few minutes while I prepare the beans, means I won’t burn the coffee by using boiling water.
Once the water is poured over my coffee and I see and smell the coffee as it blooms, I will set my timer and, once it goes off, I pour and enjoy. The only difference with a filter machine is that water temperature and time are controlled by the machine, which is why you want a good one.
Life is too short to drink bad coffee!