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Brewing Better Coffee: A Livestream Series With Our Coffee Education Department

Scott here, barista trainer and coffee educator at Portland Coffee Roasters. Every Wednesday morning the training team hosts a tasting with everyone who works at the roastery. 

These tastings are the event that I look forward to most during the week. The opportunity to foster a community and serve my colleagues reminds me of my years as a barista; when people ordered from me at a coffee bar and I aimed to treat them as I would a guest in my home, and our weekly tastings are much the same. 

With the outbreak of COVID-19, our Wednesday tastings are on hiatus, but we want to continue offering learning opportunities and fun coffee experiences to our staff and extend the invitation to you. 

I’ll be writing weekly from my living room/kitchen/camp chair about coffee, while my colleague Brian hosts a weekly livestream from his home. We hope to offer a brief escape and some learning opportunities along the way. Whether you’re new to brewing coffee at home, a coffee enthusiast, or a part of the industry this is for you and I hope you enjoy it. 

If you’re like most folks, your routine has been upended. Many people are trying to figure out how to brew better coffee at home. So, this week we’ll start with a few easy tips. 

1. Start with a Recipe 

Over the last year, I’ve been trying to master sourdough baking and have learned about the importance of a consistent recipe. One of the most important components of any coffee recipe is the brew ratio. 

Coffee professionals often talk about a “golden ratio” when it comes to coffee brewing, the ideal ratio of coffee and water to produce a tasty cup. This golden ratio is 1:16  

(1 part coffee16 parts water) and is a good starting point for most brew methods. To unpack this for a moment, we typically express the ratio as the weight of the coffee to the weight of the water used. Conveniently, 1ml = 1g, so you’ll usually see brew ratios look like this: 

15 grams coffee : 240 ml water 

If you prefer a stronger cup of coffee you might enjoy a tighter ratio (say, 1:15, or even 1:14), while those that prefer a lighterbodied beverage might opt for 1:17 or 1:18.  

What’s wonderful about this is that it’s scalable to any batch size with a little simple math. If we want to make 475ml of brewed coffee (about 16oz cup) then we just divide 475 by 16 to get the amount of coffee we should use. 

475/16 = 29.6g of coffee 

2. Use a scale 

I’ve been discussing brew ratios using weight and to be accurate with these variables a kitchen scale is immensely helpful. If you have one hiding in your cupboard break it out! Your scale would thank you if it could, it just wants to be useful. I digress… 

Scales are awesome for two reasons. 

  1.  Precision – when we use a scale we can be sure of the brew ratio we’re using and accurately adjust for strength preference of you and your quarantine cohabitants. Without a scale, there’s a lot more guesswork involved.
  2. Not all coffee takes up the same amount of space. When we roast coffee the bean is both expanding and losing weight in the form of moisture. As a result, lighter roasted coffees tend to be smaller and denser, while darker coffees end up bigger and lighter. Using a scale controls for this variability in coffee weight.

 

You can try this for yourself: measure and weigh 2 tablespoons of a lighter roasted coffee and compare that to the weight of two tablespoons of something darker. You’ll find that the lighter roasted coffee weighs more and that when we brew coffee using volume measurements we are using less coffee when that coffee is darkly roasted. 

3. Check your water 

Unless we’re talking cold brew, coffee is hot beverage the world over. The chemistry that’s happening to release flavor from the coffee into water is accelerated by heat, with our ideal brewing temperature being between 195 and 205 degrees F. This doesn’t mean we need to pull out a thermometer, in fact, due to the rate of cooling it’s safe to use water just off boil. By the time the ground coffee and water are hanging out the brewing temperature will have dropped into our ideal zone. 

If you’re rocking a coffee brewer then the machine is doing this work for you, but if you usually get your morning cup at a café and are in the market for a brewer, I recommend checking out the list of Specialty Coffee Association certified brewers. They all meet our ideal brewing temperature parameter, while many other home coffee brewers struggle to get the water to the right temperature consistently. 

https://sca.coffee/certified-home-brewer 

The minerals in water are just as important as temperature. Coffee needs minerals to bind to when brewing, but too much can be detrimental to both flavor and our coffee equipment. If you live somewhere with very hard water your coffee would likely benefit from some water filtration, while soft water can be treated by adding minerals in order to achieve more balance. 

We can measure the total dissolved solids (TDS) in our water, but the biggest indicator is taste. If you’re following the other guidelines in the article and your coffee is still tasting sour, sharp, and salty your water is probably on the soft side. In contrast, hard water produces a more bitter and overly woody cup of coffee.  

When it comes to your brew, we recommend using filtered water, and generally, most home water filters will to the trick. 

Have a question or a topic you’d like to see covered? Shoot us an email, or tune in to the livestream Wednesdays at 10:30am, Brian will be taking questions in the chat! 

Scott Klepper
Scott’s first cafe job served Portland Coffee Roasters. He’s still in coffee eight years later because of the people and community. The free coffee helps.