When you break down the process, brewing coffee is very simple. But if you really want to get the most out of your beans, a little experimenting is necessary. Here’s a few easy changes you can try to really help make your coffee sing.
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What Happens When You Brew?
Coffee as we know it is made when water extracts oils from roasted coffee beans. Hot water speeds up this process dramatically, and grinding the coffee increases the surface area that the water touches. This is also why we recommend grinding just before brewing, because the increased surface area is a double edged sword: ground coffee oxidizes and loses flavor faster than the whole beans.
Once You Go Black
I know, I know. Black coffee’s intimidating. The cups you have tried have been strong, bitter, and acidic. But it doesn’t have to be any of those things. It can be nutty, light, and refreshing if you’ve got the right roast and brewing recipe down. Or it can be black, smoky, and rich; or anything in between. since you’re reading this, you’re obviously interested in making good coffee, right? Cream and sugar do an excellent job of covering up bitter flavors in cheap coffee, but they also cover up some of the best flavors in good quality coffee. You may find you enjoy black coffee once you’ve got a quality roast in your hands! Even if you don’t, try to take a sip of it before putting in cream and sugar. You may be surprised what you’re missing out on.
The trick to brewing great coffee is to extract the flavors we want out of the beans, but not to over-extract them, which will produce undesirable bitter flavors. Water fresh off a boil (190 ° F or so) is the best starting point, which will rarely need to be deviated from for hot coffee.
Once you have roasted beans in your hands (and fresh is always better), there are two easy ways to dial in the flavor of your coffee: grind coarseness and brewing time.
Generally, coarser grinds will need longer extraction times, but are less likely to go bitter. Finer grinds brew faster, but are much more prone to producing bitter flavors, as well as showing up in the bottom of your cup. Most brewing methods have a recommended grind setting, but that’s more of a starting point than a hard and fast rule. If you feel like your cup is a little weaker than it should be, try grinding a step or two finer. If it’s coming out bitter, try grinding a little coarser.
Brew time is directly related to grind coarseness. Too short and you’ll have weak flavors, too long and you risk bitterness showing up in your cup. French Press grinds take about 4 minutes of extraction. Standard Aeropress brewing takes about 45 seconds, and is generally a smaller grind. Inverted Aeropress recipes call for anywhere between a minute-thirty and two minutes total brew time. It’s a bit of a balancing act, but if you’re really trying to dial in the perfect recipe, try to only change one thing per brew. That way you can really narrow down how much each change is affecting your cup.
Blooming is the act of pouring your hot water over your coffee grounds, letting them soak and degas for a short time (usually about :30 seconds), and stirring the grounds before continuing with your normal brewing process. This causes the grounds to release CO2 and other compounds that make up the flavor of the coffee. Stirring the bloomed grounds helps capture all of those flavors in your brew before they escape.
Poor quality beans brewed well will nearly always produce a better cup of coffee than high quality beans brewed poorly. By refining the brewing recipe of a bag of beans to your taste using these easy tricks, you may find it hard to go back to pre-ground grocery store coffee! If you only have a drip coffee maker, you can improve your cup by grinding fresh beans just before brewing, adjusting your grind, and stirring the blooming grounds once the first few drops of coffee have fallen into the carafe.