Coffee Brewing Basics

I got a news letter today from Sweet Maria's.  They provided a basic "how to"  recipe for brewing coffee.  I like the concise instructions and the results from using this method so I though I would share it here with my fellow coffee enthusiasts. Here are the instructions:

"When you brew coffee, hot water acts as a solvent, washing the soluble solids out of the coffee grinds and into the brew.  Brew methods that use paper filters have only the soluble solids in the cup. Some brew methods - espresso, french press, moka pot - also allow insoluble or suspended solids to enter the brew. Suspended solids add a sense of body to the cup, but can also add bittering tastes.


There are five main factors that control brewing results:

  • Brew recipe, the ratio of water-to-coffee.
  • Particle size of the coffee.  A finer grind means more surface area of the bean is exposed to the water.
  • Water temperature, ideally between 198-204 f, since water is a better solvent at near-boiling temperature.
  • Contact time, i.e. how long the water and coffee are in contact with each other.
  • Agitation. Stirring the coffee-water infusion increases extraction rate of soluble solids. Other factors influence the brew, but these are the main ones.

Most people find that when 20% of soluble solids are extracted from the coffee grounds, the brew has the best flavors. Too much extraction (too fine grind, too long brew time, too hot water, too much coffee in the recipe) and the brew is bitter. On the other hand, under-extraction results in a thin, weak cup. Simply using more coffee grinds cannot fix other brew problems: If you use 20 grams coffee and 350 ML of water and 4 minutes steep time to achieve 20% extraction (it should), using 40 grams coffee with a contact time of 1 minute to compensate will not result in a better cup.

Knowing these simple theories might help you troubleshoot that next bitter, weak, or a flat tasting cup.

The ideal brewing practice is:

  • Grind immediately before you brew.
  • Adjust grind to brewing method and use a good grinder.
  • Use good clean water. If your water does not taste good, neither will your coffee.
  • Pre-Rinse your paper filter. This reduces paper taste, which can be more of an issue when brewing small amounts of coffee.
  • Make more. For a somewhat mysterious reason, filter-brewed coffee tastes better the more you make.
  • Coffee is fresh for 10 minutes or less. Try to make the right amount of coffee so you are drinking fresh brewed coffee more often."

This seems simple enough and is a great place to start - especially with a new coffee. I use this method with my Clever Coffee Dripper (found here on ROASTe) and it never fails to get me in the ballpark and often produces a cup exactly like I want.  That is good enough for me!

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