How to Brew Good Coffee: Fundamentals
How to brew good coffee? This is the most common question that I get asked when I tell people what I do for living. So I decided to make a blog series where I go through different aspects of brewing good coffee. Let’s start with the fundamentals. These three things are always important when brewing good coffee, whether we are talking about filter coffee, espresso or traditional pot coffee.
Fresh beans – fresh taste
Coffee is at its best when it is as fresh as possible, in general. Some say that the flavors have their peak right after roasting and others might tell you that after one week of roasting the flavors have had time to settle. In a nutshell, try to use as fresh coffee as possible so that you will have as many flavors in your cup as possible. Coffee doesn’t necessary get bad but it becomes dull and boring after long periods of roasting. After roasting the compounds that are formed during roasting start to change and especially oxidize so that they form new gases. Simple way to this is that the smell of fresh coffee means that the tastes and aromas are leaving the bean to the air. Old coffee doesn’t have a strong smell which means that the tastes and aromas have left the building.
There is nothing wrong with pre-ground coffee. It is fresh and will taste as it should when you open the package. But pre-ground coffee has much bigger surface-to-air ratio which will make your coffee become boring faster. This is why I recommend using beans. Also buying beans according to your consumption will ensure that you will always have fresh beans. For example I usually drink 6-8 cups (100 grams of coffee) a week at home so I try to buy 250 grams every other week. This way I will always have fresh and tasty coffee in my kitchen.
Beans are usually good 1-2 week after opening the package. It depends a bit on when they were roasted, younger than a month old beans will be totally fine two weeks after opening but two months ago roasted beans will survive only week or so. So buy freshly roasted beans! Also pro tip for buying coffee; if the roasting date isn’t mentioned in the package, the coffee itself might not be good quality.
Grinder – to get a balanced cup
So now that you have the beans, you need something to grind them with. This is when a grinder comes to the stage. When the beans are ground just before brewing, your coffee will always taste better. Coffee starts to lose its flavors and aromas with thousand times quicker pace once it has been ground which is the reason why it should be ground just before brewing.
With a grinder you will be able to change your grind size which is extremely important when brewing good coffee. Different kind of brewing methods require different grind sizes. For example Chemex and Hario v60 are both brewing methods for filter coffee but Chemex requires coarser grind because it has thicker filter paper. The thicker filter paper makes the water flow slower through the coffee which means that we need coarser grind to not to over extract the coffee. Over extracted coffee tastes too strong and usually quite bitter also. But I will dig deeper into that in next parts of this blog series.
Grinders come in different shapes and prices. I wouldn’t go for those ones who promise to grind for every brewing method and have cheaper end price. The problem with cheaper grinders is that they don’t produce uniform grind which will at the same time both over- and under extract your coffee. Also pay attention how does the grinder grind. Basically there are two versions at the market; blade and burr grinders.
Blade grinder basically works so that there is a blade which is span by a motor and the blade cuts the beans into smaller particles. Compare it to cutting your beans with a kitchen knife. Downside with this method is that the blade isn’t capable to cut the beans in uniform matter which leads to unbalanced cup.
Burr grinders typically have two different types; conical and flat burr. They works pretty much the same way that the beans are crushed between two burrs. Other burr spins and the other stays still. The grind size depends on how far (coarse) or close (fine) they are from each other. Burr grinders often produce more uniform grind than blade grinders which leads to more balanced or in other words better cup.
For brewing good filter coffee at home you are able to get a decent grinder for 100€ (e.g. Wilfa Svart Presisjon), which will certainly make your Monday morning easier. Wilfa Presisjon has conical burrs which work quite well for home use, Presisjon is my choice for home brewing. Not to forget manual grinders! They require a bit more effort (maybe some sweat also) but trust me, it is worth it.
Scale – measuring makes things easy
No more guessing how many spoons of coffee and cups of water and you can be a true barista.
Measuring your beans and water will make more consistent and better flavor in your cup. Of course, you can make a perfect cup without measuring but then you need to get lucky with your recipe. Think about baking without measuring the ingredients. At least my buns or cakes would look and taste horrible. Brewing coffee is all about recipes and right amounts of coffee, water and time.
When you have your scale, you can start using recipes. Sounds too fancy? Not really, it is really simple when you have the scale. No more guessing how many spoons of coffee and cups of water and you can be a true barista. But I’ll get deeper on recipes on my next blog.
Normal kitchen scale will do just fine. With more expensive coffee scales you are able to measure up to 0.1g and most of them have integrated timer. From coffee scales I can recommend Hario Drip Scale which will cost you around 65-75€.
Now you have the fundamentals handled. In the next blog we will dig deeper into how to brew good coffee manually. Stay tuned and meanwhile you can already take out your choice of weapon!