Coffee has become recognized as a human necessity. It is no longer a luxury or an indulgence; it is a corollary of human energy and human efficiency.
William H. Ukers, All About Coffee
There are many methods for brewing a fine cup of coffee — no single technique is right for everyone. The method you choose for brewing your coffee should be based on your needs and your unique coffee preferences. Do you want a hearty mug of coffee for breakfast? An afternoon cappucino? Or a dessert espresso? Do you prefer a milder coffee or a more robust coffee flavor?
The quality and flavor of your coffee is not only determined by the brewing process you prefer but also by the type of coffee you select. For example, what country is the coffee from, what region and what variety of coffee tree? Or is it a blend from several countries, regions or varieties? Do you favor a dark roast coffee, a light blend or something in between? What kind of grind have you selected? Remember to be creative – you can choose a dark espresso roast coffee and still have it ground to be brewed in a drip system.
What is Good Coffee?
To understand good coffee, we have to start with how the coffee world measures its brews. After all, if you’re trying categorize your coffee, it helps if you have a benchmark.
Measuring the quality of coffee goes back to the 1950s, when MIT chemistry professor E. E. Lockhart conducted a series of surveys to determine American preferences. Basically, he surveyed a lot of coffee drinkers and asked them what they liked.
Lockhart published his findings in the form of the Coffee Brewing Control Chart, a graphical representation of what Americans at the time considered to be the best coffee. In the years since, the Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA) has confirmed that American tastes haven’t changed all that much. Perfection, at least to Americans, is a coffee that falls in the range of 18 to 22 percent Extraction with a brew strength between 1.15 and 1.35 percent Total Dissolved Solids.
The Percentage Extraction is the amount of coffee particles extracted from the original dry grounds. The Percentage of Total Dissolved Solids is the percentage of coffee solids actually in your cup of coffee (commonly known as “brew strength”). When you correlate these, the result is a Coffee Brewing Control Chart, with a target area in the center that highlights the optimal brew strength and extraction percentage.
Strength refers to the solids that have dissolved in your coffee. Percentage Extraction refers to the amount that you removed from the dry grounds. The point is that strong coffee has almost nothing to do with bitterness, caffeine content, or the roast profile, and everything to do with the ratio of coffee to water in your cup.
The great innovation in measuring all this stuff came about in 2008, when a company called Voice Systems Technology decided to use a refractometer—a device that bounces light waves off of particles—in conjunction with a program they developed called ExtractMojo.
The device allows you to get an accurate reading on Total Dissolved Solids and then compare your brews to the Coffee Brewing Control Chart. In this way, you can refine your results based on science as well as taste.
The Right Equipment
Make sure that your equipment is thoroughly cleaned after each use by rinsing it with clear, hot water and drying it with an absorbant towel. Check that no grounds have been left to collect on any part of the equipment and that there is no build-up of coffee oil. Such residue can impart a bitter, rancid flavor to future cups of coffee. Like the clean, robust taste that comes from a manual dripper, since it filters out oil and sediment. And she’s not alone. As basic as it is, the pour-over has become the latest thing at gourmet coffee shops.
Purchase coffee as soon after it has been roasted as possible. Fresh roasted coffee is essential to a superb cup of coffee. And purchase your coffee in small amounts—only as much as you can use in a given period of time. Ideally you should purchase your coffee fresh every 1-2 weeks.
Buy good coffee beans
Without question, coffee is best when used within days of being roasted. Buying from a local roaster (or roasting your own) is the surest way to get the absolute freshest beans. Be wary of buying bulk coffee from supermarket display bins. Oxygen and bright light are the worst flavor busters for roasted beans, so unless the store is conscientious about selling fresh coffee, the storage tubes get coated with coffee oils, which turn rancid. Coffee beans packaged by quality-conscious roasters and sold in sturdy, vacuum-sealed bags are often a better bet.
Keep Coffee Beans Fresh
Always store opened coffee beans in an airtight container. Glass canning jars or ceramic storage crocks with rubber-gasket seals are good choices. Never refrigerate . Flavor experts strongly advise against ever freezing coffee, especially dark roasts. Optimally, buy a 5- to 7-day supply of fresh beans at a time and keep at room temperature.
Grind your coffee just before brewing
Roasted coffee is very delicate and perishable. Coffee has many more flavor compounds than wine, but those compounds deteriorate quickly when exposed to oxygen. Grinding your coffee just before you brew it keeps those compounds intact, and it’s the number one thing you can do to improve your coffee at home.
Use Good Water
Nothing can ruin a pot of coffee more surely than tap water with chlorine or off flavors. Serious coffee lovers use bottled spring water or activated-charcoal/carbon filters on their taps. Note: Softened or distilled water makes terrible coffee—the minerals in good water are essential.
Use the right proportion of coffee to water
A major error people make is not using enough coffee. We empathize—it almost seems wasteful to add that extra scoop. But the Golden Ratio we mentioned earlier really is a great starting point and the simplest way to get into that perfect zone.
Avoid Cheap Filters
Bargain-priced paper coffee filters yield inferior coffee, according to the experts. Look for “oxygen-bleached” or “dioxin-free” paper filters (e.g., Filtropa, Melitta). Alternatively, you may wish to invest in a long-lived gold-plated filter (e.g., SwissGold). These are reputed to deliver maximum flavor, but may let sediment through if the coffee is ground too finely.
Focus on technique
It’s beyond the scope of this guide to go through step-by-step instructions for every method, but underlying all of them is the fact that brewing great coffee is about precision and consistency. Each brewing method has its own particular techniques, but by doing the same thing over and over you fix your mistakes and improve incrementally.
Beware The Heat
Water that is too hot will extract compounds in the coffee that are bitter rather than pleasant. The proper brewing temperature is 200°F, or about 45 seconds off a full boil. (Most good coffeemakers regulate this automatically.) Once brewed, don’t expect coffee to hold its best flavors for long. Reheating, boiling or prolonged holding on a warming platform will turn even the best coffee bitter and foul-tasting.
Use quality tools
You’re going to get better results from high quality tools than you will with junk from the bargain bin. Yes, it’s more of an upfront investment, but in the long run it’s worth it. Good tools last longer and make the entire brewing process much easier.
To brew 16 ounces of coffee (two big cups), use 5 tablespoons (or 28 grams) of coffee and 16 ounces of water.
Master the Pour-Over
- As your kettle heats, place a dripper lined with a paper filter on a mug or a carafe. Rinse the filter with hot water to get rid of paper dust and to preheat the cone.
- Place ground coffee in the dampened filter.
- After the water boils, wait 10 seconds for it to settle. Slowly pour just enough hot water (in a circular motion) to saturate all the grounds.
- Pause 30 seconds to let the coffee “bloom.” It will bubble and soften.
- Pour again, raising the water level to an inch above the grounds. Wait a few moments until the water trickles through the dripper. Repeat this process of “pulse pouring,” which helps prevent overflow, until you have your desired amount of brewed coffee.
Brewed coffee should be enjoyed immediately!
Pour it into a warmed mug or coffee cup so that it will maintain its temperature as long as possible. Brewed coffee begins to lose its optimal taste moments after brewing so only brew as much coffee as will be consumed immediately. If it will be a few minutes before it will be served, the temperature should be maintained at 180 – 185 degrees Fahrenheit. It should never be left on an electric burner for longer than 15 minutes because it will begin to develop a burned taste. If the coffee is not to be served immediately after brewing, it should be poured into a warmed, insulated thermos and used within the next 45 minutes.
Enjoy Your Coffee!
A finely prepared cup of coffee should be enjoyed as thoughtfully as it was brewed.
Take a moment to smell the aroma.
Take a sip and notice your coffee’s flavor. How does it compare to other coffees with regard to body, acidity and balance? If it is a coffee that is new to you, notice how it is different. If it is what you normally drink, note its degree of freshness or how simple changes in preparation affect the cup’s flavor.
A steeping cup of coffee will not last long, but every sip is meant to be savored and enjoyed!
Never reheat your coffee.