how to make coffee at home

How to make great coffee at home

Before I delve into the aspects of good brewing, it is imperative that the coffee you buy is fresh. The roast date matters! Coffee is a natural product, and so it has a shelf life. This will vary, but a good rule of thumb is to only buy the coffee you’ll drink that week.

Store your coffee in an airtight container at room temperature, and out of direct sunlight. Oh, and never, ever put it in the fridge. It’ll absorb the aromas all the other food in there.

Coffee Brewing Equipment

There’s a wide range of brewing equipment you can choose from. The two main things you should consider are the flavour profile you want and the ease of use.

For filter/pour over brew devices, the more well-known ones are the Chemex, Hario V60, and Kalita Wave. A pour over coffee tends to have a cleaner profile than an immersion one, because of the filter papers or metal filters.

The main immersion brewing devices, on the other hand, are the AeroPress, French press, and Clever. These are associated with greater body.

However, there are many more types of brewing devices! You’ll find innovative refinements on the traditional pour over methods, brewers designed specifically for use on the go, batch brewers, and more. And of course, there’s also the syphon and the ibrik – complex, traditional brewing methods which are not recommended for beginners.

You should also consider your serving vessel and filters. Different filters will catch more or less of the oils in coffee depending on the type used (and, of course, will also have an impact on the environment).

Key Equipment Tips

Keep your equipment clean. Make sure that you wash off all the coffee oils after brewing, otherwise you may taste them in your next cup of coffee.

Rinse paper filters before use. Use hot water to remove the papery taste so you can have a cleaner cup of coffee.

Preheat your equipment and your cup for consistent extraction. If hot water meets a cold brewing device, it will immediately cool. Then, as the device slowly warms up and you continue to add hot water, this new water will be of a different temperature.

Water

Coffee is approximately 98 percent water. It goes without saying then that water quality is paramount to a good cup of coffee. Mineral composition greatly affects the taste of drinking water, the wellbeing of machinery that uses water, and the taste of the coffee we brew with it. You could use tap water but if it’s hard water that’s full of minerals it won’t draw out the dissolved particulates from the coffee, leading to an under- extracted, weak coffee. Not only that, this higher mineral content can also lead to a build-up in your coffee machine, such as lime deposits. This will require you to descale your coffee machine more often.

On the other hand, heavily filtered or distilled water can be just as destructive of your equipment. While it doesn’t cause as much build-up, its lack of ions and mineral content will force the water to draw minerals out of the metal components and can degrade the machine’s performance over time. Finally, water that is low in mineral content, as is the case in certain parts of the country can easily lead to over-extraction.

You want water that’s roughly in the middle of the spectrum, with a mineral balance of approximately 150 parts per million. You can achieve ideal water for your coffee brewing by using bottled mineral water but for the casual drinker lightly filtered water will suffice.

Weights and Measures

The two perquisites are a timer and a set of digital scales.

Making better coffee is all about eliminating variables, and one way to do that is to use the same amount of coffee per unit of water each time you brew. Using a digital scale to measure this takes just a second and allows you to better compare how much coffee and water is used each time.

Ideally, a ratio of 1:16 (that’s one-part coffee to 16 parts water, or about 9g of coffee to 150mL of water) makes a fairly strong cup of coffee. That said, some people go as high as 1:14 or as low as 1:30. It’s up to you to decide what tastes best, which is much easier to do (and replicate) once you remove all the guesswork.

Coffee Grinders

Grind your coffee immediately before brewing for maximum flavour. Coffee begins to lose its flavour within 15 minutes of being ground, so grind just before you brew.

Unless you want to invest in a quality automatic burr grinder, a manual hand mill is the most affordable way to achieve a nice, consistent grind, though they do require a small amount of manual labour.

Blade grinders also work, but will produce inconsistent particle size, which can lead to over-extraction.

The next thing to consider is grind size. This will be dictated by your choice of brewing device, the coffee beans themselves, and your personal tastes.

Some general rules are: the finer the grind size, the more extraction will take place due to the greater surface area. (And, in a pour over, the longer it may take for water to filter through.) The coarser the grind, the less extraction there will be. Under extraction leads to sour tastes, while over extraction will create more of a bitter flavour profile. If your coffee is too sour, grind finer. Too bitter, on the other hand, means you need to grind coarser

Pre-infusion

Most automatic coffee makers miss out on a crucial step. However, when using a manual pour over you can pre-infuse or “bloom” the coffee. This is achieved by pouring hot water over the grounds to help release any remaining carbon dioxide gas left over from the roasting process. Skipping this step will allow the carbon dioxide to repel water during part of the brewing process, effectively making the brew weaker.

Temperature

The water temperature you brew your coffee with will affect how your coffee tastes. The recommended range is 90–96°C/195–205°F. However, the exact temperature you use should depend on the coffee you’re using and your own personal preferences.

Basically, the hotter the temperature, the greater the degree of extraction. If your coffee is tasting too sour, use hotter water; too bitter, use cooler water.

Time

No matter what your brew method is, it’s important to make sure that you’re recording how long you’re brewing for as it can have a significant impact on flavour. Luckily, most people have a timer on their phone nowadays.

Once you’ve started recording the time, you can also adjust it if you want to amend your final cup profile. With filter, pour more of the water early on for a fruitier, more acidic cup of coffee. For greater body, on the other hand, keep pouring for longer. And with immersion methods, such as the AeroPress, Clever, or French press, simply change how long the grounds are left in the water.

Finally

My final piece of advise is to buy the best coffee you can afford, keep making coffee and tweaking your methods until you’re happy, then repeat. It will take time, that said there is an app available called Brewtime by FireMedia, which will speed up your learning. The recipes are by Scott Rao and not only is it a coffee timer but there are also step by step timed guides for each brew method.

Conrad and the crew at Woodhouse Coffee Co