The 6 Essential Elements for Brewing the Perfect Cup of Coffee*
-penned by U-Roast-It Coffee co-founder, Karen Lopez**
Having recently taken the SCA Introductory Pathways course, I learned that there is a lot more to brewing that morning cup of coffee than first thought! My mind was blown when I found out that there are 6 really important elements to the process, the majority of which I hadn't previously considered. This article will explain the 6 elements so that you too can make a killer cup of java. Believe me, you will notice a difference in the taste once you perfect your craft.
The information provided has been taken from the SCA course and should result in that ultimate cup. However, keep in mind that other variables may affect your coffee, including the quality of the green beans, the actual roasting of the beans, as well as the age of the roasted beans that you may be using. Always ensure that the roasted beans you bought have a roast date stamped on the package, not an expiry date. Roasted beans are best consumed (meaning they hit their peak) 4-6 days after roasting so not knowing the roasting date on your purchased beans is a problem. Follow this guideline if you are home roasting as well. If you don't get the brew right the first time, don't despair...it requires patience and a lot of trial and error to find the sweet spot. Think of all of the coffee you get to taste along the way.
Element #1: Coffee to Water Ratio
The ideal ratio of coffee to water is 60 grams of coffee for 1 litre of water. Breaking that down further, it would be 30 grams of coffee to 500 millilitres of water (or 500 grams). Broken down into an actual cup size (broken down for a 16 ounce cup because who has a cup of coffee that's smaller?) it would be 27.24 grams of coffee for 16 ounces of water (which equals 454 grams if you are using the same scale to measure coffee and water).
Element #2: The Grind
Grinding right before brewing is essential because freshly ground beans are extracted differently from older, stale ground beans. This is why one should never buy pre-ground beans, as convenient as they may be. Depending on your brew method, you will need to set your grinder at a particular setting. Please refer to the instructions you got with your burr grinder and also refer to grind size for different brewing methods (go to Perfect Daily Grind website to find an article on grind size. U-Roast-It Facebook page has an article from September, 2016 that you can also refer to..."The Definitive Guide to Grinding Your Own Coffee" ). French Press brewing will have a different setting for grinding than using a pour over method. One thing to keep in mind is that larger particles release flavour more slowly and a finer grind releases flavour more quickly.
Element #3: Brewing Method/Equipment
There are many different brewing methods and they include Immersion (French Press), Pour-Over (Chemex), Vacuum, Hybrid, Batch Brewing (coffee maker) and Espresso (rapid extraction). What is important here is choosing the appropriate grind size for the equipment used. Also important is the evenness in brewing, and what this means is that you will get more consistency with a batch brewer than you will a pour-over (a human pouring is not as consistent as a batch brewer). Maintaining a steady brew temperature is also important (more later on temperature).
Element #4: Proper Brewing Technique/Operation
(3 different extractions: under, exact, over)
There are 3 variables that are controlled by the type of brewing equipment used: water contact time, water temperature and turbulence (the agitation of grounds created by hot water moving through and around particles). Turbulence can be from natural agitation (the hot water hitting the grounds) and stirring (physically agitating the grounds with a spoon in a pour-over, for example).
Water contact time means that if the coffee is brewed too quickly, it may not have had the proper extraction time. If it brewed too slowly, it may also be over-extracted.
Water temperature is very important for the proper brew...too hot and it's over-extracted and bitter, too cold and it's under-extracted and weak. The SCA standard for water temperature ranges between 195ᴼ Fahrenheit and 205ᴼ Fahrenheit. There are kettles available that modulate temperature to fit this range (Bonavita is one example).
Turbulence increases the efficiency of extraction. Factors controlling turbulence in an auto-drip brewer include: adequate delivery speed, grind particle size, bed depth (weight of coffee and size of filter basket) and filter composition to name a few. The SCA recommended bed depth (the level of grounds any filter) is 1-2 inches high.
Factors controlling turbulence in hand-brewing include: manual agitation (stirring), brew water velocity, filtration/flow and bubbling.
This gets pretty technical here but basically you just have to keep in mind that your technique on pour-overs matter and water contacting grounds in a coffee machine also matter...is the water evenly distributing across the grounds in your coffee machine...is the water temperature hot enough in your coffee maker etc.
Element #5: Good Quality Water
This is one element that most people don't think about at all but it matters. You need water to be: free of odour or taste, have no visible impurities, ∾150mg/L of total dissolved solids (some dissolved solids are needed to produce good coffee beverages and water with total dissolved solids in excess 250mg/L will inhibit extraction of coffee soluble material), 3 to 4 grains (51-58mg/L) of calcium hardness (excess calcium compounds diminish the perception of acidity in your brew), no chlorine and a pH of 7-8.
Element #6: An Appropriate Filtering Medium
Different filters let in different solids and fats. Metal filters (pictured above in the Chemex) let in more insoluble solids. It gives the coffee the biggest body but makes it cloudy from the oils and fats. Cloth filters are in-between in that they let in some oils and some solids but they just aren't practical as they are hard to clean. Paper filters are the most common and will give you the smoothest cup of coffee but sometimes they may have a papery taste to them. It's recommended that you pre-soak the filter with hot water and discard the water when it filters out.
Well, are you now more confused than when you started reading this article? Don't be! The bottom line is that a perfect cup of coffee requires trial and error but with the 6 elements in place, it will take you a shorter amount of time to dial in your perfect cup.
*technical info provided by SCA and Swiss Water Decaf
**all photos created by Karen Lopez