Dialing-in Your Coffee: Going Beyond the Brew Guide
Coffee brewing guides are all over the internet (we’ve been posting several on our Instagram Stories). They're essentially recipes with directions on how to brew a coffee--ingredient amounts, water temperature, pouring techniques, and more.
When I cook something from a recipe, I think I can use some intuition if I want to change something about it. I can season my dish more, caramelize the onions longer, and add or remove spiciness.
With coffee, I think it might not be as obvious. You can taste your brew afterwards, but if there's something you don't like... what do you do? Is the coffee bad? Is the brew guide bad? Do we just save it with sugar?
Have no fear! There ARE ways you can change the way your coffee comes out. There are a few simple, fundamental concepts that can help you become the master of your morning brew!
EXTRACTION (AKA WHAT EXACTLY IS COFFEE?)
Coffee is a simple drink. It only has two ingredients—water and coffee grounds. It’s helpful to think of coffee as a solution of these two things: the water runs through the grounds, some of the grounds dissolve, and what we get out is magic. In the biz, we call this extraction.
How much you extract affects taste. You can over-extract coffee by grinding your beans too fine, causing water to contact the coffee for too long and get a bitter, dry flavor. Alternatively, you can under-extract coffee if your coffee grounds are too coarse. This causes water to pass through the coffee too quickly to dissolve all the yummy stuff that makes coffee taste complex and balanced. This leaves you with a sour, face-scrunching cup.
Here are a few common coffee problems and how to troubleshoot them (to simplify things, assume that water temperature is kept as a constant—brew everything with water just off the boil):
Coffee is sour or bitter:
Coffee is too light/too strong:
Great brewing happens when you hit the sweet spot on both lines. Brewing coffee, like cooking, is all about tasting and adjusting and tasting again. With practice, you’ll be able to dial in your brews with confidence!