Saying that "entering a new field is difficult," is a gross understatement. When learning something new, success feels near impossible, and it's hard to tell which way is up or down.
Sure, maybe you wouldn't call brewing craft coffee at home "entering a new field." Maybe for you, coffee is just a newfound interest or hobby.
Regardless of your reasons for taking interest in specialty coffee, you'll find that the coffee craft isn't easy. The well balanced, sweet, and savory cups you receive from cafes are the product of well-seasoned baristas. Specialty cafes also use lavish equipment that is (very) pricey. One may believe it's impossible to replicate the cafe experience in their own kitchen.
Well, you can.
With smart purchases and a lot of practice, the avid home brewer can become a competent coffee slinger.
Every one of us was green behind the ears at one point in time. We wanted to share what we believe are the tools every weathered home brewer needs.
Take note, and get to brewing!
1) The Right Coffee
If you want to brew good coffee, you need good coffee to brew with.
Just like with cooking, craft coffee requires delectable ingredients. For coffee, these ingredients are beans that are intentionally sourced, fresh, and roasted with care. For information on how to tell if you're using the right beans, check out one of our guides here (https://www.phileas.co/single-post/2017/07/31/How-to-tell-if-coffee-is-specialty).
Good beans are especially important when you're just starting out as a home brewer. When you're new to craft coffee, you need some sort of quality reference. You need something to point out your brewing mistakes. Good beans speak the truth. If your coffee tastes bad, chances are you messed up - not the roaster. This reasoning may sound harsh, but it's a great way to improve your brewing!
2) A Good Grinder
Many people neglect the grinder - which is a HUGE oversight. A decent coffee grinder is perhaps the most important tool in your coffee arsenal. Grind quality determines rate of extraction, balance, and brew replicability.
We measure the quality of grind by what is called particle size distribution (or PSD). PSD is the size difference between the smallest ground particle of coffee and the largest. We want the grind to be as consistent as possible.
If your grind has poor PSD, some grounds will extract more rapidly than others. Bad PSD yields many fines (very small grinds) and boulders (very large grinds).
The smaller the grind, the greater amount of extraction. If your ground mass of coffee is inconsistent - having a bunch of boulders and fines - your brew will extract unevenly. Your coffee will be both under extracted and over extracted.
If you sport a decent grinder, you can reliably fine tune your coffee!
If your coffee tastes sour (under extracted), you can simply tighten the grind (make it fine) to compensate. If your coffee is burnt or bitter tasting, all you need to do is coarsen the grind a bit.
Changing the grind is the easiest way to dial in preferred flavor. This makes the grinder a sound investment for your coffee arsenal, so don't go cheap here.
If you're on a budget, try a hand grinder. Good hand grinders generally beat out cheap electric grinders. At any rate, always check out reviews, I prefer to learn from what others have experienced before I take the plunge… usually! And, avoid blade grinders at all costs, the just smash the beans to bits and you cannot control for particle size. Always go for a burr grinder, it always you to control for particle size, and grinds significantly more evenly than a blade grinder.
3) Measuring Scale
There's no turning away from this fact: you need a scale. Coffee is organic - it doesn't all weigh the same. One coffee grown at 2000m and another grown at 1700m will each weigh differently. Even the beans in the same bag will differ in weight from one another.
So why is this important?
Well, think about acceptable brewing ratios. SCA standards state that the ideal water to coffee ratio is around 15:1 - 18:1. Let's say you're brewing 360ml of coffee, and you want to use a 17:1 brewing ratio. Let's do the math:
360ml of water / 17 = 21.18g of coffee needed.
That's a very specific number. In most cases, one would only measure out 21g of coffee. If one does not use a scale to measure the coffee, they may get within 2 or 3 grams of the target range...
Which would result in a 10% error in coffee mass. This percentage is significant. Your coffee will indeed taste different each time you brew it. Dialing in your brew will be fruitless without a scale.
4) Choose a Brew Method
There are two major brew method categories: immersion and pour over.
You shouldn't ask "which method is better." You need to ask "which method do I need."
The pour over method is where you pour water over a bed of coffee grounds. The water hits the coffee and directly seeps through a filter into a decanter. The result is usually a clean cup exuding clarity.
The immersion method is a brewing technique that involves "immersing" your coffee grounds in water for a set amount of time. The result is a full-bodied cup with a pleasant mouth feel.
- Clever Dripper
- Cafetiere/French Press
- Eva Solo
Nothing is right or wrong. Just pick your according to your preference!
Your choice in a water kettle depends on what brew method you use.
For Immersion methods:
As long as your water kettle works, you should be fine. No worries here.
For Pour Over Methods:
You NEED a gooseneck kettle. These types of kettles are precise and stable - exactly what you need to properly brew a pour over. Without a precise pour, brewing pour overs is near impossible. The pour over method is about controlling where, how intense, and how long your water touches the brew bed. Gooseneck kettles make this possible.
6) Thermometer (Optional)
If you want to take your brewing to the next level, purchase a thermometer.
Keeping your water at 90 - 96 degrees Celsius is a good way to evenly extract your coffee. Anything hotter or colder will result in over or under extraction.
So let's review!
All you need to get started is:
- GOOD coffee
- brew method
- proper kettle
- and maybe a thermometer
There you have it. Your coffee journey awaits!
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