The journey of a home brewer is quite an adventure. It is especially challenging yet wonderful when you are in search of that perfect cup of coffee that is unique to your taste.
We can make great coffee by choosing the preferred roast profile, flavour notes and brewing it via the chosen brewer. However, to achieve that perfection, we need to pay attention to the fundamentals.
These are the four fundamentals of brewing coffee at home - the grind size, the brew ratio, the water quality and temperature, and the freshness of beans. Let’s dig deep.
Based on the extraction rate, different brewing methods call for different grind sizes.
If the grind is too fine, it will result in a bitter brew. On the other hand, grind sizes that are too coarse give a weak brew.
A rule of thumb to choose the right grind size for any brewer is to choose a coarser grind size if the contact time for water and coffee is long. Investing in a burr grinder with multiple grind sizes helps obtain consistently ground coffee at desired grind size.
Here are some common brewers and suitable grind sizes:
- French Press - Coarse grind size
- AeroPress - Medium grind size
- PourOver - Medium grind size
- MokaPot - Fine grind size
- Espresso machine - Fine grind size
- Cold brew - extra coarse
Pro tip: When unsure about the suitable grind size for your brewer, erring on the coarser side is a better idea than on the finer side. This way, we will end up with an under-extracted coffee that tastes less bitter than over-extracted coffee.
Proportion – The Brew Ratio
The coffee brew ratio helps you decide the amount of water you need to add to your coffee. The brew ratios go like 1:15, 1:16, 1:17 & 1:18. Here, there will be 15, 16, 17 & 18 parts water for every one gram of coffee.
Many consider the ratio 1:16 as the golden ratio. However, the golden ratio is simply what you prefer. By experimenting with the ratio, you can discover a recipe that is just perfect for you.
The water we use is very important to the taste and quality of the resulting coffee. There are two aspects to it - the temperature and the quality.
The ideal temperature we should keep the water is from 90°C to 96°C. If you do not have a thermometer, we can heat the water on the stove and wait for it to come to a full boil. After turning off the heat source, we need to allow the water to rest for a minute. This will optimise the temperature and prevent the burning of coffee grounds.
The quality of the water is also as important as the temperature although it is often overlooked. We need to use filtered or bottled water to ensure it does not have any chemicals or chlorine. We can use mineral packets that optimize the water for brewing coffee.
These steps will ensure the coffee cup is clear and allow you to taste the complex flavours coffee has to offer.
The freshness of the Coffee
Coffee starts to lose its flavours and aromas a few days after it is roasted. So, fresh coffee is the key to making a delicious brew.
Here's how you can ensure your coffee is fresh:
- Check the label- Purchase coffee that has been roasted before 2 days to 2 weeks. This will ensure your coffee is optimal for your home brewing.
- Buy only what is needed- Coffee stored for too long will go stale, so ensure to buy based on your requirements. At the same time, if you do not want to run out of coffee, a coffee subscription service will be a good idea.
- Grind Fresh- Instead of buying pre-ground coffee, grind fresh right before brewing. Whole beans trap the coffee oils and aroma in them better than pre-ground coffee, so coffee remains fresh for longer.
- Store the coffee in an air-tight container- Keep your coffee beans in a safe container away from the sunlight to prevent them from degrading.
Understanding the fundamentals will help you make great coffee, especially when you are new to home brewing. In addition to helping you brew that perfect cup of coffee, mastering the fundamentals will open up doors for you to experiment with new recipes.
That being said, coffee is personal - the perfect coffee will be how you like it best.