by Rita H. Clagett
The perfect cup of coffee… sometimes you find it in a coffeeshop, but how do you make it at home? There are many factors to consider. First, do you want just one cup at a time? You’re likely to get the best flavor from using a French press, an Aeropress, or making a pour over for that. Jay says, “No matter what bean it is, where I get the best flavor is a French press. It takes a bit more time, but it’s worth it.”
If you want several cups, a French press or a pour-over machine with a pot such as the Bunn at Rubicon Roastery are your best bet. But a Mr. Coffee type automatic drip machine can also make great tasting coffee. Other options include Aeropress, Chemex, and a porcelain pour-over with a good filter. Each brewing method will deliver a slightly different flavor from the same bean. All depends upon the amount of beans, the grind, the water, and timing.
Here are some expert recommendations (some of which are hard to comply with at home):
- Use fresh beans, no more than 3-7 days old. (Who can manage that, especially during Covid? I buy enough from Rubicon to last a month, and decant it from the bag into a large glass canning jar with an airtight lid.) In the vacuum sealed and vented bags Jay uses, coffee should stay fresh at least a month at room temperature. Never refrigerate or freeze your beans.
- Buy quality beans. Arabica tends to have better, more smooth flavor than Robusta, which is known for its higher caffeine content and rougher taste. Buy 100% Arabica beans if you can afford to.
- Grind your beans when you’re ready to brew, not ahead of time. Ground coffee starts to lose flavor and quality immediately. Each brewing method requires a different type of grind, elaborated below.
- Invest in a burr grinder, which costs a bit more than a blade grinder but produces a more consistent grind. A grinder with porcelain burrs, electric or manual, usually has several grind settings.
- Use enough coffee! Trying to economize with less coffee and hotter water, or just not knowing the right ratio of coffee to water, can result in a more bitter tasting brew.
- Brew only enough coffee to last for an hour or less. (Again, a challenge for a busy person who wants to make a pot to last the morning.) Keeping the warmer plate on low can help prevent the coffee from burning or getting bitter at too high a temperature, or you can decant hot coffee from the pot into a thermal carafe.
- When using filters, look for “oxygen-bleached” or “dioxin-free” paper filters, or buy a longterm gold-plated filter. If you use a paper filter for pour-over style, rinse the filter with hot water before you put your ground beans in.
- Use filtered water, not too hard, not too soft, but just right. A Brita type filter, or regular tap water that hasn’t got too much mineral content is fine. Start with cold water. The proper temperature for brewing is about 200°F, about 45 seconds shy of boiling at sea level, and exactly boiling at 6800 feet where I live! You can calculate boiling temperature at your altitude from various converter sites online.
- Feel free to experiment! Try different beans and roasts and find those that you like; try some different brewing methods; play with slightly more or less coffee, slightly different grinds, to find the combination that you like the best. Enjoy!
How Much Coffee?
Depending on your brewing method, the amount of coffee beans you need to grind varies. Jay and other experts recommend weighing the whole beans, and if you have a digital scale and the time to do it, great. If not, you can use a tablespoon or measuring cup. One thing that’s always confused me is that a ‘cup’ of coffee as measured in an auto-drip carafe is only 6 ounces! The ‘cup’ or mug you might be drinking from can hold less than that, or be a ‘real cup’ of 8 ounces, or maybe hold 12 or 16 ounces — so know the ‘cup’ discrepancies in your system and adjust accordingly.
Jay uses 18 grams of whole beans when using his Aeropress to brew an Americano, or the equivalent of an 8-ounce cup, and lets it steep for only about 30 seconds or less. Each non-automatic brewing method requires a different steeping time. Without weighing, experts recommend between two and three tablespoons of coffee per ‘cup.’ Hard to pin them down! Experiment in that range to find your best taste.
If Jay is making a 16-ounce mug with a pour-over, he measures 32 grams of whole beans, or a quarter cup. Brewing a potful in an automatic machine, he’ll use a third cup of whole beans for six 6-ounce ‘cups.’ Most coffee makers have a 12-cup capacity, so if he’s brewing the whole pot he’ll grind ⅔ cup of whole beans to brew the perfect dozen 6-ounce ‘cups’.
Timing varies also! Using a French press, he lets the coffee steep for four minutes, and the same for a pour-over. However, with a pour-over you may have to adjust your grind over time to achieve optimum steeping time.
The Best POUR-OVER:
Once you’ve measured and ground your beans, heated your water to the optimum temperature, and rinsed your paper filter, dump I mean gently spoon your beans into the wet filter and make sure they’re level. Start pouring water from the center and spiral outward to the edge, pouring just enough to let the coffee ‘bloom.’ Wait about thirty seconds, then pour again in the same pattern until your filter is about ⅔ full. The water should take 3.5 – 4 minutes to flow through into your cup. Longer means the grind is too fine, shorter means it’s too course. And of course, how it tastes will determine the optimum steeping time for you. (I’m feeling a lot of Goldilocks vibe in this endeavor.) Practice makes perfect.
THE PROPER GRIND FOR EACH BREWING METHOD:
French Press: coarse, like raw sugar
Mr. Coffee: medium, like store-bought pre-ground coffee
Pour over: medium-fine, like granulated table salt
Espresso: fine, you won’t easily see little pieces of coffee, almost powdery
Turkish: super fine, like a powder
Stay tuned in future editions to learn more about fancy coffee types like espresso, Americano, and latté. Hint: you can make any of them from any kind of bean. There is no such thing as an espresso roast: it’s all in how you grind and brew it.