Maybe you've seen the many posts from coffee experts on what you should prioritize if you want to make great coffee. Maybe you haven't. Here's yet another!
1. Quality of coffee bean and roast
2. Freshness of roast
3. Grind and brewing technique
If you have high quality beans and a decent roast, you will sometimes see good results even if the beans are a little stale. And if you also have fairly fresh roasted (4-14 days) beans, you'll see a favorable impact regardless of the grind and brewing technique. But no amount of improvement in technique can make up for poor quality beans/roast or staleness. That's why my coffee technique learning experience didn't really start until I was buying fresh roasted beans that actually tasted good (gosh).
As you may recall, I had purchased an Eva Solo Cafe Solo and a Kitchenaid Pro Line burr grinder. And I had finally found a supply of fresh roasted beans that I liked.
Let's look at what the CafeSolo brings to the table, shall we?
The total immersion brewer looks simple, but is surprisingly effective at minimizing bitterness. I and others have concluded it has to do with the final pour-out, because the grounds bunch together under an inverted cone filter and the brew flows mostly over and around the grounds instead of being forced through them as in a French press. The end result is that you have a bit of leeway in how you time your brew, without incurring a sharp increase in bitterness. In other words, it's a very forgiving brewer. The Cafe Solo has other advantages as well, such as excellent heat retention.
Using the CafeSolo, I was able to fine-tune my grind density using the tried-and-true technique of grinding finer until I could taste bitterness, and then backing off. I couldn't have done this before when I was sampling stale, burnt beans--too much noise in the system. And I couldn't do this when I was using a blade chopper--too much inconsistency getting in the way of repeatable results.
At this time, I still wasn't using a scale to weigh the ingredients. But enough surprises finally encouraged me to get serious about repeatability, so I purchased a digital scale and used it to weigh everything: the grounds and the water.
At last, I was finally satisfied that my technique was essentially perfected and could not substantially improve.
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The Depth of my Ignorance
Let's look at all the techniques you can apply when attempting to brew a better cup of coffee, assuming you're starting out with great roasted beans (presented in no particular order):
1. Measure coffee and water quantities more accurately
2. Maintain more optimal water temperature
3. Grind more consistently and at the optimal particle size (or range of sizes)
4. Tweak the timing of the pre-soak and soak
5. Agitate the brew at the right time(s)
6. Filter the brew
7. Use pressure to improve extraction
8. Infuse with oxygen to improve flavor rendering
9. Use better quality water with optimal mineral content
10. Refine execution of grinding and measuring so grounds don't sit a long time and get stale in the few minutes before you use them.
11. Use dissolved solid density analysis to evaluate success
12. Taste your own coffee to evaluate success
13. Have other people taste your coffee
14. Taste other peoples' coffee
(Note: if I missed any crucial ones, please feel free to click on the monkey icon, above. It will take you to a reporting site I have setup just for this purpose. If it doesn't respond, just keep clicking.)
Thankfully, I wasn't actually aware of the entire list while I was still in the early stages of my inquiry. No, that madness comes much later.
But if you had to pick just one item on this list that you could work on more, what would it be?