Do you really enjoy your home brew? I am often asked for advice by those finding theirs sometimes tasty, other times indifferent or at worst plain awful. Becoming a home barista is fun and rewarding. The goal: to enjoy tasty balanced coffee, of the desired strength and full of flavour from origin. This is a post dedicated to doing just that. First steps to brewing delicious coffee at home …. or indeed anywhere!
Also see – How do you take your coffee?
Part of the barista’s role whether a professional barista in a coffee shop or you, the home barista brewing up your daily cup of Joe, is to extract the best flavour the coffee has to offer. So if you want a tasty brew you need to start with good quality, well roasted coffee beans.
“Stale is stale. Stale is not tasty. Stale will never be delicious”
There is a world of flavour to explore, even more complex that the world of wine, but what is most important is freshness. Stale is stale. Stale is not tasty. Stale will never be delicious.
Once roasted and rested coffee slowly starts to deteriorate. Air, light, heat and moisture are the enemies of coffee and, whilst coffee packaging is designed to protect it from all of these, the moment it is opened the longer it is from roasting the quicker it will stale. By buying freshly roasted coffee, and consuming a month or two from roast date you are in with a good chance of enjoying that bean as nature and the producer intended. If you haven’t already, seriously consider investing in a good quality burr grinder. You only have to check the aroma of freshly ground coffee to appreciate the difference grinding just before brewing makes.
• Store coffee in the bag it came in, squeeze out the air each time you close it up again and seal tight with a band or clip.
• Do not store in the fridge, way too much moisture and odours. Just some where cool and dry.
“Let’s get back to basics though. If your brewer isn’t clean, the coffee is not going to taste good”
Brewers brew in different ways: immersion (steeping) peculation (filtering) and espresso (with pressure) describe the way in which water comes into contact with coffee to extract flavours, each with different results in the cup. Some of the modern brewers use a combination of these methods designed to achieve a better brew. Some of you may have selected your brewer because of this, others because it’s easy, convenient, looks good or is fun. Let’s get back to basics though. If your brewer isn’t clean, the coffee is not going to taste good. A build-up of old coffee grounds and rancid coffee oils will only add unpleasant elements to your cup.
Modern brewers such as V60 and Aeropress are extremely easy to keep clean whilst some of the more traditional French Press, Moka Pot and Espresso need a little more attention.
• Modern brewers – rinse after each use regularly wash in warm soapy water and rinse well.
• Traditional brewers – as above but also take apart and soak in special coffee de-tan powder at the first sign of build up.
Water is often referred to as the next most important ‘ingredient’ after the coffee as it makes up such a large percentage of the drink. 2015 UK barista champion Maxwell Colonna-Dashwood and Chris Hendon from Bath university have written a book on this subject alone, titled ‘Water for coffee’. Maxwell refers to water as a flavour extracting agent rather than an ingredient, as it has such a key role in extracting the flavour from the coffee due to the binding properties of its mineral content. This goes beyond purely looking at water hardness, but the specific minerals which make up this hardness.
“At the very least always use filtered water as this will remove unpleasant tasting impurities such chlorine”
This is a complex and interesting subject. Something I am personally looking forward to learning much more about as I plough through his book. The best and most practical advice I can give at this stage is to understand that some coffees may not shine their true potential due to the specific mineral content of the water in your area. Some recommend certain bottled waters for consistency but these are also not ideal or practical. Water that is high in magnesium and low in bicarbonates will give a tastier brew. At the very least always use filtered water, as this will remove unpleasant tasting impurities such chlorine.
So I’ve mentioned the importance of grinding fresh. But the way the coffee is ground is one of the key elements to determining how your coffee will brew and taste. This is where I need to introduce extraction theory. Extraction is the percentage of the coffee bean that has been dissolved into the water. Around 30% of a coffee bean is water soluble. We are basically talking about proteins, carbohydrates and oils that give body, character, flavour and aroma to the brew along with natural acids, carbons and caffeine, which in excess, can bring negative tastes. The remaining 70% is largely the fibrous structure of the bean that ends up on your compost heap (hopefully). Extraction levels are critical to balance and taste. It has been analysed and widely agreed within the speciality coffee community only around 18 -22% is desirable in the cup.
“Extraction levels are critical to balance and taste. It has been analysed and widely agreed within the speciality coffee community only around 18 -22% is desirable in the cup”
So what if you under extract? A thin, watery cup that lacks body and flavour. Sourness is also a key indicator of under extracted coffee. And, if you extract too much? Bitterness, excessive bitterness that can overwhelm the flavours you hope to enjoy.
Grinding coffee opens up the bean structure allowing extraction to take place. The finer the grind the quicker extraction takes place. Espresso, which brews in around 25 seconds, needs a much finer grind than, for example a French Press, which steeps for around 4- 5 minutes. Adjusting the grind or ‘dialling in’, is how the barista will control and achieve a perfect extraction for different brew methods, and therefore balance, flavour and body in the cup. Having control over this will enable you to achieve best results. Failing that always ensure your coffee is ground for your specific brew method. There is no such thing as ground coffee ‘suitable for all coffee makers ’.
Your Recipe & technique
There are many other factors or variables that also affect extraction; Water temperature (as well as composition), brewing time for immersion methods, pouring technique for manual filter, and in the case of espresso pressure and dose. A closer examination of these and the points made so far will come in future posts but to get started it is best to avoid too many variables by being consistent with your recipe and technique. Follow a guide for your brewer. There is a link to our brew guides at the end of this blog.
Tips for consistent brewing:
• Ensure your water is off the boil (91°C – 96°C is the Speciality Coffee Association of Europe standard) and your brewer is nicely warmed to lessen the loss in temperature during brewing.
• Always use a timer, just as you would for the perfect soft boiled egg. Don’t guess!
• Be careful and consistent with your pouring, stirring and plunging techniques where applicable, as water flow, turbulence and pressure will affect extraction.
“Do not be tempted to over or under extract to manipulate strength. This is not a route to delicious coffee”
Lastly but very importantly – don’t confuse extraction with strength. Strength is the ratio of water to dissolved coffee solids. We now understand extraction to be percentage of the bean in the liquid. Therefore if you want a stronger brew use more coffee or less water in your recipe. Vice versa for a weaker brew. Using scales will help you make note and repeat the coffee to water ratio that gives you the strength you enjoy best. Do not be tempted to over or under extract (through brew time or grind) to manipulate strength. This is not a route to delicious coffee.
I love Matt Pergers coffee compass. Great if you really want to get to grips with sensory evaluation and fine tuning your brew. Find it here
Here are our quick guides to the most popular manual brew methods both modern and traditional, with more to follow
Why not try our freshly roasted speciality coffee