As the average coffee consumer becomes more familiar with the concept of “specialty coffee” we can observe the spread of great coffee past the walls of the cafes frequented by enthusiasts and into their home kitchens. There’s a lot to be said for the capability of enjoying a great cup of coffee within the comforts of your own home – and it’s easier than ever to do so. Additionally, if you’re reading this anywhere near the time of publications (March 2020), you’re probably spending more time than normal at home.
While getting a great cup at home is in many ways easier than ever, it can still be a daunting endeavor.
Flip through a trade magazine and by the end you’ll likely have seen a dozen different pour-over devices all claiming to have revolutionized the art and science of manual coffee brewing. Which one do you choose? Which grinder do you pair it with? What recipe is best?
There’s tons of content on the internet surrounding home-brewing and while our primary recommendation is simple – Experiment! Try new things and see what YOU prefer! – we recognize the data-overload that can initially occur and in the interest of saving you some time, here is a quick primer to get you on your way to home-coffee-brewing-mastery.
Benefits of Brewing at Home
There are a variety of reasons why you may want to invest in the means of producing a great cup of coffee at home.
- While there is no denying the convenience of the neighborhood café or – even more-so, a drive-thru – there’s a lot to be said for not having to leave the house. No hair-combing; no corralling the kids; no shirt, no shoes, no problem.
- A great thing about a coffee shop is that you get to be served coffee by folks that actually know what they are doing. There’s a lot to be said for that. What you’re not able to achieve through a visit to a local café, however, is the ability to experiment and try new things in the same way you can do at home. As with any hobby, the ability to learn and refine a skill, to experiment and try new things, and the chance to enjoy the fruits of one’s own labor are rewarding and fun experiences that cannot be replicated in a café.
- Coffee shops have become an indisputable part of the social fabric of our culture. From first dates, to business meetings, to study-spots, the list of ways we engage within cafes goes on and on. That said, going out for coffee every day can be a strain on the wallet. Brewing coffee at home can lower the price-tag of that cup to about $1.60 so supplementing your café visits with home-brewed cups can save you some cash over time.
So, we can save money and nurture our creativity all in a format that is convenient. Sounds good – but how does it work?
Before we jump into a recipe example, let’s make sure we understand a couple things about brewing coffee – these things apply just as much at home as they do for the baristas in your favorite café.
Coffee Brewing Basics – Add water until it tastes good.
It’s actually slightly more complicated than that.
Coffee brewing is basically the process of understanding the different variables going into the brew and controlling them to achieve the desired results.
Obviously, a large part of tasting is subjective, however, there are definitely some objective standards that will lead to a better cup. Let’s look at a couple.
Some Key Factors Affecting Coffee Brewing
Recipe (Water : Coffee Ratio)
First and foremost is our ratio of coffee to water. It’s not just as simple as “for more flavor add more coffee”.
A good starting point is around 60 grams of coffee per liter of water – or about a 16:1 – 17:1 ratio of water to coffee.
Pro-Tip: If you don’t have a digital scale handy, this comes out to about 2 TBSP ground coffee for each 6 oz of water.
Coffee, like any produce, is better when fresh and has a limited span of time when it will perform at its highest potential. Green coffee, depending on processing, drying, storage, etc. is typically best within a year; roasted coffee is typically best within several weeks. The longer off roast the coffee is the more flavor it will lose and eventually will begin to develop unpleasant, stale flavors.
In order to ensure freshness of coffee it is important to minimize contact with oxygen. It is best to store coffee in whole bean form, in a cool, dry place. Coffee should be ground immediately before use (it only takes 15 minutes for 80% of the volatile aromatics to leave the grounds).
Pro-Tip: unless your bag of coffee is un-opened and won’t be consumed for a considerable amount of time, DO NOT store your coffee in the refrigerator or freezer.
Grind Size & Brew-Time
Brew time is an important aspect of brewing, as we want to ensure that the water has enough time in contact with the coffee to extract enough material from the coffee without having too much contact time that undesirable compounds are extracted. Generally, more contact time between water and coffee, will lead to higher extraction.
To a large degree brew time can be controlled by the grind size of the coffee particles. The finer the grind is, the slower the brew, the coarser the grind, and the quicker the brew. Also, the finer the grind, the greater the surface area of coffee particles, thus a more rapid extraction.
Think About It...
If you have trouble remembering how to adjust your grind, think about it this way: Imagine you have a large funnel full of boulders and you dump a bucket of water over them. The boulders, being large and irregularly shaped, do not pack together well and the water will rush through quickly.
If you tightly packed sand into that same funnel, the water would take much longer to make it through the funnel. Similarly, if your coffee is brewing too fast, the grind-size needs to be made finer and if it is brewing too slowly, the grind-size needs to be made coarser.
We recommend a brew time of 3-4 minutes for a pour-over and around 5 minutes for a pot of coffee.
Water is a more effective solvent at higher temperatures; thus, water temperature plays an integral role in coffee extraction as well.
We recommend brewing water be around 205 degrees Fahrenheit.
Pro-Tip: This brewing temperature refers to the water being used to brew, not the slurry temperature. Kettles and other brewing equipment should be preheated to avoid excessive temperature loss during brewing.
Water typically makes up about 98.5% of a brewed coffee and the content of that water is crucial to coffee brewing. Water used for coffee brewing should be odor and color free. From here water specifications can get fairly complicated (the SCAA guidelines include parameters such as 0 mg/L Total Chlorine, 75-250 mg/L TDS, 40 mg/L total Alkalinity, 10 mg/L Sodium, etc.).
What it really comes down to is: use the best water you have access to. Depending on where you live, tap-water likely isn’t going to produce ideal results, however, most home filtration systems will do the job just fine and in a pinch bottled water will work as well (do NOT brew with distilled water).
Brew Method and Filter Media
There are countless methods for brewing coffee and each exhibit their own unique variations to the brewing process and feature their own unique flavor characteristics.
Additionally, the filter media of a particular brew method will have a big impact on the flavor of the brewed coffee.
For example, a coffee brewed with a full-immersion method like a French Press, using only a coarse, metal filter, may be full-bodied, gritty, and bold in flavor, whereas the same coffee brewed with a pour-over like a V60, utilizing a paper filter, may taste thinner, cleaner, brighter, and more delicate.
The Brewing Process
There is a lot about the coffee brewing process that simply remains unknown. For example, it is not known precisely at which point different compounds are extracting (or even what all of these compounds are). It is generally believed that acids (with the lowest molecular weight) extract first, followed by carbohydrates and then bitter compounds like salts and caffeine (with the highest molecular weights), however, much of this remains theory and speculation.
The coffee brewing process can, at a very basic level, be divided into two main parts:
This is the initial phase of wetting the coffee (often referred to as the bloom). During this phase the coffee will release gases (mostly CO2) trapped within the coffee particles that would otherwise impede the extraction. During this phase the particles also become saturated with water and the compounds inside begin to move their way to the outside of the particles and ready to be extracted into the solution during brewing.
This is the process of dissolving compounds from the coffee into the solution. This process happens relatively quickly.
A variety of different processes occurring hydrolysis (the breaking down of chemical compounds due to the addition of water), dissolution (compounds dissolving from the ground coffee into the brew water), diffusion (compounds moving from areas of high-concentration to areas of low-concentration).
Generally, more agreeable flavors extract sooner in the brewing process, so a barista’s function is essentially stopping the extraction within the correct range
Let’s Get Brewing!
So now we understand a little bit about the brewing process and all of the factors that going into influencing the final cup quality we end up with – let’s put all of that information to use!
Note: The following pour-over recipe can be adjusted to work with a variety of pour-over style filter coffee brewing devices. In the subsequent video, we will be demonstrating using a Hario V60 brewer.
Example Pour-Over Recipe
A wide variety of different manual brewing methods are available, with more being developed all the time and they all have different flavor profiles.
This basic recipe that should work as a general guideline and starting point for most contemporary pour-over brewing devices.
- Position the appropriate filter in the brewing device. With some brewing devices, this may require folding or otherwise shaping the filter.
- Pour hot water over the filter until it’s been thoroughly rinsed. Discard water from the server. This step will prevent papery flavor from ending up in your cup.
- Place the dripper back on the server and add 25 grams of ground coffee inside the filter.
- Tare the scale so that it reads 0 grams.
- Heat water in a kettle to 206F (Note: if you do not have access to a kettle with temperature-control bring to a rolling boil and remove for about 30 seconds).
- Add 50 grams of water to the grounds ensuring to evenly saturate them all. Start your timer as you begin pouring the water. You will notice the coffee expand and release bubbles of air. This is called the “bloom.” Let the coffee bloom for 30 seconds.
- At the 30-second mark add 70 grams of water pouring in slow, clockwise circles (should take about 10-15 seconds).
- Repeat step 6 at 1:00, 1:30, 2:00 and 2:30 (ending at 400g).
- The brew should finish between 3:30 and 4:00. If it brewed too fast, grind finer. If it brewed too slowly, grind coarser.