For the Home Barista
If you are an amateur home barista, like myself, the perfect cup of coffee can seem elusive. Although I’ve spent many hours behind the bar of a coffee shop, I’ve found that I’ve had to develop a different set of skills to make coffee well at home. The truth is, most people who are preparing coffee at home are working on far inferior equipment than what your favorite barista is using.
So don’t be discouraged.
Turbulence – in coffee, agitation of coffee grounds in water. This can be caused by pouring swiftly; by water rushing past grounds as it drips out; by manually stirring coffee, etc.
Non-uniform grind – ground coffee whose fragments differ significantly in size distribution. (Try this experiment: grind some coffee and pour some out on a sheet of paper. Are close to half of the grounds tiny particles (fines)? Is it hard to see an average particle size amongst the grounds? These are red flag indicators of a non-uniform grind.)
Fact: Non-uniform grind and turbulence are not friends. This means that unless you are working with a good grinder with sharp burrs, you should use a coffee brewing method that keeps your coffee grounds as stable as possible, such as a full immersion method. Press pots and Clever Drippers are both capable of producing decent cups with a non-uniform grind.
If you insist on using a pour-over device, use a “low and slow” pouring method. This technique calls for a slow, constant stream of hot water over the bed of coffee to maintain a low, steady level throughout the brewing process. This reduces turbulence experienced by pulse pouring. Also, brewing at a lower temperature can reduce the over-extracted bitterness that comes from too many fines. Try brewing with water anywhere from 1 to 5 minutes off the boil (for an open container, this translates to roughly 2050 to 1850 F brew water temperature.)
In reality, a non-uniform grind is not synonymous with great tasting coffee at all. Grounds that vary in particle size will brew a less-than-optimal cup every time. This is basic coffee science. But there are ways to maximize the effectiveness of your home coffee equipment. Consider doing the following:
▪ When using a blade grinder, shake the grinder for a more uniform grind. To achieve a more optimal grind, use a strainer to filter out the larger particles halfway through and toss them back in the grinder. Repeat for better results.
▪ Try incorporating a “bloom” by adding roughly 10% of your hot water and waiting 30 seconds before you begin brewing. This will allow all the grounds to begin extracting properly.
▪ If you notice dark clumps of coffee on the surface of the brew, carefully add a stir halfway through the brewing process to ensure all the grounds are extracting evenly.
Now I’m going to write something that will upset coffee professionals and grinder salesmen alike: if you don’t see yourself ever purchasing a good grinder (i.e. Hario or Porlex handgrinders , Baratza electric grinders, etc.) or spending 10+ minutes preparing your coffee, you will be more satisfied with your coffee if you get it pre-ground. BUT, you should purchase your coffee in smaller amounts so that preground coffee is not sitting more than a week and also purchase from a roaster or coffee shop because you don’t want to use a grinder in a supermarket (your coffee will taste like a campfire and the grind will likely be non-uniform). Understand that this is a compromise, and you are greatly sacrificing the freshness of your brew to maintain good extraction.
Coffee takes years of careful preparation and travels thousands of miles before it is in our hands. The best way to take advantage of the incredible care that goes into harvesting, processing and roasting coffee is to grind it well. This is arguably the most important step in brewing coffee well.