Better Brewing At Home
You’ve done your part by buying freshly roasted coffee from the local cafe, that was painstakingly sourced from a microlot in a remote corner of Guatemala, or you’ve snagged a bag of your favorite house blend. Either way, you’ve begun to notice a difference in the way it tastes at home and how it tastes in the cafe. There’s no reason to ditch your Chemex or French Press, because it’s possible to brew cafe quality coffee at home. Here are a few tips that will get you the most out your money when brewing specialty coffee at home.
First things first, clean equipment is essential. You wouldn’t use a dirty pan to cook eggs in, that would be gross. Then why not take a couple extra seconds to clean your brewing equipment after every use? No matter if it’s a coffee pot, French Press, or Hario Dripper, just a bit of light soap and warm water will do the trick. If you’re like my parents, who haven’t cleaned the coffee pot since it was bought back in 1992, a quick rinse with some Cafiza will pull all of that coffee gunk off the glass.
Water is the missing ingredient for great coffee. In fact, water composes 98% of the beverage you enjoy as coffee. If you live in a part of the country where the tap water is tainted by minerals, impurities, and a whole slew of other things that can throw off those delicate flavors of Rose Hips, you might want to try using filtered water. I like to buy purified water from the store but if you have a brita filter at home that could save you in a pinch.
You mean, I have to weigh the coffee… every time!? This seems more like a science experiment! That’s right, and you won’t spend a better $23 than on a J-Scale. Finding a brewing ratio of coffee to water will not only help you dial in the strength of your brew, but it also helps you make the same great coffee over and over again. Personally, I like a 14:1 ratio for the Hario, you get strong flavors and more caffeine however in the cafe we use a 16:1 ratio which is slightly weaker but more versatile ratio for different coffees.
You might have your three and half scoops perfectly dialed in for the coffee pot which is great! However, if you’re using other brewing methods, weighing out your coffee and water takes out the guess work. Different coffees have different masses that are dependent upon the roast level (lighter roasts have more mass than darker roasts) and origin and varietal usually vary (an Ethiopian Heirloom will be denser than a Pacamara from Central America). Even a very skilled barista knows it’s best to weigh out coffee every time.
Proper extraction is the most important part of brewing coffee. One way to make sure you’re evenly extracting the flavor and caffeine from your coffee is with a uniform grind size. Different brew methods call for different grind sizes but when you choose your brew method the grind should be one size. Think about if you’re cooking vegetables, and you cut up big pieces and then some teeny tiny pieces and then some medium pieces. What happens? They’ll cook at different rates, the same thing happens with the extraction of coffee grounds.
You’ll notice if you’ve been using a food processor/lawn mower blade type whirling grinder that the particle sizes range wildly. These don’t do the best job at keeping a consistent grind, that’s why we recommend getting a burr grinder. The burr grinders tend to crush the beans in a more uniform way than the electric blades do. If you don’t mind the extra few minutes to hand grind these Hario Slim Grinders are pretty easy to use. If you’ve got some extra capital and plan on entertaining, I’d recommend something like the Baratza Encore.
Now that we’ve actually gotten to the part where we brew the coffee, there are a couple easy things you can do to ensure your brew is extracting properly - timing is everything. The optimal brew time for extraction is around 4 minutes. If your coffee steeps for too long, it will over extract and taste bitter, burned, or astringent. If it brews with not enough time it might taste weak, thin, or sour. Most cell phones have a timer feature on them so you really don’t need to buy one. I love the KoHi app which is essentially a brewing timer (tells you when you to pour and how long to brew for) it also lets you customize your ratios, bloom time, and recipes. The $2 it costs has already paid for itself, sorry Android users, there isn’t a version out in the Google Play store yet.
You might have wondered what the heck “bloom” meant in the preceding paragraph. It’s a term we use for pre-infusion of the coffee. That’s to see we get the metaphorical feet wet before we dive right into brewing. During the roasting process gasses like CO2 become trapped inside the coffee. We’d like to let these pockets of air escape before brewing. A good rule of thumb is to double the dry weight of the coffee with water. So if you’re using 40 grams of coffee you can use 80 grams of water for a 30 second “bloom.”