The aroma. The taste. The latte art. There is almost nothing better than your favorite cup of coffee from your favorite coffee shop. But, with the world living through a pandemic, more people have been brewing and experimenting with their coffee at home. (Anyone remember the Dalgona coffee trend?!)
You buy beans from your favorite shop, but why does it taste different than when they make it? As you may have already guessed, there are a few different factors. Six to be exact.
Consistency is key. Even if you don’t see baristas measure the coffee and water out on a scale, they probably have a specialty grinder that grinds just the right amount every time and their brewer has preset options to choose the correct amount of water to coffee ratio.
It sounds bougie, but a food scale can be a small investment that makes a big difference. They range from about $15 to $250 and can be a versatile kitchen tool. And buying the least expensive food scale is perfectly fine—you don’t need the expensive model. To test out what we mean, use a scoop, take three different bowls and put one scoop of coffee in each bowl. Now measure that out and see the difference in weight. With a scale, consistency is much more attainable.
Once you find a ratio you like, following that will help ensure the same cup of coffee each time. A good ratio to follow is 1:17, or 1 gram of coffee for every 17 grams of water. You can always use more or less water depending on how strong you like your coffee. Using that ratio, you’d brew 24 grams of coffee to 408 grams of water. This would yield approximately 12 to 14 ounces of coffee. This is an approximation because the coffee will absorb roughly 2 grams of water for every gram of coffee. To make a larger batch, multiply the amount of coffee by 17 and that will tell you how much water to add.
Now that we’ve completed that chemistry lesson, we’ll try to contain ourselves from here on out, but we can’t guarantee anything.
Your local cafe will always grind the coffee right when they need it. Once coffee is roasted, it begins to oxidize and the more you break it down, the faster it oxidizes. Grinding it right before you use it or only buying the amount of ground coffee to last you about a week is the best way to go.
For proper grinding, we recommend a burr grinder, which is different from your traditional blade grinders. Burr grinders use two opposing grinders and gravity to let the beans pass through and exit producing a more uniform grind. Buying whole beans and using a burr grinder will give you the freedom to use the same beans for a variety of brewing systems. For example, a drip machine requires a finer grind and french press calls for a coarser grind. Burr grinders will run the price gambit of $50 to $5,000. (Yes, you read that right. $5,000.) But unless you’re aiming to be a coffee connoisseur, a basic burr grinder works great. If you’re still thinking “I don’t want to have to buy yet ANOTHER kitchen tool,” here is a tip for blade grinders. To maintain consistency, grind in small bursts while slowly shaking the grinder up and down.
Quality water is important, so use whatever filtration system you have in your house rather than tap water.
Next is temperature. The ideal temperature range is about 198 to 202 degrees Fahrenheit for optimal extraction. This is going to be a little harder to control if you are using a general coffee maker, the temperature is already set. If you’re boiling water for a pour over or a french press, aim for about 198 to 202 degrees. For a stovetop kettle, once it’s boiling, let the water cool down for about 30 seconds to bring the temperature back down a few degrees.
First, make sure you check out Part I of our Brewing at Home series on brewing systems?
Have you cleaned your coffee machine(s) lately? Like, really cleaned it? Especially if you have a machine like espresso or drip, it’s important to regularly clean it out with recommended solutions. This ensures there’s no coffee oil which can build up and cause freshly brewed coffee to taste bitter. Clean out any remaining grounds each day to prevent this as well.
Also, don’t assume an expensive coffee machine will make the best cup of coffee. Many of them require additional investment in other tools for that (like a burr grinder, electric gooseneck kettle, etc). Or take a look at the Specialty Coffee Association (SCA) for coffee machines that keep consistency without having to purchase additional tools.
As mentioned above, coffee beans begin to oxidize when they are roasted. As CO2 escapes from the beans, the beans hit peak development approximately nine days after being roasted. One way to maintain freshness is storing them in an airtight container in a cool, dry place.
Most roasters will pump nitrogen into the coffee bags pushing out oxygen to help freshness last longer. So even keeping them in the bags they came in can help.
Contrary to what so many of us learned growing up, we don’t recommend storing coffee in the fridge or freezer.
At the end of the day, baristas are trained professionals. Training combined with hours of making various coffee drinks isn’t easy to replicate at home...at least not at first.
Don’t give up, though! It can be done. It’s possible to still have a delicious cup of coffee at home. And, hey, the journey is part of the fun, right?