I get asked on a daily basis “Why does your coffee taste better than the one I make at home?” The answer is, you probably weren’t taught the basics. Unless you worked in a coffee shop or spent a fair amount of time trolling the internet looking for the right answers (and tested them), you probably wouldn’t have the knowledge you would need to dial in your perfect cup. The good news is, you don’t have to be a barista to make a great cup of coffee. A few small adjustments to your regular routine can drastically improve your daily brew and have you making exceptional coffee in no time.
To start talking about extraction, we have to break down what it is. When we brew coffee, we are extracting oils, acids, and solids from a coffee bean. As those things are extracted, you are building the flavors in your cup. First, the acid and fruit flavors are extracted. Second, the sweetness and body. Lastly, bitterness is extracted. The goal is to extract the perfect balance of flavors, leaving you with a coffee that has it all, not too sour/acidic or too bitter and that has a good body/mouth feel. If this is starting to sound complicated, it’s because it can be. Not to worry; we are going to simplify things so you can improve your brew.
One of the easiest ways to up that daily cup, is to grind it when you brew it. The moment you grind your coffee, it starts to go stale. Precious oils evaporate and you lose flavor and aroma as oxygen attacks your beans. So, if you can, grind it when you are ready to brew. The size of the grind is also very important. A finer grind will speed up the extraction, while a courser grind will do the opposite. There are different grinds for different extraction methods. A fine grind for espresso, medium for your drip or pour-over, coarse for a french press, etc. What does this mean to you? Different grinds will affect the extraction, resulting in very different cups. Start with brewing your average grind, then try repeating the process with a finer and more coarse grind, comparing each cup side by side. You might find that your courser grind produced a brighter, more fruity cup or that the finer grind was richer and had more body. When it comes down to it, you are brewing to your pallet. So, there’s no standard grind. Keep adjusting until you start to taste your favorite flavors and find your perfect grind.
When you think about it, the majority of what’s in your morning mug is water. So, cleaning up your water, will clean up your coffee. If your tap has any odors or minerals, so will your coffee. So, use the water you enjoy drinking to brew your coffee. The next time you start your morning brew, start with clean, filtered water. Don’t like the tastes of the water at your house? Use your favorite bottled or mineral water to make your coffee. Water temperature also plays a huge part. Lower water temperatures extract more slowly, while higher temps extract quicker. Anything below 180 F won’t extract as many oils or acids, leaving you with a flat cup. Anything over boiling (212 F) will burn your coffee, leaving it bitter. Ideal brewing temperature is between 195 F and 205 F. A good practice is to get as close to 200 F as possible. There are several variable temperature water kettles on the market, but an old fashioned stove-top tea kettle and a dollar store kitchen thermometer will do the trick if you want to go lo-tech or are on a budget.
Volume and Time
Other improvements you can make are to adjust the volume of coffee grounds and the length of your extraction time. First off, start consistently measuring your coffee. If possible, weighing your coffee is the best option. If not, measure your coffee with a tablespoon or coffee scoop, taking the time to level it off so you can adjust how much coffee you are using in your brew. How much ground coffee should you use? A good place to start is a ratio of 1:15, 1 part coffee to 15 parts water for a French press or pour-over. Use about 23 grams of coffee grounds (about 3 Tablespoons) to make a 12 ounce French press or pour-over. If you are using a regular 6 cup drip brewer, use 10 grams (about 2 Tablespoons). With that as a starting point, try repeating your brew with more or less grounds and tasting them side by side. Too much, and you will produce a bitter or muddy cup. Too little, results in a light tea like coffee.
Secondly, adjust how long your coffee is extracting. If you are using a drip brewer or pour-over, a finer grind will brew slower and coarser grind will brew faster. 3 to 4 minutes is ideal for a French press and 2.5 to 3 minutes for a pour-over. Use a timer and try brewing shorter and longer extractions. Too short will result in a cup that is too acidic (that sour taste on the sides of your tongue). Too long and it will be bitter. Try different times side by side to find your perfect cup.
With a few small adjustments, you can brew your coffee like the pros. Grab your favorite coffee and try adjusting one thing at a time, taking the time to taste the difference in each brew. Remember to have fun with it and before you know it, you will be drinking the best coffee you ever brewed right out of your own kitchen.