How To Make Better Coffee In 2015
As the festive season draws to a close, we're now well & truly into the start of a new year. This is a time when many people think about what they want to improve in their lives - shouldn't your coffee be one of them?
If you're passionate, or even just curious, about coffee (which you probably are as you're reading this post), then improving the coffee you brew for yourself should be top of mind. There's lots of very specific advice out there on how to brew, but in this post, we thought we'd take a step back and touch on some basic principles you should think about.
It really should go without saying... but just in case... the suggestions that follow assume that you're already doing the basics. For the avoidance of doubt, those basics are:
- Buying coffee prepared by a local, artisanal roaster
- Using fresh, whole beans and grinding them yourself, just before you brew
- Grinding those beans with a burr grinder rather than a blade grinder (or any other contraption)
If you're not yet doing any one of those 3 things, stop reading and address that first. Stale and unevenly ground coffee will make it really difficult to enjoy a great cup regardless of what else you do. Assuming that you've got those basics covered, here are our suggestions on how to take it to the next level.
Note: it does not matter what brew method you use, these principles apply across the board
Management clichés aside, if you're not measuring the variables that go into your coffee brewing, you're flying blind. You can't eyeball a difference of 2g of coffee, let alone a 3 degree temperature difference, and those kind of variations can drastically change your cup of coffee.
Measuring your brewing variables will help you achieve consistency and will also help you understand how changes you're making are affecting your cup (see the next point). The things you should be measuring include (in order of importance):
- Grams of coffee (ideally in 0.1g increments)
- Grams or millilitres of water (they're equivalent)
- Extraction time
- Water temperature
All of those variables are fundamental in coffee brewing and can be measured using some pretty basic equipment, most of which you probably already have in your kitchen.
Once you start measuring your brewing variables and start getting delicious & consistent cups of coffee, don't rest on your laurels. Someone once said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. The same applies to coffee - your brew's not going to get better by repeating the same process.
When you actually know what your brewing variables are (because you're measuring them), you can start to adjust them to see what the impact is. The fact is that there is no such thing as a Platonic cup of coffee - there's always room for improvement. If you don't test different variables out, you won't get to experience that improvement.
Another important reason to experiment is to try to get the best out of different beans. Anyone reading this is unlikely to be the type of person that drinks the same coffee all the time. Different coffee beans will react differently to brewing variables so when you're trying something new, make sure to take the time to tweak, particularly when the result isn't as good as you expected. It may not be the coffee, it may be your brewing variables.
3) Isolate your variables
Imagine you make one of the best cups of coffee you've ever made, using a particular bean that you're very fond of. Someone asks you what you did differently and you answer that you added 3g more coffee, brewed 4 degrees colder and for 20s longer. Guess what? You have no idea why that coffee's better than it was before.
When you experiment, you need to tweak as few variables at a time as possible. Like a lab scientist, if you're not keeping everything else more or less constant, you can't attribute improvements to any particular change. Perhaps even more importantly, you're not going to learn much from your experiments to make you a better coffee brewer overall.
Be patient - you're going to make and drink a lot of coffees in your life. Take the time to apply a bit of the scientific method to your endeavours and in the long run, you will be a better amateur barista for it.
Any other thoughts?
Those are our thoughts on the principles you should be using to improve your coffee brewing this year. Did we miss anything? Disagree on any of our points? Feel free to leave your contributions in the comment section - we'd love to hear what you have to say!