Picture yourself in a fine restaurant in Venice, Italy. (Or better yet, in one of our fine Roasterie cafés, if Italy is a little more of stretch than your imagination allows.) Imagine ordering a cup of coffee and think of the sweet fragrance, the delicious, complex flavor, and the smooth, velvety texture.
Now imagine yourself in the kitchen of your great aunt Mable with the lacking, bitter, flavorless depression-era coffee she sets before you at the table. Aunt Mable is a sweet lady, but what is she doing with her coffee? Or if this is an experience you have with your own coffee maker, what are you doing? How can coffee taste so different from the café to your home?
The answers can be found in surprisingly simple adjustments that you can make to your own brewing habits. Brewing coffee is like cooking a meal, knowing the small, simple details can make all the difference.
So! Without further ado…
1. Keep it Hot
Your top priority when brewing coffee at home should be the temperature of your water. The ideal temperature is right around 200 degrees Fahrenheit. If your water is too cold or too hot, you could over or under extract your coffee, which is what gives you that bitter coffee taste. This is one of the reasons why we like to recommend manual brewing methods such as a French press, Aeropress, or pour over. With these devices you have control over the temperature of the water you use. Your “sweet spot” for brewing is between 190 and 210 degrees, most electric coffee makers and Keurigs will only heat your water up to between 135 and 150 degrees, which is just not hot enough. Water boils at 212 degrees Fahrenheit, and you can expect your water to lose a degree of heat every 15-20 seconds. Boil your water, wait about one minute, then manually brew your coffee. You will taste the difference.
In addition to the water temperature, also consider the material of the device you are brewing with. Is it glass, ceramic, or plastic? If your coffee brewer is glass or ceramic, it will retain heat for a longer period of time. Try pre-heating it before brewing by pouring hot water through it and dumping it out. This will help maintain your water’s temperature.
2. Water Quality: the Good Stuff
98-99% of your coffee is just water, so the quality of your water plays an undeniable role in the quality of your coffee. For starters, make sure you are using fresh, clean water. We recommend using filtered water because tap water will often include chlorine and other elements that will affect your coffee’s flavor. However, reverse-osmosis water is the best choice. You can use an osmosis filter, or purchase gallon jugs of reverse-osmosis water from the grocery store. Distilled water is not recommended.
3. Measurement Matters
The big question: How much coffee do I use?! When brewing coffee, you want to use a 1:15 ratio of coffee grounds to water. This means for every 1 unit of coffee grounds you use, you should use 15 units of water. In the coffee world, we measure in grams (1 gram of coffee to every 15 grams of water) however, if you do not want to wake up and do metric calculations in your kitchen every morning before work, we have broken it down into kitchen-speak: 2 tablespoons of coffee grounds + 6 oz of water = the perfect brew! Important note: it is better to brew your coffee strong and add hot water after to weaken. Using not enough coffee can result in coffee that is under extracted.
4. Grind Your Business!
Coffee is available for purchase in whole bean form to be ground at the store or at home or pre-ground. Is one better than the other? Why yes, as a matter of fact! One method is far superior and truly does make a difference in your coffee quality. We highly recommend purchasing whole bean coffee and grinding at home right before brewing. Why is this so effective and important? Coffee in whole bean form will stay fresh for 2-3 weeks longer than pre-ground coffee before going stale. Grinding your coffee beans right as you need them also gives you the opportunity to try different brewing methods. Different brewing methods require different grind variations. With the right grinder, you can adjust your grind setting to suit the flavor of your coffee. Coarse grinds, or larger particle sizes, will slow down the extraction, making the coffee lighter and flavor sweeter. Finer grinds create more surface area between the coffee and water, making extraction time much faster. When grinding always remember: for every grind, there is a time! A larger or coarser grind size will likely take longer to brew because larger particles store much of their material inside, and it takes the water much longer to break down the cellular structure. Most burr grinders will let you know the right grind size and time for whatever brewing method you are using. Here at The Roasterie, we have a burr grinder and blade grinder for you to choose from. Which one is right for you? Check out this previous post to find out: Burr grinder vs. Blade grinder.
One more important thing to consider is your coffee filter. For each brewing method, grind size, time requirement, and even personal preference, there is a proper filter. Metal, bleach paper, natural paper, and specialty filters (such as the V60) are examples of all the coffee filters you have to choose from. Some brewers, such as the French press, have a built in filter. French presses use a metal mesh plunger to filter your coffee grounds away from your water. Metal filters will need a coarser grind resulting in non-dissolved solids, creating unique flavors, gritty body, more of an oil or acid content, and high lipid contents which will add to the sour notes. Bleached paper filters will create a clean, clear flavor profile and a more translucent cup. Natural paper filters will produce a brown paper flavor in your coffee if not rinsed thoroughly beforehand. Whichever paper filter you choose, we recommend giving them a rinse before adding your coffee grounds.
At The Roasterie we want you to feel empowered to turn your specialty coffee into the cup that is exactly right for you and your personality. Following these tips will help you create your own perfect brew. Have fun and good luck!