How To Brew

Making coffee is similar to baking a pastry. Both quantity and quality of ingredients matter to the end result. If we baked a pie as carelessly as many of us brewed a cup of coffee, the results would nearly always end up in the trash. Using the correct amount of good quality ingredients is essential to consistently achieving a great cup of coffee. Start with good quality water and the best freshly roasted coffee you can find. The most accurate way to measure both the water and the coffee is with a scale. Clean water weighs 1 kilogram per liter. In US measures, a quart of water weighs 2.0803 pounds. Because of the nuances of quarts and pounds, I we prefer to us metric measures for coffee ratios.

We recommend a ratio of 65 grams of coffee per liter of water or 1.83 grams of coffee per ounce of water. Generally, this is a good starting point. Some coffees will taste better with less coffee, some with more. Ratios also vary by brewing method. A French Press will often need less coffee than a pourover or drip method. Espresso uses a different formula all together. The problem most people face when engaging in brewing coffee by measuring the coffee grounds and water is knowing the volume of their particular brew method. Automatic drip coffee maker decanters are notorious for having inconsistent graduations. Some may use 4.5 ounces per "cup", others may use 4.25 ounces. The only way to know is by picking a mark and measuring the water to that mark.

If you are serious about consistently making great coffee, invest a little time in ensuring your measurements are correct. You won’t be disappointed!

In addition to the above, freshly ground coffee is of equal importance. Preground coffee has an enormous exposed surface area compared to whole bean coffee. The more exposed surface area the faster your coffee goes stale (the succinct version of what happens). Grinding just before brewing will ensure that your coffee will produce the maximum amount of flavor and aroma.

Variables: Coffee, coffee quantity, coffee grind coarseness and water quantity.

Step 1 with an automatic drip coffee maker is: throw away any coffee scoops that came with the coffee maker. Measuring coffee by volume will always yield inconsistent results as different roasts will result in different densities of finished products both from the same bean and from different beans. Measuring coffee should always be done with a scale. This brings us to step 2: measure how much water your drip machine is brewing. Either weigh or measure by volume the amount of water your decanter holds to the "4 cup" mark or the "6 cup" mark and write down the results. Once you figure this out, you can then use the formula of 65 grams of coffee per liter of water (1.83 grams per volume ounce of water) to determine how much coffee to use.

If you are brewing 1 liter of water, start with 65 grams. If you are brewing 1/2 a liter, start with 33 grams. Then grind your coffee to a medium coarseness (many paragraphs could be typed here about grind quality) and place into a new drip filter (gold reusable or paper filter). Press the start button. If your coffee brews into a thermal carafe, drink at your leisure. If your coffeemaker has a heating element underneath the carafe, pour your coffee into a preheated thermos of some variety so that your coffee isn’t slowly cooked down to a thickened coffee sauce.

If the coffee tastes perfect, note your ratios and reuse. If your coffee tastes either too weak, increase the amount of coffee you used. If your coffee is too strong for your taste, decrease the amount of coffee. If your coffee was the correct strength but it tasted too bitter, try grinding slightly coarser. If the coffee was the correct strength but to sour, try grinding slightly finer. These general guidelines should help you to achieve repeatable results.

Variables: Coffee, coffee quantity, coffee grind coarseness, water quantity, water temperature and brew time.

Brewing with a French press is very easy and contrary to what some folks think, a French press is actually very easy to clean. Like other brew methods, start with both high quality ingredients and high quality hardware. Essentials are a good French press, a timer, a scale, a water boiler (electric kettle or stovetop), an instant read thermometer and a spoon for stirring. If you have a 1 liter (34 ounce) French press and you want to make a full press, the easiest way to do it is by setting the press on top of a scale and zeroing it out. Add 65 grams of freshly coarse ground coffee (usually the coarsest setting on your grinder) then tare it again.

  1. Boil at least a liter of water.
  2. When the water is boiling, pull the water off the heat and let sit for 30 to 45 seconds or until your instant read thermometer reads 205 degrees F.
  3. Set the timer for 4 minutes and just before you begin pouring, start the timer.
  4. Slowly pour the water into the press until your scale reads around 800 grams or until the mass of coffee grinds and water is near the top of the press.
  5. Wait until 1 minute elapses on the timer then vigorously stir with your stirring device.
  6. Top off the water to come to 1000 grams (or as close as you can without risking spillage).
  7. Place the top on the press and wait for 4 minutes to elapse. At that time, slowly press the plunger and pour immediately.
  8. The plunger should not be difficult to press. If it is, the coffee is probably too finely ground or the plunger screen needs to be cleaned.
Variables: Coffee, coffee quantity, coffee grind coarseness, water quantity, water temperature and brew time.

Brewing with a Clever Dripper is an incredibly rewarding experience. A Clever brews like a French press with a paper filter. This method affords the user total control of every meaningful variable associated with brewing. We use the same ratios as with a French press and grind to the same coarseness and brew for the same amount of time. The benefit of a Clever Dripper over a French press is the ability to use finer coffee for a shorter period of time. If a French press is ground too fine, it becomes virtually impossible to press. With a Clever, we have the ability to play with brew times and grind coarseness. This opens up a whole new dimension for refining the way we approach any given coffee.

Because we use paper filters, some people prefer to rinse the filter before brewing. This can be accomplished without much fanfare by simply pouring hot water into the dripper while saturating the filter. Empty the water from the dripper, then load with freshly ground coffee and fill to the desired (hopefully pre-measured) amount. We like to cover the dripper to preserve the temperature while brewing. Like a French press, we give the slurry a dynamic stir at about 1 minute into the brewing process. After that, we place the cover back over the top and wait until our timer goes off. Simply placing the dripper over a cup or the vessel of your choice will depress the value and allow the coffee to flow and be enjoyed.

Variables: Coffee, coffee quantity, coffee grind coarseness, tamp pressure, brew quantity, brew water temperature and brew time.

Unlike the other coffee making methods, espresso requires a lot of practice to consistently produce great results. It is a craft and simply following a recipe will not be enough. Additionally, the cost of entry is quite high with lower quality home machines starting at $400 and low end grinders starting around $150. The most important aspect of making good espresso is recognizing the differences when variables are changed. This sort of understanding can only come with experience. This topic is discussed at incredible lengths with impressive fervor all over the internet. A few places to look are: www.home-barista.com, www.coffeegeek.com and www.jimseven.com. It is important to understand that much dogma resides in the minds of many and few are truly open to new ideas. This openness is what leads to true discovery in the world of coffee.

A full dissertation on espresso is outside the scope of this article however we would like to go over a methodology that we believe will result in successful espresso making. Careful attention to detail and controlling the variable changes while systematically noting the differences in the cup will ultimately lead one to become a keen observer of what works and what doesn't. This can be done as follows:

  • Measure everything carefully - weights, volumes and times are the low hanging fruit. Temperature is easily as important but more difficult to manage. Finally, color and taste should always be evaluated but measuring them in a repeatable fashion is a huge challenge
  • Taste every shot. In the beginning, understanding the taste difference when the shot takes 8 seconds versus a shot taking 30 seconds is paramount to making decisions that affect how to present a particular coffee. This is true for other variables as well. Taste the good, taste the bad.
  • Practice technique. Dosing in the portafilter, dressing the puck, tamping... all of these come with time. The more you practice the better you will be.
  • Make changes deliberately. If you change every variable with each shot, you will not be able to determine which variable made the difference you noted.
  • Find a local haute that makes a great coffee that you like and can access for your home trials. This will help you set a goal to reaching espresso nirvana and give you a baseline for understanding the taste difference between what you are doing and what they are doing.
  • Finally, don’t give up. Seek out others in the coffee community for assistance. Most coffee folk are great folk willing to help a fellow aficionado. Look for coffee events in your area and even become friends with a barista or two.