When I learned how to make coffee, I did it the hard way, through trial and error. There was not much information at the time. It is much easier now, we have Internet, great barista schools, and the geeky friend who has the coffee brewing down to a science. At the end of the day, there is a lot of science involved, whether we know it or not. This is why we chose this article format, we wanted to show you what are the coffee authorities saying about the science behind brewing the best cup of joe at home. We make our coffee based on a routine, and sometimes the routine is the right one. Sometimes it's not, and we don't know what's wrong with it.
Sure, for many people the important thing is the caffeine dose that comes with the black drink. For many though, coffee time means more than that. It means a sensorial experience, time spent with family and friends, a little break in the daily crazy routine. If you ask me, the coffee break should not be influenced by productivity and efficiency. It's a break.
Let's go back to the main subject: "How to make the best coffee". Be prepared, it's not a simple recipe. Not because it's extremely complicated, we "translate" the science in simple words. It's because everyone is different, and we all have different tastes. Many espresso lovers don't like drip coffee. Most latte lovers think that espresso is just gross, unless you cut it with some milk. If you like bold, strong coffee, then French press, and espresso are the ways to go. On the other hand, if you like light and clear coffee, the drip coffee is going to be your choice. We'll touch this again later on the page.
Fresh, Good Quality Beans Coffee Beans
According to Eating Well, in their guide to make great coffee, beans are the most important. They have a nice article outlining 9 Rules for How to Make a Perfect Cup of Coffee. Out of the nine rules, three are about the coffee beans. Here are the three rules about using fresh, good quality beans for your brew.
9 Rules for How to Make a Perfect Cup of Coffee
Rule 1. Buy Fresh Beans
Without question, coffee is best when used within days of being roasted. Buying from a local roaster (or roasting your own) is the surest way to get the absolute freshest beans...
Rule 2. Keep Coffee Beans Fresh
Always store opened coffee beans in an airtight container. Glass canning jars or ceramic storage crocks with rubber-gasket seals are good choices. Never refrigerate...
Rule 3. Choose Good Coffee
Choose specialty coffees that clearly state the country, region or estate of origin can provide a lifetime of tasting experiences. By all means look for 100% pure Arabica beans. The cheap alternatives may contain Robusta beans, noted for their higher caffeine content but harsh flavors...
The Golden Coffee to Water Ratio
The Black Bear roastery has a great article about brewing coffee. They have some geeky details, bringing the art of making drip coffee to scientific heights. Here is what they have to say about the coffee to water ratio. To sum it up for the diagonal reader, use 2 tablespoons of ground coffee and 6 fluid ounces of water, for every cup of coffee brewed. Keep it simple. In real world, with automatic drippers, you can't brew just one cup. If you really want to brew just one cup, you will have to use three Tbs. of ground coffee, and 7 ounces of water. So the more coffee you brew, the better the steeping and the extraction is.
Coffee to Water Ratio
The proper way to measure coffee is by weight. If you are really serious about coffee, then you should invest in a scale that can weigh small portions of coffee accurately... You can measure coffee by volume, but you lose a lot of accuracy because of varying bean densities and having to rely on visual estimation. The proportion of ground coffee used in relation to the amount of water used, constitutes the brewing ratio. After the coffee has been brewed, the amount of solubles that have been extracted in relation to the amount of water, constitutes the drinking ratio. Hot water can be added to the infusion after brewing to reduce the concentration and flavor intensity of the brew, thus changing the drinking ratio. Experimentation will lead you to your own personal brewing and drinking ratios... The Standard Brewing Chart (see the coffee to water ratio chart) gives the brewing ratios that are accepted as the standard by serious coffee drinkers.
The rest of the article here...
What About the Water?
In this article, the coffee taste is tied to the water quality. Maxwell Colonna-Dashwood, a barista champion, offers his insights on the effects of water on coffee taste. The article describes Colonna-Dashwood's presentation about water and coffee, and how coffee can be affected by water. The event took place at Prufrock Coffee shop.
Video about Water and Coffee Taste
What About the Water?
Water can transform the character of a coffee. It can accentuate its acidity, or wipe it out entirely. It can increase or decrease body, change extraction. It affects the way we roast and the way we brew. Why? Chemistry (and a little bit of physics).
From the chemistry point of view, the most influential elements for our coffee brewing are Calcium, Magnesium and the so-called Buffer (Bicarbonate/alkalinity). Coffee is a solvent. We are interested in how much of the ground coffee beans is dissolved in our resulting brew.
Read the rest of the experiment here...
Best Water for Coffee Brewing
As a conclusion for us, the coffee noobs, the best is the spring water. It has the best balance between minerals, and it has the least unwanted components, that can negatively impact the coffee taste. Yes, you can make your water yourself, but that's on a different level, not for me anyway. According to NCA, you can use filtered water, but bottled water is the best.
Bonavita Coffee Brewer
Bonavita is SCAA (Specialty Coffee Association of America) certified, meaning it has passed the SCAA rigorous tests for making specialty coffee. That means great coffee. Some of the features incorporated into Bonavita are:
- Ideal brewing temperature every time and during the whole brewing process – this is tested by SCAA.
- Large shower head for complete coffee saturation.
- The flat bottom, U-shape filter basket also helps the saturation of your coffee grounds.
- Pre-infusion mode to allow degassing of the grounds, and give them enough time to bloom and saturate.
- Stainless steel carafe with lid.
Grind Size for Perfect Extraction
Maddie from Kicking Horse Coffee wrote a great article on the importance of grinding for the coffee extraction. The article goes in great detail on how grinding affects the brewing. Maddie also recommends in her article their ground coffee. As much as I love their coffee, (it's kick ass coffee, by the way), I personally do not advise you to buy it pre-ground. Sure, roasters try to please their customers and sell what they are looking for. That doesn't make it right. Remember the three rules about coffee quality from Eating Well's blog? The rule number 2 says to keep coffee beans fresh. By grinding the coffee we are decreasing the amount of time we can store it. Ideally, we should grind just minutes before brewing. Once we open the pre-ground coffee can, we have to use it fast. Jared Levan from Food Republic explains in this article Why Does Coffee Go Stale. So yeah, I like Maddie, but don't buy pre-ground coffee, unless you are buying for an office, of for a family of 10. Here is what she wrote about grinding and extraction:
Grind Size for Perfect Extraction
Grinding exposes all volatile flavours and aromatics locked in the coffee bean. Grind size will greatly affect the coffee you brew.
Essentially, you could just plop a roasted bean in water and expect some extraction. Mind you, it would take a considerable amount of time. Subsequently the extraction rate would increase if you cut the bean in two, doubling the surface area.
Increase the number of particles and extraction will exponentially increase.
The rate of soluble solids removed from a coffee particle directly relates to the amount of surface area exposed to water. A higher number of particles will result in more surface area, which can yield a greater extraction.
A higher rate of extraction is not necessary ideal. Approximately 30% of the matter in roasted coffee particles can be dissolved in water. However, the optimum extraction of the coffee particle’s soluble solid is 18-22%. As not all flavour compounds are pleasant and undesirable flavours dissolve slowest.
Conclusion - How Do You Grind for Drip?
As a conclusion, depending on your tolerance for silt in coffee, dial up and down the grind size, until you find the right one. Finer grinds will give you a coffee with more body, and stronger, but it will be silty. If you absolutely hate it, increase the grind size. With coarser grind size, you need to use a bit more coffee to get the same strength. However, this will contain more caffeine.
You also need to consider the filter you are using. A paper filter, will retain all the silt, but finer grinds will clog it, causing the water to flow slower. A slow water flow increases the brewing temperature, hence over-extracting the coffee. A screen filter will allow a faster brew, and will let pass more fines. This will result in a stronger coffee.
Technivorm Moccamaster Coffee Brewer
The Technivorm brewers are known for a few things: quality built, (from materials used to the design), reliability, precision for all aspects of the brewing, (it is SCAA certified), and allows for some brew tweaking.
You can modify the drip rate with the Moccamaster, from full drip to no dripping at all. This allows longer steeping time and a fuller body. You have access to the brew bed during the dripping, which you don't with the Bonavita. On the other hand, the large shower head of the Bonavita ensures proper saturation of the coffee grounds, so you don't really need the access.
Bonavita vs Technivorm
How to Make the Best Coffee - Over Extraction and Under Extraction
According to Coffee-Brewing-Methods.com, the grind size, the water temperature and the brewing time must be correctly measured, and the are in direct correlation. The author of the article explains that over extraction should be a concern for us only if we incorrectly brew at the wrong temperature. If we don't use hot water, we should not worry too much about the brewing time, or the grind size. These are parameters that will only accentuate the over extraction caused by water too hot. Here is what the website says about brewing drip coffee. I wanted to include this reference because the author is pretty bold in his statements, saying that grind size doesn't cause over extraction, but instead the brewing temperature is not properly adjusted for the grind size. Interesting concept, contradicting the vast majority of specialty coffee aficionados, who say otherwise.
Brewing Temperature Determines Over-extraction, and Under-extraction
If you grind finer, you will prolong the steeping time, because water will pass slower through the compact coffee. Too coarse and the water will pass too fast, resulting in under-extraction. There is a lot of talking on the Internet about how over-extraction will result in bitter coffee. And the discussions mention brew time as the important factor in over extraction. Think about Turkish coffee, if there was such a thing as over-extraction, Turkish coffee would be the most over-extracted brew, and it would be extremely bitter...
So really, there is no over-extraction with the correct water temperature. However, if the water is too hot, coffee is scalded, and the bitter tones are extracted from coffee. Longer brewing time will intensify the over-extraction problems. To be more exact: the more time you use the wrong water temperature the more bitterness you will get.
The Perfect Drip Coffee Machine
Most of the coffee makers on the market are cheaply made, and can't deliver the water at the right temperature, or the water temperature fluctuates during brewing, or the water flows too slow. If you want to make the best coffee possible, you need to ensure that all the brewing parameters are very precise. The SCAA have defined these parameters in a booklet, that you can read here. They also have a program to certify coffee machines for their high standards. That means that you can brew the best cup of joe with any of their certified machines. There aren't many SCAA certified coffee makers. This is because most of the coffee makers won't qualify. The certification is an yearly process. Here is the page listing the 9 SCAA certified brewers.
For your convenience, here is the snippet mentioning the certifications:
Current SCAA Certified Home Brewers:
- Technivorm Moccamaster
- Brazen Plus Customizable Temperature Control Brew System
- KitchenAid Coffee Maker KCM0802
- KitchenAid Pour Over Coffee Brewer (model KCM0801OB)
- Bonavita Coffee Maker (model BV1900TS)
- Bonavita BV1900TD 8-Cup Digital Coffee Brewer
- OXO On 9-Cup Coffee Maker
- OXO On 12-Cup Coffee Maker
- Wilfa Precision Coffee Maker
Past SCAA Certified Home Brewers:
- Lance Larkin BE 112 Brew Express
- Bonavita 8 Cup Exceptional Brew Coffee Maker with glass or thermal carafe
(BV1800 and 1800SS)
- Bunn Phase Brew 8 Cup Coffee Brewer
KitchenAid KCM0801OB Pour Over Coffee Brewer
The Kitchenaid KCM0801OB coffeemaker is a great concept, mimicking the pour over method. You can brew pour over coffee without having to learn all the geeky aspects of a manual brew. Just press a button and coffee is made for you, as a great barista would make it manually. This brewer is SCAA certified, which means the coffee will taste amazing, and will be prepared with perfect precision to meet their standards.
I have to mention that for hot coffee lovers, this is probably not the best choice. The brewer makes a warm coffee, partly due to the brewing method, partly to the poor decision to brew it in a big carafe. So the coffee is delicious, but not hot.
The Best Way to Make Coffee - Pour Over, Automatic Drip, or Immersion Dripper?
Drip is the most popular way to brew coffee. It is simple, the coffee is flavorful, and it gets you a clean cup. There are some variations of this preparation method though. Each variation has its own distinctive characteristics, which might appeal or not to you. You can make a delicious cup of coffee using an automatic drip machine, a pour over cone, or an immersion dripper. The Vietnamese ca phe sua da is another drip brewing method.
How do the three methods compare to each other? Well you can't say one is better than the other. Personal taste plays here the biggest role. This page is already too long, so I will resume this to a few words description for each of the brewing methods.
Automatic drip is the most convenient brewing method, and most popular. Being the most convenient doesn't mean the best coffee. In order to make the best coffee with a drip coffee maker, you need the proper equipment. If you get an SCAA certified brewer, you can't go wrong. These coffee machines are certainly more expensive than the average, but they incorporate more technology, and they are built with better materials.
Automatic drip coffee is a clear cup, with intense aroma and good flavor. Freshly brewed, it smells great, and it has a clean taste. There are virtually no suspension particles in an automatic drip cup, using a paper filter. Home brewed coffee is a replica of your Dunkin Donuts cup, but better.
Pour over is an old manual brewing method, recently rediscovered. The pour over method is still a drip method. The difference is that instead of using an automated dripping, the home barista has to do some of the operations manually. That's a blessing and a curse. Yes you can tweak your brew to perfection, in ways that the auto-dripper won't allow you to. At the same time, it's more prone to mistakes, and you really need to know what you are doing.
As a cup, the pour over is better than auto-drip, and it has the same overall aspect and taste. Pour-over, however, is more flavorful and you can tweak it yo your taste. The main reason is that with manual drip you can prolong the extraction time, and extract more flavor. With automatic drip the coffee flows a a steady rate, so it doesn't overflow. With pour over you can slow down the dripping, because you are in control.
The immersion dripper is a device similar to the pour-over cones, but it has a couple of features that makes a huge difference to the brewing method. Firstly, the immersion dripper is usually made of thick porcelain, so that the temperature during brewing doesn't drop. Secondly, the immersion cone has a drip stopper, that allows longer steeping times than the regular drip cone. These two features enhance the extraction dramatically, allowing a much bolder cup, with more body, similar to the French press.
French press is not a drip coffee brewing method, but we needed to include it in our list. It is by far the most popular manual brewing method, simple to use, and inexpensive. The coffee that comes out of a French press is strong, fully bodied, and with more aroma than drip. The screen filter allows all the oils that make up the coffee flavor to pass into your cup. Paper filters filter fines in the coffee but in the process they filter out aromatic oils too. This is why so many people prefer the French press.