Last week I shared with you our first part in a series called ‘Home Brewing’. More and more people are researching and asking how they can brew ‘coffee shop’ quality coffee at home. Some people say it isn’t possible, but I am a firm believer it is and I am going to share with you this week how important water to coffee ratio and your grinder is to achieve that elusive ‘gold cup’ of coffee in your own kitchen.
After you have purchased a bag of delectable coffee beans from your local roaster (or a nationally recognized small batch roaster; e.g., Intelligentsia, Counter Culture, etc.) and have done the best you can with the quality of your water, it is time to do some math. Water to coffee ratio is a huge part of the brewing process and the final taste of the cup. Just like the ratio of water to koolaid powder, or water to loose leaf will determine if there is over extraction (less water, more coffee) or under extraction (more water, less coffee) this ratio is critical. Disclaimer; the water to coffee parameters I use were first learned in my training in Portland with ABCS (American Barista and Coffee School). After my training I tested those parameters, tested outside those parameters (radically I might say). The conclusion I came to for myself was that these parameters are great guidelines to start with.
For brewing coffee at home, whether drip or pour over, good parameters to stay within would be 16:1 to 18:1 (water in grams to coffee in grams). Now I know not every one has a scale on hand (here is one that is cheap and really easy to use; Jennings CJ-4000), but scales help with consistency and having one on hand that measures in grams is even better. Keep in mind that 1mL is about equal to 1 gram; e.g. 100mL = 100g. Using grams makes it really easy to convert water volume to weight because you will also typically use the weight of coffee as a measuring point. So to not get too confusing, get yourself a cheap scale that measures in grams. Depending on the coffee you are brewing you will want stay with in 16g to 18g of water to 1g of coffee. This is for hot coffee. The ratio differs on the lower end if thinking of doing your own cold brew. That is another blog post for another time. For now if you are into experimenting a little bit, and I encourage you to do so, take your coffee and water and play with the ratios.
While you experiment pay attention to the taste and smell of your brewed coffee. It will change as you manipulate the amount of water you use. Parameters are only a starting point because ultimately this is about taste which is highly subjective.
The other aspect of of home brewing I want to discuss is grinding. Now I can make this really easy on you (hopefully) with this one suggestion if you don’t intend on buying a grinder; have your local coffee shop grind it for you. BUT… and I stress… do not bring in a bag of beans that you bought somewhere else to be ground. Find a coffee shop that sells beans you like and I am sure they would be happy to grind those beans for you if you are purchasing the coffee directly from them. I know we would (We would also grind coffee you purchased from somewhere else, but I won’t speak for other shops.)
Other than that, a quality grinder is imperative. If you are wondering why your coffee doesn’t taste like the coffee shops you frequent and you are following all the same brewing parameters discussed thus far, I can confidently say it is probably because of your grinder. Before I give you a couple of suggestions on grinders there is one aspect of the grinder that I believe is the most important, the grinding apparatus. Buy a grinder that uses two burrs to crush the coffee rather than a blade that chops the coffee. The reason for this is that you want to get the most consistent grind size possible. Here is a great article by kitchn about burr vs blade. To summarize if you are going to buy quality coffee you want to have a quality grinder that will give you an even grind size throughout (perfectly even is impossible). Water will always take the path of least resistance. If you have a bucket of large stones versus a bucket of sand, water will pass to the bottom much faster with the large rocks unlike the bucket of sand it will take a lot longer. If you have a basket of largely uneven grind sizes the water will channel taking the path of least resistance potentially missing a large portion of coffee giving you an under extracted cup of coffee. Your goal is to make sure the water will come in contact with every grind in your brew basket giving you a balanced, perfectly extracted cup of heaven. Water contact with the coffee is critical.
Lastly, concerning grinders, you need to keep in mind what you are trying to produce. If you have a home espresso machine you will want a grinder with more versatility allowing you to grind much finer than someone who only desires to brew drip coffee or do a pour over. Generally, the more versatility you require the more expensive the grinder. For example, I have an espresso machine at home. I need a very fine grind for my coffee, likewise, I also do pour overs so a machine with a flexible range of grind size capabilities is a must for me depending on what brewing method I am using to make my coffee.
I hope this helps. I think most baristas, home or coffee shop, will agree that your grinder is the most important piece of equipment you can buy in your pursuit of a great cup of coffee. Next week I will touch on different home brewing methods and equipment. Blessings!