Brew like a barista!

A simple home brewing setup using a Chemex pour-over coffee pot, a cheap-o digital kitchen scale (optional), a goose-neck kettle and, of course, Portside Java'a organic Colombian beans.

A simple home brewing setup using a Chemex pour-over coffee pot, a cheap-o digital kitchen scale (optional), a goose-neck kettle and, of course, Portside Java'a organic Colombian beans.

After years of obsessing over coffee, we've learned that you can brew as expensively or inexpensively as you like.  It can be as simple as you want, or as complicated.  But whether you are using an $18,000 La Marzocco espresso machine or a $4 Melitta pour-over, there are a few consistent truths to brewing amazing coffee.  

First, you must start start with great coffee.

Coffee obeys the GIGO principle: (garbage in garbage out.)  If you want a stale cup of burnt carbon, just start off with old, aggressively roasted beans and you're well on your way!  But if you want to taste all of the exciting flavors that that can be found in the world's coffees--whether rich, bright, chocolaty, nutty, floral or fruity--you need to start with excellent beans that have been roasted by someone who is committed to emphasizing the best aspects of each particular coffee, like us!

Second, you should grind the beans to the appropriate size, preferably just before you brew.

If you don't have your own grinder, we can help you.  Just tell us how you brew your coffee, and we'll grind it to the proper size and consistency until you're able to start grinding on your own.  This doesn't have to be an expensive proposition.  A simple mortar and pestle will work if you're not opposed to using elbow grease, but regardless of how you do it, a key to brewing consistently good coffee is the ability to grind as you brew.  There is no shortage of opinions on this topic.  We'll weigh in with more specific guidance later, but for now it's sufficient to note that espresso should be ground fine, French press coffee should be ground course, drip coffee should be ground somewhere in between, and experimenting with your grind is a good way to tweak the flavor of your coffee.  Generally speaking, the finer you grind, the slower the water will pass through the grounds, and the stronger your coffee will be.

Third, your water should be pure and the appropriate temperature.

Starting with pure water is a good idea.  Any flavor in your water will end up in your coffee, and so a neutral starting point is ideal.  Most people already own a pitcher that filters water.  If you have one, use this water for your coffee.

Temperature can be a more finicky issue.  If you are using a drip machine, you are stuck with the stock temperature.  But if you venture into the world of manual coffee, you'll find that there are tens, if not hundreds of ways to brew for each type of coffee device, and each brew method requires a different temperature of water.  We particularly like the site http://www.brewmethods.com, which aggregates recipes for coffee drinks, sorted by device, and each recipe generally specifies an ideal water temperature.  

Getting your water hot doesn't have to be complicated.  You can boil it on the stove in a kettle and then let it cool to the desired temperature while you do other things.  We use an inexpensive candy thermometer like this one.  

So why does it matter?  The temperature of your water affects your brew time, with hotter water extracting flavor quicker.  Also, water temperature controls the degree of acidity and bitterness of your coffee, with colder water drawing out less of the acidic oils from the grounds.  In fact, cold brewed coffee seems to be gaining popularity with a certain crowd because of its lower acidity, although this is a matter of taste.  Regardless, temperature matters.  If you are following a barista's recipe, it's well worth it to take his or her recommendation on water temperature.

Fourth, your equipment should be clean.

There's really no explanation needed here, right?  Just keep your stuff clean.

Fifth and finally, assuming you followed the other criteria above, brewing a great cup is as easy as pouring the water evenly over the grounds and controlling the brew time.

This may sound simple, and it may even be simple in practice, but there are several moving parts that play into how long you want to brew your cup of coffee.  The thickness of the filter you use and the grind of your coffee both factor into how quickly water can flow through your grounds, and you may want this flow rate to be either faster or slower depending upon the temperature of your water, as discussed above.  

If you are brewing with a drip machine, your water temperature is pre-set, and it will flow into your grounds at a pre-set rate, but you can still control your brew time by experimenting with different filters or different grinds.  But be careful.  If you grind too fine, you may end up with something worse than just really bitter coffee.  You may overflow your filter basket and make an awful mess.

For those of you using French presses, Aeropresses or other manual coffee devices, you'll want to keep a timer handy to track how long your coffee is brewing.  Most of the recipes on http://www.brewmethods.com will instruct you on how long your coffee should brew, and until you get a knack for this, you'll want to just follow the recipes.  But as a rule of thumb, if it takes you twice as long to run 800g of water through your Chemex pot than the recipe suggests, then you have have a good indication that you ground your beans too fine.  If your coffee seems to brew too fast, maybe you didn't grind fine enough.  So you can see, there is valuable information to be gained from running a simple timer while you brew.  We use the stopwatch feature on our phones for this, but there are as many solutions as you can possibly imagine.  There's no reason to spend any money on a timer.  You probably have several around your house already. 

Conclusion

That's pretty much it.  Five concepts for brewing like a barista.  They're easy enough to understand, but flexible enough that you can spend a lifetime experimenting, learning and enjoying.  We think that's a great thing.

As always, you're invited to visit the shop and we'll be glad to brew a cup of coffee with you.

Posted on March 3, 2014 .