Each coffee has its own unique character and personality when roasted, ranging from delicate and floral with complex fruit tones to smoky and herbal with deep notes of earth and spice. We do our best when roasting to bring out what we believe to be the most desirable aromas and flavors inherent to each particular coffee.
Some coffees are the most exceptional at light and medium roasts, while others offer exquisite depth and character only found in darker French & Italian roasts. No matter which bean you choose to brew – whether it is a light, medium or dark roast. There are no hard and fast rules you must follow on how to brew it. The international coffee police will not arrive at your door step if you happen to put a $30 per pound light roasted Ethiopian Sidamo Natural in a percolator on the stove top and simmer for an hour although heartbreaking as that may be we encourage experimentation. Keeping our first rule in mind, that there are no rules, just as each bean shines the most with a certain roast – each cup brewed resonates the most when using an appropriate brewing method for that particular coffee. So we do recommend you pick your coffee with the method you intend on using to brew in mind.
In general light roast and medium-light roast coffee, have subtle and seductive aromas and flavors, often deeply nuanced with floral and fruity notes these delicate attributes can be lost completely when brewed in a conventional drip coffee maker or percolator, These coffees can be often very bright and sweet with jam-like qualities. The perceived bitterness and tartness (acidity/brightness) can be greatly exaggerated when brewed incorrectly, so for these coffees we would recommend using; a single cup pour over, vacuum-Siphon system, chemex or French press.
Medium and dark roasts, coffees which are “body” driven meaning these coffees are full and rich on the palate – however, do not have significant perceptible brightness or acidity. Tend to translate more accurately when brewed using a conventional drip coffee maker when compared directly to a chemex or French press. Of course you are likely to get a more nuanced cup of coffee if you brew using a chemex, pour over or French press – these flavors and aromas will be fairly stable and consistent across brewing methods for darker roasts.
Now remember our rule that there are no rules? some delicate Light roast Geisha Coffee may turn out to be completely rubbish when brewed in a French Press while a completely mind blowing experience when boiled repeatedly in a stove top espresso machine, albeit unlikely, it is however entirely possible! Just like you do not have to only pull your espresso shots for 24 seconds, otherwise you have ruined it – what if you pull it for 25.5 seconds? I think the coffee police will be knocking at your door… The point being coffee does not live inside a box and neither should you, (unless by choice of course). When it comes to brewing, we encourage you to try different things and see what amazing adventure of the senses may ensue, and be sure to tell us all about them!
When it comes to the grind there are a few things we like to encourage people to keep in mind. First, a consistent even coarseness of grind is really important to ensure that optimal extraction can occur from both an aromatic and flavor standpoint. You do not need to break the bank and purchase a $500.00 fancy industrial conical-burr grinder for your daily cup. However, if you can spring for a $40 - $60 version you will not regret it and it will be money well spent. It is much easier to grind an even consistency this way and you will ensure the same grind each time. We recommend a simple Cusinart or Bodum home conical-burr grinder as the most economical option. Second, if you cannot afford anything more than a $10 standard blade grinder – no problem! You just have to be a bit more crafty and patient when grinding to make sure the coarseness is even, consistent and the coffee is not heated. To achieve this - while grinding, hold the lid and body of grinder in both hands while in operation and shake it up and down vigorously, grind in short bursts to avoid heating the coffee from the friction of the blade, check the consistency visually, repeat until desired grind has been achieved.
Now that we have talked about different methods of grinding we need to explore the coarseness of the grind! The grind is one of the most important parts of the brewing process to get correct for the type of brewing method you plan on using. Most industrial grinders at grocery stores have settings with fun visual depictions of brew method and desired coarseness which can be really helpful for figuring out what grind is best.
As a general rule of thumb, the longer the water is going to be in contact with the coffee grounds the coarser the grind should be. When using a French press we want to have a nice even coarse grind since the water is going to be sitting with the coffee directly, this way we make sure to not over extract the coffee. Whereas, in a Chemex, Pour-over or conventional drip system the water only has brief, fleeting contact with the coffee grounds, thus we want an even medium-fine to fine grind. This maximizes the surface area of the coffee and ensures that during the short time the water has contact with the grinds it can optimally extract all the flavor & aroma desired. Espresso and Turkish grinds are a whole other topic which we will explore further in our Espresso Guide.
Our Recommendations for grind coarseness:
French Press – Medium Coarse grind
Vacuum Siphon – Medium Fine grind
Single Cup Pour Over / Chemex – Medium-Fine to Fine grind
Conventional Drip – Fine grind
Now we must consider the water we are using to brew our coffee, which plays a significant (pivitol really) role in brewing the perfect cup! A few things to keep in mind regarding water are both water selection and temperature. We could also talk about the effect that soft water has vs. hard water but for this guide we are going to exclude that topic.
As for water selection – cold tap water can be used as long as it tastes good as drinking water it will likely produce a good tasting coffee. Highly chlorinated water and water which has other metallic or chemical flavors often can translate through into the final cup. If this is the case with your local water supply we would recommend when possible; bottled, filtered or otherwise purified water to avoid introducing chemical components which will alter the flavor of your final product.
As for temperature, Coffee is most optimally brewed with water which has been heated to 200 degrees F. This temperature allows for optimal flavor and aromatic extraction of the coffee and chemical components which comprise the delicious flavor we perceive. Which by the way, there are over 850 different compounds which make up the flavor of coffee! Over three times more complex than wine – making it the most complex beverage we consume!
In Boulder, Colorado the altitude is 5,430 feet above sea level and water boils at 202.2 (202.178) degrees F. So for optimal extraction you should wait a few seconds after a rolling boil has been achieved and pour the water just off boil. This will ensure a proper temperature and a full correct extraction. If you are at sea level water boils at 212 degrees F and you should let the water rest for approximately 30 – 45 seconds prior to introducing it to the coffee. If you happen to be brewing at an elevation of exactly 6,605 ft above sea level - you are in luck, boil and pour as the temperature at which the vapor pressure exceeds the ambient pressure (boiling point) is 200.00 degrees F! However, sad as this may be, boiling water above this altitude will always lead to under extraction increasing as you go higher in elevation. It will likely still taste good as you are oxygen deprived at those high altitudes! It is always better to under extract than over extract we always say... wait that must be the altitude!
Ensuring the proper brew temperature is critical from the standpoint of avoiding over extraction of chemical compounds found naturally in coffee. These primarily consist of; chlorogenic acid (the ester formed between caffeic acid and L-quinic acid for those keeping track), Nicotinic acid (AKA Niacin), trigonelline, cafeol and to a lesser degree caffeine. Over extraction simply leads to an increase in perceived bitterness or acidity and makes for a more tangy often metallic tasting cup.
As a side note - from the perspective of caffeine extraction, caffeine chemically is most soluble in liquid water at 212 degrees F at a whopping 67.0 g/100 mL and even more so in water vapor as steam. So if you are just looking for a wicked buzz – light roasted coffee and superheated steam condensed in a beaker and you will have the jumping jitters!
The optimal ratio of coffee to water we have found for regular coffee is 21 grams of coffee (3 scoops / tablespoons) to 14 oz. of water. This ratio holds across the brewing methods from pour over to conventional drip. However, back to our first rule of not having any rules – this is an area we encourage people to explore and find the ratio that is best suited to the individual. With that said we have found this ratio to be the best from a flavor and aroma standpoint and recommend using it with our coffees.
The method you choose to use will likey be based upon many factors; taste, volume, efficiency and of course budget! We believe that if you had time and the ability brewing coffee using a Vacuum Siphon method will result in the finest cup hands down of all the available methods. However, when trying to wrestle the morning of kids, dogs and the general shenanigans of daily life time is of the essence – that is why we would say go with a single cup pour over method or a Chemex for lighter coffees on the weekends and a regular ole’ fashion drip for medium to dark coffee during the week! But remember no rules! Our Ethiopian Yirgacheffe is a medium–light roast and is great when made in a conventional drip machine!
Single Cup Pour-Over:
*This is our preferred method of daily brewing* Using 21 grams of medium-fine (drip setting for most commercial grinders, approx. 3 scoops) ground coffee to 14oz of water and a non-bleached recycled filter. Pre-pour water through the filter with 8 oz. boiling water - once all water has dripped from filter add coffee into filter. Next ensure your water is at 200 degrees Fahrenheit by letting the roll of the boil come to a level (if brewing at sea level: please allow 30 - 45 seconds for water to cool off boil to 200 degrees) then begin to pour over grounds, pour just enough to allow grounds to bloom for the first 20 seconds then maintain a steady flow of water – you are looking for a nice steady stream of coffee running out from the bottom of the pour over. If it is dripping slowly this means the coffee has been ground to fine and is caking at the bottom of the filter which will lead to over extraction. Ideally, all 14 ounces of water has been poured over the coffee and in the cup below in no more than 5 minutes.
Same ratio of coffee to water – 21 grams: 14 oz of water. Grind should be coarse and even using conical burr grinder (when possible). Pour water at 200 degrees and allow grounds to bloom for 2-3 minutes then fill and press by 6 minutes, Pour into separate drinking vessel by 10 minutes. Otherwise it is easy to over extract the coffee using a French press. Leading to a bitter and less exquisite cup!
Lastly it is important to choose an appropriate final vessel for consuming the fine work of art & science you have just crafted! We recommend enjoying in anything that is not metal – ceramic or glass seems to be the best for flavor retention and sip quality. Preheat your cup with hot, not boiling water for 30 seconds prior to filling with your carefully extracted masterpiece and enjoy with reckless abandon! We just happen to have the perfect sipping vessel just in for the holidays! Check out our new 16 oz barrel mugs - offers a snifter-like taper which increases aromatic potential when taking that first wonderful whiff after pouring!