by Ria Mariano-Lingad
Brewing a tasty cup of coffee at home or at work can be as simple as pouring hot water onto ground coffee and putting into practice some simple suggestions below. Like in cooking, good quality ingredients coupled with good technique yields the best tasting results. You can start with fresh whole coffee beans that are ground just before brewing, tasty brewing water, the right brew ratio or recipe, your favourite coffee cup and you’re on your way to making coffee brewing at home a habit!
- Choose an interesting, whole bean coffee – It is best to buy whole coffee beans than ground simply because of freshness and flavour. There are so many choices out there now, from single origin to blends, light to dark roasted, local or not, the process of choosing which coffee to try can be a daunting task. I suggest having a look around in your area and checking if there are any roasteries. Roasters can give you suggestions on which coffee they like that you might want to try, what’s new, and which ones are freshly roasted. If you are lucky, they might also suggest how to brew or best enjoy the coffee. Buying at the supermarket is also ok as long as you know when it’s roasted. Look for the date panel of the coffee bag and you should see a roasted on date in some cases.
- Buy coffee beans every week or two – Coffee is at its peak normally from 1-3 weeks after roasting. Coffee that has just been roasted can be brewed and enjoyed, but it hasn’t had the time to settle to reach its full flavour potential. Think of a curry that gets better many days later! Like any fresh product, coffee has a short shelf life. If you can recall a coffee experience where the brew tasted quite papery or bland, then that’s probably because the coffee was old and all those lovely aromas have gone.
- Set your own coffee recipe for a consistent brew every time – Brew ratio or recipe can guide you in terms of how much coffee and water to use. Coffee brewing is much about finding cup or flavour balance. For light to medium roasts, typically for single origin, specialty coffee, use 18 to 20 grams ground coffee to 300 ml water. For medium dark to dark roasts, reduce the coffee by a gram or two. The more developed or ‘roasted’ a coffee is, the more soluble it gets so use less or more depending on roast degree but keep the same amount of water each time. Measuring your coffee and water ensures consistency of your brew. Volumetric measures like scoops are also good to use as long as you know how much you are using each time.
- Pay attention to coffee grind (fineness or coarseness of the coffee) – If you look at ground coffee closely, it has a mixture of fine and coarse particles. Imagine mixing together sugars, like raw (coarse particles), white (medium particles) and caster (fine particles) and dissolving these in water. Now these particles would actually dissolve differently due to their size, the finer ones would dissolve faster than the coarser ones and therefore giving you varying levels of sweetness or flavour. It’s quite similar in coffee. The right combination of these particle sizes would give you the most balanced taste. Some grinders would grind more evenly than others, and so with a more even grind the flavours of the coffee can be more defined, balanced and less busy. It’s also best to grind coffee just before brewing to ensure the aromas are captured in the brew and not lost.
- Tasty water makes tasty coffee – Brewed coffee is at least 98% water, so it makes sense to take a minute to quickly assess your water quality at home. There are quantitative measures to do this, but start by tasting your tap water and there shouldn’t be any metallic or off flavours and odours. If you are using bottled water, have a look at the nutritional information panel and choose one with less minerals (less than 150 ppm total dissolved solids). Minerals in water have strong flavour pulling power, and too much would pull flavours out of the coffee that are not flavoursome, killing the balance in the cup. Plus, water that is high in minerals actually tastes like the minerals, metallic or some other odd flavour. At home, I use cold, tap water that has been filtered through a Brita (or similar) water filter jug just to clean the flavour more. Ensure your kettle is always clean and without mineral deposits. Water at around 94C is best for brewing. Using boiling water increases bitterness or sourness generally.
- Choose a brewing method based on desired coffee flavour – The choice of brewing method affects the flavour of the coffee in terms of sweetness and acidity, clarity, body, aftertaste and overall balance. Like in food, coffee flavour and balance are personal preferences and there are no absolute rules on which coffee flavour is best. If you like coffee that is sweet and high in acidity, low bitterness and low to medium body (close or similar to tea) I would recommend pour over methods using paper filter like the Chemex or cone drippers like the Hario V60. Immersion methods like the plunger or French press would give you more suspended solids in the brew because of the metal filter mesh, affecting the body or texture of the coffee. The gentle, high contact brewing (the water spends more time with the coffee) tends to deliver more caramelly, sugar browning sweetness than acidity.
- Get your own brewing gear – You might already have a plunger that you use, and that is a good start. I personally cannot keep up with new brewing devices as there are so many now. The ritualistic nature of coffee making is fuelling this trend, and people get drawn to the act of pouring water over coffee, hearing the sound of coffee dripping and savouring the aromas. Home brewing devices can also be beautiful pieces of art, like the iconic Chemex, for example, designed by Peter Schlumbohm and had been showcased at the MoMA. My personal favourite, the Clever dripper which I bought online is superb. It follows the same immersion principles as the plunger but with paper filtration, the sweetness of the coffee becomes more apparent rather than the body and bitterness, and the aftertaste or finish is much cleaner.
- The vessel completes the coffee experience – When you’ve gone through all the trouble of brewing your perfect cup of coffee, it follows that you would have enjoy or serve it in a nice cup. Think of it as a dining experience where the chef considers the choice of plate and cutlery to complement the presentation and enhance the customer experience. Ceramic cups are more traditional vessels and relate more to coffee than other materials. Double walled glassware is also becoming popular, mimicking the wine or whisky experience. Coffee cups absorb heat differently and temperature affects flavour perception, ie freshly brewed coffee tastes different to warm or cooler coffee. Brewed coffee tastes best between 60-70C in the cup.
So go out there and find your beans, grind it fresh, use tasty water at the right temperature and brew in your beautiful device. I’m sure you’ll be hooked to coffee brewing in no time!