You’ve recently realized that your coffee at home is sub-par and want to step up your brewing game. You’ve heard about manual brewing (aka not-a-Mr-Coffee-machine) and want to play around with some manual brewing devices at home.
Yaaaas. The first step to fixing a problem is admitting that you have a problem. I’m so proud of you for taking this step. First, let’s go over some ground rules (#seewhatIdidthere #baristahumor):
Get the good-good. Sure, you can brew Folgers as a pour-over, but it’s not going to taste remotely as good as that washed Kenyan you had at the coffee shop last week. Get the good stuff; it’s worth it. If you don’t know where to start, I’d suggest checking some of these online coffee retailers: Onyx Coffee, Mountain Air Roasting, Counter Culture Coffee, and/or Stumptown Coffee as I’ve yet to be disappointed with these wonderful folks. (I’ll also be regularly posting coffee reviews on this site, so stick around!)
Take care of that good-good. Make sure your coffee isn’t more than a couple of weeks old. If you look all over your coffee container and notice that it doesn’t have a roast date, just use that coffee as compost. It’s going to make excellent compost. Then head on over to your local bodega, grocery store, cafe, online retailer, what-have-you, and buy yourself some fresh coffee. Once the said coffee is in your possession, keep it airtight and in a cool, dark place.
Pretty simple so far, right? Acquire tasty coffee and keep it fresh. Nice. You got this.
Now, pick your method. Each kind of method has its pros and cons, but ultimately it’s up to your taste buds to decide what you like best. Do some research, talk to your barista, experiment a little and eventually you’ll find something- or multiple somethings- that you love. Pictured above is the Hario V-60 pour over method.
Use a scale to weigh your coffee. No, seriously: WEIGH YOUR COFFEE. Whenever someone tells me that their coffee at home sucks, I’ll ask them if they have a scale and 99.89% of the time they tell me that they don’t. Do you bake without measuring your flour? Nope. Of course not. But that’s pretty much what you’re doing when you’re not weighing your coffee.
Why is this so important? Different coffees can weigh different amounts: 2 tablespoons of an Ethiopian coffee might weigh twice as much as 2 tablespoons of a Colombian coffee, but because you eyeballed that ish you have no idea. Too much coffee makes for an over-concentrated, bitter brew. Too little coffee makes for weak, sour coffee. If you weigh your beans every time you can ensure that your coffee-to-water ratio (more on that later!) stays consistent. Consistent is good. You can’t eyeball consistency.
The scale pictured is the Acaia Pearl scale, but you can use any digital scale purchased online or at Target, Sur la Table etc. I’m a big fan of the Acaia because it’s durable, programmable, insanely accurate and has a built-in timer, which leads me to…
Time your brew. This one’s pretty simple: not all of coffee’s flavors are good and there’s only so much tasty coffee goodness that you can extract out of your beans. When you’ve over-extracted your coffee by brewing it for too long, you’ll taste roasty, bitter, mouth-drying nastiness. When you’ve under-extracted your coffee by not brewing it for long enough, you’ll experience a coffee that’s weak and mouth-puckeringly (that’s not a word but I’m okay with it) sour. Note: Different brewing methods require different brew times, so be sure to find out what brew time is ideal for your chosen method.
Know your water temperature. You should be brewing your coffee with water that’s somewhere between 195-205 degrees F. Brewing coffee in water that’s too hot will scald your grounds and over-extract your coffee. Brewing coffee in water that’s not hot enough will result in coffee that’s weak and bland. You don’t need to buy a fancy variable-temperature kettle in order to get the job done (although I think they’re amazing and that gooseneck kettles are worth every penny): you can get a thermometer at Target for less than $12 and use the money you saved to buy yourself some candy. Everybody loves candy. Win-win.
Get a grinder. You heard me. Do it. Get a grinder. Using pre-ground coffee is a bad idea for many reasons (which I will get geeky about- you guessed it!- in a later post), but for now I need you to trust me when I say that you need to get a burr grinder for home-brewing. Those bladed things don’t do the job well and will not do your coffee justice. Here are a few great grinders, for all kinds of budgets. Don’t cheat yo’self: treat yo’self (to a burr grinder)!
And there you have it: home-brewing equipment basics. Congratulations, you’re now one step closer to making tasty coffee in your pajamas! Later on I’ll be posting more in-depth, geeky analysis about coffee-to-water ratio, slurry agitation, blade grinders and more, but for now just high-five yourself for making positive moves to improve your coffee regimen.
Shout-out to Joshua Vasko for taking these stunning photos and to his beautiful wife Kristin for agreeing to make some tasty, tasty coffee. Love you guys.