Coffee’s existence is far more complex that most would assume. It’s not a random bean that magically appears in bags and cans. It’s not a powder that you can just add to water to achieve a tasty beverage. It’s a seed from a cherry with an incredible story that doesn’t end until you take the final sip from your mug.
A coffee shrub grows on a farm in a coffee producing country. It’s genetic variety has been carefully chosen by the farmer to maximize yield based on the climate, soil, and quality goals. The shrub is rustled by a cherry picker, gathering ripe cherries by hand only. These cherries are sold to the nearby processing station where the seeds (beans) are removed from the cherry in a variety of methods, according to cost and climate.
The processed beans are handled by importers and exporters, who are well acquainted with international customs laws. Once in the destination country, transportation companies haul large loads of coffee beans to coffee roasters.
Roasters run trials on the beans to find the roast profiles that produce a quality final beverage. Green coffee beans are roasted to order for shops and individuals, and things still don’t get any simpler.
Fresh coffee is always king. The aromatic oils that make up for up to 80% of taste evaporate over time, reducing a delicious cup of coffee to sad, stale black liquid. Whole coffee beans begin to decline very rapidly in quality between two and four weeks. Pre-ground coffee declines rapidly after thirty minutes. Freshly roasted, freshly ground coffee is the first step towards excellent brewing.
Water temperature can make the difference between a sour and balanced cup. 195F to 205F is the generally agreed upon ideal temperature range for brewing coffee. Below this range and you will likely experience sour, acidic coffee. Above this range and your brew will be bitter and astringent.
The generally agreed upon ideal ratio sits between 1:14 and 1:18 (coffee:water). If you’re brewing 226g of coffee (8oz mug), you would use about 13g of coffee to brew with a 1:17 ratio.
1:17 (coffee:water) = 13:226, 16:272, 32:544
Doing a simple calculation before you begin pouring in your water changes your coffee brewing game. Use a ratio more like 1:10 and you may end up with a sour, concentrated brew. With 1:25, you can expect a bitter, watered down cup.
Immersion brewers like the French Press, Clever, and Aeropress allow the water and coffee to sit together for an amount of time determined by coffee drinker. Coffee from this method often contain a fuller, richer flavor profile.
Pour over brewers like the Hario V60, Chemex, and your good ole Auto Drip pour water over the grounds. As the water reaches the bottom of the coffee bed, it leaves through a hole (or three) and lands in a carafe below. Coffee brewed using this method often contains a brighter, lighter flavor profile.
Coffee grind sizes should be matched with the brewing device to achieve balance. A coffee grinder at home is one of the most important coffee brewing investments. Immersion brewers benefit from coarser grinds, which keeps the water from extracting too much from the ground coffee. Pour over brewers benefit from finer grinds, since the water drains through and out of the bed.
Coarse: French Press, Siphon
Medium: Pour Over Methods
Fine: Espresso, Turkish
Coffee brewing is a feat of hundreds of years of development and tradition. With recent advancements, we’ve been able to brew the best coffee the world has ever seen. By having a simple grasp on these variables and making minor adjustments to your coffee routine, you too can brew excellent coffee.