Coffee 101: Introduction
Most coffee aficionados agree that brewing good coffee is more difficult than it seems. If good coffee were simple to make, there wouldn’t be hundreds of different styles and methods of brewing coffee developed throughout history, each of them touted by some expert at one time as the key to coffee nirvana.
Coffee is a very personal experience.
A brewing method that works for you may be unacceptable for your friend, simply because everyone has different tastes. Regardless, there are guidelines that can be used with almost any brewing method. It will take some experimentation, but with these guidelines you should be able to develop a brewing method that works for you every time you brew your coffee.
At its most basic, coffee brewing is comprised of these three steps:
- steep ground coffee in hot water until flavor is extracted from the grounds
- discard the grounds;
- enjoy the coffee.
There’s no magic, but there is a formula. We call them the “Five Golden Rules of Coffee Brewing.” Ignore these rules and your coffee will taste bad no matter how fancy your brewer or how much money you’ve paid for your beans.
Golden Rule #1: Use Fresh Water.Seems petty, we know. But chemicals, algae, and minerals in your tap water will ruin the taste of your brewed coffee. Even if your home tap water tastes good to you, we recommend that you filter it before using it to brew your daily dose.
Golden Rule #2: Heat to Proper Temperature.
Water that’s too cool (unless you use a cold-process method) results in coffee that is sourand under-extracted. Sadly low quality automatic drip coffee brewers are incapable of delivering water at the correct temperature during the entire brewing process. Pour over coffee or french press methods may allow you to control temperature with more ease using a water heater or simply a tea pot and thermometer.
Golden Rule #3: Time Is The Master.
If the brewing interval is too short, coffee will be UNDER-extracted. Coffee that’s brewed too long will be OVER-extracted. Depending on your grind size and brewing method the amount of time coffee is extracted for will change. Processes with coarse grinds such as french press will have longer extraction times than espresso or AeroPress grinds. To complicate matters even more the pressure created during methods like pulling espresso further reduces the extraction time.
Golden Rule #4: Grind
You must grind coffee according to the process in which you intend to brew it. For example, in espresso, hot water is ‘pressed’ very quickly through the ground coffee, so the coffee is ground very fine for espresso. In a French Press, the ground coffee steeps in the hot water for 4-6 minutes, so the coffee is ground coarse for this method.
If you were to switch these two grinds and use the same process the following would result. Using the fine espresso grind in a french press would create coffee which has been extremely over-extracted at 4-6 minutes instead of the intended time of ~18 seconds. Using a coarse grind in an espresso machine would create coffee that is nothing more than brown water since this grind was meant for a 4-6min extraction and only received ~18 seconds.
Imagine a coffee bean as a potato. If the potato is cut very finely it will cook much faster in boiling water than larger chunks. The same concept applies to coffee beans.
Golden Rule #5: Use Freshly Roasted Coffee Beans
Buy only the best quality, freshest coffee you can find, and store it properly: buy only enough coffee to last about a week. Store coffee in an airtight container at a cool temperature. Buying whole bean coffee and grinding it just before brewing is the only way to ensure this step is being fulfilled. While brown craft bags may look cool and environmentally friendly these bags are not equipped with one way airlock valves, they are more sensitive to changes in heat, humidity and UV light. Brown craft bags used by many new age coffee companies are still lined with plastic and have the same carbon footprint as gusseted poly bags, with safety seals and one-way valves such as the bags used at Hunterbay. These bags cost us far more than other options however we are not willing to sacrifice quality for profit on this decision.