Taking advantage of brew variables

Brewing coffee at home is a popular craft. Many wish to emulate the well balanced cups of coffee that they drink in cafes – seeking out the “perfect cup.” However, the road of coffee discovery can be long and hard. This is why we at Hook published today’s article. We hope to aid you on your coffee discovery journey!

Defining terms:

Overextraction – When coffee is bitter [Usually when the extraction percentage exceeds 21%. Don’t worry about this for now, as we will be focusing more on taste in this article]
Underextraction – When coffee is watery or tasteless
Particle Size distribution (psd) – the difference in size between the smallest coffee particle and the largest.
Bloom – a stage at the beginning of the brew process in which a small percentage of the total water used in the brew process is poured on the ground coffee mass. The bloom is used for coffee control and to eliminate potent volatile gases.

Before we delve into some coffee alchemy, let’s address a few abstract variables:

Variable: practice time

For starters, the home-brewing craft will take time. There’s a reason that the internet is cluttered with thousands of articles on “how to make your coffee taste good.” Like most things in life, brewing quality coffee must be practiced often. There are no shortcuts – just knowledge and application.

Variable: quality ingredients

To brew a good cup of coffee, you need high quality ingredients. This fact is not negotiable. If you cook with rancid old ingredients, the food will, well, taste rancid and old. Coffee is much the same. Using high quality coffee also acts as a compass for brewing improvement. When brewing coffee roasted by a reputable and trusted company, you can rest assured that if the coffee tastes bad, it’s your fault. This is a good thing. Good coffee that tastes bad will show you where to go!

Variable: high performance grinder

Use a grinder with an acceptable particle size distribution to grind your coffee. A grinder is perhaps your most important tool in the brewing process. This will be addressed later in the guide as well.

Here are a few grinders to check out that meet a high-performance criteria:

-Baratza Encore
-Kuissential EvenGrind
-Baratza Sette

 

Use your brew variables:

 Fear not! Do not be afraid of ruining precious coffee morsels due to poor extraction. Instead, use your brew variables to pull out the bounty of aroma and flavors! Many people are afraid of brewing bitter coffee, so they compensate by brewing too quickly or with little agitation. A watery cup of coffee will be the result. We don’t want watery coffee. We want coffee that is rich in the complex harmonies of mouthfeel and aroma and flavor.

Variable: brew time

Brew time is the amount of time that water is in contact with a ground coffee mass. The longer that coffee is submerged in water, the more extraction takes place. This variable is more pertinent in Immersion brew methods.

Tip: Looking for a balanced cup that isn’t intense or sharp? Try increasing time, but decreasing the intensity of other variables. For instance, increase the time brewing with a Clever dripper or Eva Solo, but coarsen the grind, lower the temp, or decrease agitation. Slower curves of extraction can yield wonderful balanced results.

 

Variable: grind [VERY IMPORTANT]

As mentioned earlier, grind quality / size is perhaps the most important brewing variable. Everything around brewing a cup of coffee is centered on the ground coffee mass. This is why grind is important. When grinding coffee, you are directly manipulating the source of all flavor and aroma.

If you understand how to manipulate grind, you can effectively impact the flavor to your preference.

As a rule, a coarser grind extracts less, and a finer grind extracts more.

Brewing takes place when water touches coffee particles. If the water contacts or “touches” more coffee particles, more extraction will occur. This is why finely ground coffee extracts more thoroughly and at a faster rate. Coarsely  ground coffee extracts slower because it takes more time for the coffee to seep into the larger particles.

One must also take grinder particle size distribution (PSD) into account. PSD is essentially how similar one coffee particle is to another. Keep in mind that there are always bound to be boulders (larger grinds than desired) and fines (smaller grinds than desired) in the ground coffee mass. Having a good PSD eliminates the anomalies of boulder and fines. Good PSD gives the brewer more control over the brew process…much more control. Brewed cups can be more easily replicated, and manipulating other brew variables will yield more determinable results.

Tip: When taking advantage of brew variables, consider changing the grind variable first. Grind is the most effective way in reaching the goal of a desired cup. Once the grind is dialed in, consider fine tuning your brew with other variables.

 

Variable: agitation / turbulence

Agitation occurs when a disturbance of the wet coffee mass takes place. Pouring turbulence, stirring, shaking, and turning are all forms of agitation.

Agitating while brewing creates uniformity. Some coffee particles are extracted more than others in the brew process (this could be due to water contacting some grounds more than others or from fines existing in the coffee mass). When some coffee particles are extracted more than others, an unbalanced cup can be the result; which is a cup that tastes overextracted and underextracted at the same time (yuck!). If a stir is incorporated, forgotten grounds of coffee are incorporated into the brew mass. A stir can save your coffee and create balance!

Tip: In pour overs, try stirring the bloom or stirring right after all water has been deposited into the pour over mechanism. In Immersion methods, stir once or twice in the middle or end of brewing. Stirring is an underrated tool. Use it wisely.

Variable: water temperature

The SCAA’s (specialty coffee association of America) standard for brewing temperature is using water at 195 – 205F. This isn’t a rule, but merely a suggestion. Many studies have been done on effective brewing temperatures, and this is the recommended range.

As a rule, lower temperatures brew slower, and higher temperatures brew quicker.

Tip: If you are new to brewing, stick within SCAA’s recommended range. For the expert, experiment to your heart’s content!

 

Variable: Coffee to Water Ratio

We recommend staying within the 1:15 – 1: 18 brew ratio. E.g. for every 1 part of coffee, there are 15 parts of water. So…

25g coffee

400ml water

400 / 25 = 16

1: 16 ratio!

Tip: the smaller the ratio, the more chance for over extraction. Compensate by being careful with your brew variables. Even 1:13 cups can be very tasty… just be careful not to over extract!

 

Be brave and confident when brewing! Complex variables don’t have to be your enemies. Always seek out the tastiest cup, and never stop experimenting!

Happy Brewing!

The Hook Coffee Team.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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