You’re brewing more coffee at home nowadays. And with that comes some questions. Our on-staff Specialty Coffee Trainers respond to some commonly asked questions.
Frequently asked questions include:
What are popular brew methods?
How do I know what grind-size to use?
What’s the best way to experiment when brewing coffee at home?
What variables impact coffee flavor?
How hot should my water be?
Does a roast profile impact flavor in the cup?
How do I make my coffee taste less bitter?
How to I make my coffee taste stronger?
How do I keep my coffee fresh?
Brewing Coffee at Home
What’s the best way to brew coffee at home?
The coffee experience is a personal experience. Brew methods, flavor preferences and cultural rituals surrounding coffee have developed over thousands of years. Brewing coffee at home means different things in different places.
Plus, each person has a unique set of taste buds, flavor receptors, and familial references that makes each cup of coffee specific to its drinker. The “best” way to brew coffee truly varies from person to person. Ask yourself a couple of questions: “How much time do I want to spend brewing my coffee?” “What do I want my coffee to taste like?” “What experience am I trying to create?” You’ll find your answer somewhere in there. (And warning: it could change from day-to-day).
What are popular methods for brewing coffee at home?
While it’s impossible to name “the best” brew method for home, we can speak to popular brewing methods used in homes in the United States around 2020. Those methods include:
- The basic Drip Pot, such as: a Mr. Coffee, Hamilton Beach, a Moccamaster, a Cusinart, Breville, etc. This method automatically heats and distributes hot water over ground coffee and is generally made for small-batch brewing (yielding: 1-5 twelve oz. cups). This method allows you to control things that affect your cup flavor and quality such as: grind-size and water-to-coffee ratio, which is great when brewing coffee at home. But, it also allows you to walk away, letting the machine control water temperature and water distribution over grounds.
- Manual Brew methods give you complete control over nearly all variables that impact coffee flavor, such as grind-size, water-to-coffee ratio, water temperature, water distribution, filter type and more. Manual brew methods include: Aeropress, Chemex, Clever Dripper, Hario V60, Kalita Wave, French Press and others. The best way to start with one of these brew methods is to pick one, and begin experimenting. These are more time-and-labor intensive, but when you get your coffee & method “dialed-in,” the cup quality can be very rewarding!
- Keurig or Pod brewing has been an extremely popular at-home brewing method. People love the convenience of being able to insert a pod, press a button and have a cup of coffee within a few minutes. The price-per-cup is often more expensive than the other methods, though, and you have little-to-no control over brewing variables.
Does grind-size matter when brewing coffee?
Yes. A brewed cup of coffee is about 98 percent water. But the “not-water” part is made up of dissolved solids from your coffee grounds. When you grind coffee, you are exposing the soluble surface area of a coffee bean. The finer your coffee is ground, the more surface area you expose. The coarser the coffee grounds, the less surface area is exposed.
Your grind-size will impact the flavor of your cup, because when it is combined with other variables (such as water temperature, water-to-coffee ratio, brew time and method) it will affect the amount of dissolved solids (and overall “bean extraction”) you get in a cup of coffee. If you’ve used a really fine grind for a french press that brewed for about 4 minutes, you might find that coffee to be very bitter. If that’s the case, you’ve probably over-extracted the bean, because the grind-size was too small for a brew time that is 4 minutes long.
How do I know what grind-size to use when brewing at home?
In general, the shorter the brew time, the finer the grind-size. The longer the brew time, the coarser the grind-size. Brew methods can also determine what grind size you’d want. For example, immersion methods like the French Press and the Clever Dripper have longer contact times between coffee grounds and water, so you might want a coarser grind with those coffees.
If you’re brewing on an espresso machine, your brew time is only about 30 seconds, so you want an extremely fine grind. If you’re brewing on something like a percolator that repeatedly moves hot water past coffee grounds for 4-5 minutes, you’d want a much coarser grind.
Here are some suggested grind-sizes for when you’re brewing coffee at home: Espresso (30-second brew time): fine grind; Hario V60 (2-3 minutes): medium-fine grind; Chemex (3-4 minutes): medium or medium-coarse grind; small home drip, batch brewer (think Mr. Coffee) (4 minutes): medium grind; Clever Dripper (3-4 minutes): medium-coarse grind; French Press (4 minutes): medium-coarse grind; Percolator (5+minutes): coarse grind. Again, coffee flavor is a personal preference, so your grind-size will be, too.
Coffee Brewing Experiments
What’s the best way to experiment with coffee brewing?
There are a number of variables that impact the extraction percentage and total dissolved solids that you can get from a coffee bean. When you’re brewing coffee at home, try to keep all variables constant except for one. Then, change that one variable 3-4 times and note the differences. Find the method you like the best, then use that as your brew recipe for that particular coffee. Experiment like it’s an at-home science project.
Here’s an example:
- Brew method: Hario V60
- Coffee: Cafe Campesino Colombia Medium
- Grind Size: Medium
- Coffee-to-Water Ratio: 1:18
- Weight of Coffee Grounds: 18 grams
- Weight of Water poured Over Coffee Grounds: 324 grams
- Brew time: about 2 mins, 30 seconds
Now, brew this coffee the EXACT SAME WAY three times, except change one variable. Try grind-size. Brew one cup with a fine grind, one cup with a medium grind and the third cup with a more coarse grind. If you end up liking the cup of coffee with the coarse grind, then you have your own brew recipe for Cafe Campesino Colombia Medium Roast.
If you’re interested in experimenting but need a list of at-home coffee gear, check out Perfect Daily Grind’s beginner’s guide to setting up a science-ready brew station.
What variables impact flavor when you’re brewing coffee at home?
Believe it or not, ambiance, personal history and the physical composition of your taste receptors all impact your perception of a coffee’s flavor. Most of those you can’t control. So, let’s look at the ones you can. They are: grind-size, water-to-coffee ratio, water temperature, water quality, brewing method, water delivery method, whether or not you stir (or provide agitation) during the brewing process, coffee roast level, grind-size consistency and brew time.
How hot should my water be when brewing coffee?
The Specialty Coffee Association recommends 195 – 205 degrees Fahrenheit for brewing coffee. At home, this is about 1 minute off boiling. Use a thermometer to get your temperature right the first time.
How does roast profile impact coffee flavor?
When you roast coffee, you are trying to optimize the natural sugars and oils inside the coffee bean so that they can be well dissolved and extracted into a brewed cup of coffee. A coffee bean actually starts as a dense, hard, green seed. During the roasting process, it loses moisture and density at the same time as its natural sugars are caramelizing or going through the Maillard reaction, the same chemical process between amino acids and sugars that takes place when bread bakes and turns brown.
Heating the coffee seed changes its color and chemical composition, ultimately dehydrating it to a point that it can be easily dissolved for coffee brewing. The darker the coffee bean, the more dehydrated it has become, making it more ready to dissolve during the brewing process. Therefore, it’s easier to over-extract darker-roast coffees. Lighter roast coffees, which are less dehydrated than darker roasted coffees, might need a little more work for extraction.
What flavors are associated with over-extracted coffee?
Woodiness, bitterness, acrid flavors.
What characteristics are associated with under-extracted coffee?
Sour and tart flavors. Thin body.
How do I make my coffee taste less bitter?
A number of variables can cause bitterness in a brewed cup of coffee. Check your water temperature and grind-size first. If your coffee is too finely ground, it can create a bitter cup. Also, water that’s too hot will over-extract coffee, leaving it bitter. Water should not be boiling. Your water temperature should be between 195-205 degrees F.
How do I make my coffee taste stronger?
Increase the amount of ground coffee you are using to brew. A common coffee-to-water ratio is 1 gram of coffee for every 15-20 grams of water used to brew. Using a scale is a great way to develop a brew method for your coffee. You don’t have to use it every day, but it can help you dial-in a new coffee to your preferred tastes.
If you want stronger coffee, use a lower coffee-to-water ratio, such as 1:15 grams. That’s about 40 grams of ground coffee to 600 grams of water. In a small, two-to-three cup Mr. Coffee drip pot, that’ll make about two 10-12 oz. cups of coffee. If you’re coffee is still not strong enough, make the grind size finer on the next batch. See if you can get a stronger cup of coffee without it getting too bitter.
I’m doing everything the same. Why does my coffee suddenly taste different?
There are a few questions to ask yourself here.
1- Are you doing everything the same? Or is someone else brewing the coffee? Even slight changes like the amount of coffee you use or your grind-size can make big changes in the cup when you’re brewing coffee at home.
2-Has your water changed at all? Coffee is 98% water, and different water sources will certainly impact cup quality. During the brewing process, flavor compounds inside the coffee attach to minerals in water. If there are too few minerals in your water, you might not be getting enough flavor extraction in your brewed cup.
3- Have you changed your toothpaste?
4- Are you taking any medication that might impact your ability to taste? All of these can impact how your coffee tastes.
Keeping your Coffee Fresh
Should I grind my coffee if I’m brewing at home?
Again.. this is all up to personal preference, but.. yes. The minute you expose coffee to oxygen, it starts to lose freshness. Carbon dioxide, which is trapped inside tiny pores inside coffee beans, takes coffee flavor and freshness with it when it escapes. Grinding coffee releases the CO2 trapped inside coffee beans. The longer the coffee is ground, the more time CO2 has to escape. Grinding coffee immediately before brewing means more flavors and aromas will make their way into your cup, creating a better tasting beverage.
How do I keep my coffee fresh?
- Grind immediately before brewing.
- Keep your coffee in air-tight container.
- Avoid exposure to sunlight.
- Avoid exposure to high-heat.
- Brew it within 1-3 months of its roast-date.
- Brew the most freshly roasted coffee you can get by ordering directly from a roaster.
Can I put my coffee in the freezer?
Recent science suggests that coffee maintains its freshness when stored in the freezer. What happens after the coffee comes out of the freezer, though, makes a difference.
In a 2019 lecture, scientist Samo Smrke of the Zurich University of Applied Sciences says that in order to avoid condensation forming on your coffee beans, you should let your sealed bag sit at room temperature for 1-2 hours before brewing. That way, the coffee inside the bag can reach room temperature and not be affected by humidity, which can impact freshness. You should also avoid taking the coffee in and out of the freezer.
Once you’ve brought your bag to room temperature, get the coffee you need for brewing, close the bag by folding the top down and using a clip. You can then store that in an air-tight container. And it’s always best to use whole-bean coffee, not ground, when you are storing it over time.
Should I store my coffee in the refrigerator?
No. For folks brewing coffee at home, refrigerators may be a tempting spot to store your coffee. But refrigerators will quickly dry out coffee. They also impart aromas from other foods. Storing coffee in a refrigerator vastly diminishes its cup quality, so you want to avoid it.
We know you’ve got them. We do, too. In fact, the more we learn about coffee, the more we realize we don’t know. If we didn’t cover your question above, leave it in the comments section below. If we have answers, we’ll share!