Director's Blog: Byron Betts - Better Brewing at Home
It's the weekend. Isn't that awesome?!? You get to sleep in, or wake up early to catch the sunrise, take your day leisurely and enjoy that awesome cup of coffee as long as you want. Everything is perfect. Until you start sipping. Your coffee is bitter, stale, flat. This won't do for you. It's supposed to be perfect. The sunrise is beautiful. The chair in your backyard is amazing. But this coffee.... So you get in the car and drive to your favorite coffee shop to fix it. You walk in, and you say this: "My coffee at home doesn't taste as good as what you make here at the shop. Why is that?" Simply put, it's a combination of variables that are easily controllable. Let's figure this out so you can go home and enjoy your day! Starting at the basics, let's look at how to store your beans: Storage: How are you storing those beautiful beans once you get them from the cafe? How long are you storing them for? Storage of roasted coffee is rather simple, if you just follow a few guidelines. Coffee needs to stay away from the following: air, heat, light, and moisture. (Side note about the fridge/freezer: Everyone's mom told them that's where it goes. I hear it all the time. Please get that coffee out of your freezer! This isn't your grandma's carton of smokes or your year supply of D cell batteries. By placing coffee in the freezer or refrigerator, you are introducing a massive amount of moisture to the beans. You know how you put a box of baking soda in your fridge to suck up nasty fridge smells? Well it's also taking in moisture. Your coffee beans have this magical property as well. Smells great, sucks up moisture; Mmm can you taste the hints of last nights goulash in this coffee?) So following these guidelines, any sort of dark, relatively temperature stable environment will do. Non-transparent, airtight containers are your best bet for storage. This will help to slow the oxidization and breakdown from light and air, but you really just have seven to ten days to use up your beans before they are on the stale side. My suggestion for this? Only buy the amount of coffee you will use in one week. Water: Is your water filtered? Are you using tap water? Is it within 195-205 degrees when brewing hot? Coffee is 99% water, so it is no wonder that it has a profound effect on your brew. Starting with clean water is essential. People say all the time that the water we have in the Pacific Northwest is some of the cleanest water in the US, and this is true. However, in metropolitan areas such as Seattle the water coming to your tap is running through hundreds of miles of pipe that has probably been there for five or more decades. On its way to your house, it is picking up all sorts of minerals and taints that you don't want in your coffee. Simply put, making sure you have a clean filter for your water is one of the best things you can do for your coffee. Temperature: The proper temperature for brewing hot coffee is 195-205 degrees fahrenheit, as outlined by the Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA). We at Victrola find that our coffees really extract best at around 202-205 degrees. Are you using an electric kettle with temperature stability? Or are you boiling your water on the stove in a tea kettle? No matter how you heat your water, one of the best things you could do for your morning regimen is to go out and buy a $5 temperature probe. Brewing your coffee at 195 one day and 205 the next will drastically change the profile of the coffee. This is due to the fact that certain soluble elements are released at different temperatures. Get a probe, be happy. Grind: Arguably one of the most important aspects to brewing coffee of any kind, whether it is french press, drip, pour over, Aeropress or espresso. Are you grinding at home or at the shop where you bought your beans? Think of coffee like a soda. If you open the cap to a soda, within an hour it will be flat, right? Well a similar thing happens to coffee when you grind it. When ground, there is a higher surface area exposed so that a coffee will start losing its Co2 at a much more rapid rate, which then gets replaced by oxygen. Oxygen will start breaking the coffee down, turning it stale rather quickly. You can see this phenomenon from day one when you bring it home, to day seven when you go back for more coffee at the shop. Every day, the coffee is just a little less lively, less exciting, and more of a pick-me-up than anything. Get a good grinder, and it will make a world of difference. Grinder: So what makes the difference between a "good" grinder and a "poor" one? Folks tell me all the time that they have a grinder at home, but they still have inconsistency. My very next question is, "are you using a blade grinder?" Blade grinders are great for one thing: hacking up spices. If it is between grinding at the store where you buy your coffee and using a blade grinder, grind at the store. Spice grinders will not give you the consistency of particle size that is necessary for an evenly extracted coffee. The result is less than amazing, usually on the bitter and sour spectrum due to the coffee extracting at uneven rates. Blade grinders "chop" your coffee beans into a non-uniform size; some particles being super fine like turkish or espresso, and others rather coarse, along the lines of french press or cold brew. This means that you will be over-extracting certain elements, and under-extracting others. My suggestion? Purchase a burr grinder. You can find decent burr grinders for under a hundred bucks, all the way up to a thousand. My recommendation is to find one that has a good set of steal burrs, that are replaceable. Baratza makes great home grinders for whatever application of brewing you are doing. Water-Coffee Contact Time: Making certain that your time remains consistent is important as well. Are you using a timer? (your phone has one built in- no need to purchase one!) Whether you are brewing french press or espresso, it is crucial that you know how long that hot water has been in contact with the grounds, down to the second. The amount of time you brew has a lot to do with your grind. For example, espresso is ground very fine, like flour. Your water-coffee contact time should be in the ballpark of 20-30 seconds. (Side note: for our streamline espresso we really like 25-27 seconds) For french press, your coffee should be ground to the consistency of kosher salt. Your total brew time for this method should be about four minutes. Consistency of Extraction: So you make Chemex at home? Great! Do you know how long that water is in contact with the coffee? Are you pre-saturating your coffee bed (blooming)? Did you rinse that paper filter and pre-heat your decanter? When do you start your timer? As soon as water makes contact with coffee, start that timer. If you bloom, which often is a great idea, make sure that you are doing so for the same amount of time every brew. Typically we like to bloom for 30-45 seconds for pour over, Chemex and other direct pour methods. For french press, we bloom for one minute before breaking the bloom by agitation. When you start your pour, keep the technique consistent. Whether you are doing a continuous pour or starting and stoping, do it the same way every time. So if you start and stop your pour, watch that timer and hit your numbers dead on, every time. To Recap: How far off roast is your coffee? Is your water filtered? Is it at the right temperature? Is your grind correct and consistent for the brew method? How long is that coffee in contact with your water? It's somewhat funny, in the coffee world we talk about consistency and doing the same thing time and time again. However, we are using an agricultural product that changes year to year, season to season. It's incredibly variable and inconsistent. Hopefully the coffee from a particular farm gets better every year...So how do you work with this to create the best possible cup of coffee every time? By changing one variable at a time, and taking note of it. Try changing the water temperature by a degree or two. Did that do anything beneficial or detrimental? Adjust your coffee to water brew time by a few seconds. What happened when you did that? Add in a gram or two or take a few away... My ultimate suggestion is to approach every coffee for what it is: a unique, one of a kind seed from a tree that is grown, harvested, processed, roasted & brewed under countless variables to benefit the farm, the quality, and the consistency of this amazing agricultural product.