WHERE TO START
Have you ever brewed a cup of coffee so wonderful, you thought, "This is the best coffee I've ever had..."? Have you then tried to recreate that cup and found your efforts futile? I know I have. Before I committed to learning all I could about coffee, I felt that my ability to produce a professional level extraction was always going to be hindered by my lack of experience, lack of ability to purchase expensive brewing equipment or access to high quality specialty coffee. But over the years I’ve learned that brewing a great cup of coffee really boils down to 5 key concepts. Understanding these concepts and how they interact with one another really helped me to refine my brewing process, and make a great cup time and again.
(Full Disclosure: After several years pour Chemex and V60, hours and hours of extraction, weighing, grinding, and modifying all the minutiae to brew a perfect cup, I’ve more or less ditched that practice at home in favor of time. We have two kids, get out of bed at 5am every morning and don’t have the focus or energy to divest into a morning chemex. Instead we brew on our 11 year old Cuisinart that has a programmable timer which we can set before bed and literally wake up to the gurgle of fresh coffee in the pot. It’s a slight decrease in quality, but a HUGE increase in convenience. Not to mention waking up to a great pot of coffee first thing in the moring.)
If you can comprehend and apply these basic principles around brewing, you can recreate an amazing coffee day after day.
So what are these core coffee concepts? I’ve boiled them down to:
Method - Coffee - Ratio - Grind - Water
Let's break these down one by one shall we?
First up, brew method. There are a plethora of brewing platforms, but if you know what your brew device isdesigned to do, you will be able to use it properly, and create a cup closer to the target. An oversimplified example, both Espresso and French Press methods generate a top layer of light colored foam when brewed correctly, this is called the crema, But just because they generate a similar visual result, does not mean the final experience will be the same.
To sum it up: know your brew device, and brew a better cup.
This is probably the most complicated concept to grapple, and yet it serves as the core for brewing principles. There are so many variables in coffee selection. But I think if you have a solid understanding of the following variables when selecting a coffee, you’ll be able to hit the mark. Pay attention to: Roast Date, Roast Degree, and Process. These are the key players in determining a coffee’s flavors.
I feel like I’m always explaining ratio. Ratio is a challenging concept in a country where standard units of measure are all over the map, fluid ounces, tablespoons, cups, ounces for weight, cups, pints, quarts, etc. The best way to grapple ratio is to learn the metric system. If you do, you’ll have a simple way to make your calculations. One ml of water is one gram of water. If your brew ratio calls for 16:1, you’ll need 16 grams of water per gram of coffee. Easy math.
So again, what is ratio? Using the SAME UNIT OF MEASURE, Brew Ratio is the relational proportion of water to ground coffee. The only exception to this is the espresso where the ratio is measure AFTER extraction.
The grind size affects the flow rate of water throught the extraction. If you have a grind size that is too coarse, the coffee will under extract. Too fine and it will overextract. Deciding on the brew method you use will determine the grind size you want to aim for. Back to principle one, know the Brew Method, and you can have a target grind size fitting for the application.
Last but not least is water. ~98.75% of the mass of a cup of standard cup of coffee is water. That means that all of the perk and energy you experience from your morning cup exists in 1.25% of the total mass in that liquid. Crazy right!?
Given that water is such a massive component of the final product, you’ll want to do the best you can to dial in that water chemistry for ideal extraction. You can read more about water in my upcoming blog soon!
So, Method, Coffee, Ratio, Grind and Water all contribute to making a stellar cup at home. These principles are all variables that you can control. But then, maybe you don’t care. That’s okay too. You don’t need to be crazy curious about coffee to learn or appreciate this content. Ultimately you should do what is best for you. Do what you can, where you can, if you want. I believe this as an coffee professional it is important for me to understand and communicate this info with you, but don’t feel any pressure to try and dial in the perfect coffee on the first shot (pun intended).
Now if you want to deep dive into more detail, check back occasionally for some links on this page that lead to other blog posts on each topic! I’ll be breaking them down, piece by piece. If you want to take away one thing, I would say know how to calculate brew ratio for your brewing device. \
So learn your ratio, and stay tuned for more coffee geek out stuff!