Brewing Great Coffee is Part Science, Part Art
Photo by the AWESOME PinnedGrit peeps.
Making a cup of great coffee is part science: exacting ingredients, formulas, recipes, roasting, and tools. Making a cup of great coffee is also part art: extraction technique, tools, and honestly, showmanship.
I love brewing coffee. And I love brewing coffee in front of people. In my experience running Grimpreur Bros. for 6+ years, EVERYONE - regardless of their coffee geekdom level - loves watching pour over coffee extraction. I get the best questions and have the most interesting conversations with people while making make coffee for them. “Why do you use scales?” “What water temps do you use to brew coffee?” “What’s up with your kettles?” “What’s that temperature gun for?” “Where do your beans come from?”
And then they drink it and smile. People love great tasting coffee.
So let’s jump into the science basics of brewing coffee. A quick preface: I’m focusing on brewing coffee with pour over and presses, and not espresso. I was ok at science in school until I got to molecular chemistry at university. You don’t need to be a science nerd to make great coffee. If I can do it, you can too.
The reasoning behind the science of coffee preparation is key: once you get the techniques down, you can produce great cups after great cups every morning. If one day the cup isn’t so tasty, you can systemically examine your technique and your inputs (coffee, water) and quickly figure out what needs to be tweaked.
My personal formula for brewing great coffee is:
Fresh Roasted Specialty Coffee + Filtered Local Water + Correct Extraction Technique = Repeated Coffee Happiness
Let’s tackle each part of this formula from the 50,000-foot level.
Buy Fresh Roasted Specialty Coffee
Specialty coffee is coffee that is graded 80 or above on a 100 point scale. Specialty coffee is generally grown in Africa, Asia, South America, and Central America. There are various specialty coffee associations around the world. In the US, it’s the Specialty Coffee Association of America. But specialty coffee is much more than an 80+ grade.
Specialty coffee is comprised of the small farmers and producers who take special care implementing growing techniques to harvest the highest quality of coffee beans possible. With specialty beans, its quality that’s of utmost importance. Specialty coffee is the green coffee buyers who are often certified as a taster or Q Grader, who can score specialty grade quality. Specialty coffee is the roaster who is part chemist, part artist and applies advanced roasting techniques to roast best quality and flavor from the beans. Specialty coffee is the barista who brews and extracts the perfect cup from the amazing beans.
And specialty coffee is YOU the coffee drinker who gets to enjoy the amazing beans at home, at your local coffee shop, or even at a bike race.
Freshly roasted beans are critical to your coffee enjoyment. As soon as beans are roasted, they begin to degrade or age. They oxidize and release gas. And as this happens, the taste of the coffee changes over time, eventually losing many of the tasting notes associated with the beans.
In my opinion, depending on the coffee, roast, and storage, it’s best to drink fresh-roasted coffee within 3-4 weeks after the roast date on the packaging. Over time, coffee’s flavor palate evens out. It might still be ok to drink and is infinitely better than industrial grocery store coffee. But freshly roasted specialty coffee is the absolute best.
But don’t go to a grocery store and buy specialty grade coffee that is months old. You are wasting your money. Purchase the freshest specialty coffee at your local coffee shop or directly from the coffee roaster.
Use Filtered Local Water
Whenever possible, brew coffee with filtered local water from your tap. We use a Brita filter at home. Pur filters work well too. Filtering water reduces water contaminants such as lead, chlorine, zinc, copper, and many more. Besides being unhealthy for you, they can affect your coffee’s taste.
Correct Extraction Technique
In my opinion, there’s no one perfect way to brew coffee. Chemex hand pour overs are my favorite. But that’s just my opinion. French presses are amazing. So are aero presses, especially when traveling. Hotel coffee doesn’t have to suck! Moka pots and drip machines produce great cups too. Check out our brewing guides for different recipes and tips. We’ll go into more details on coffee extraction in future posts.
Pro Tip: The 1:17 Ratio
At the very least, if you do nothing else, use the 1 part coffee to 17 parts water ratio when brewing coffee. You could try to eyeball it.?.? But in reality, this requires using a scale to measure water and coffee weight. The 1:17 ratio is a starting point. It can be increased or decreased. I’ve tweaked the ratio down. Apparently, the SCAA recommends 1:18. Formal academic papers have been written about it. Read more about it.
Repeated Coffee Happiness
This is our end goal. Follow our formula. Dive deeper into the specialty coffee world. Filter your water. Learn the techniques. Get any additional equipment required (it doesn’t have to be expensive). Achieve repeated coffee happiness. It’s doable and within reach. Future posts will detail how-tos, what tools to use, etc.
Cheers and tailwinds!
Post any questions, thoughts, post suggestions or feedback in the comments below. Ride your bike. Drink great coffee. And always support your local coffee shop and your local bike shop.
Dan Manco is the founder of Grimpeur Bros. Specialty Coffee (https://www.grimpeurbros.com). Founded in 2012, Grimpeur Bros. is a cycling-centric specialty coffee company that sells some of the best fresh, roast-to-order specialty coffee in America. Dan loves all things cycling-related and is dedicated to supporting the companies, media outlets, bike shops, bike racers, mechanics, and people that support growing cycling as a sport, healthy lifestyle, and transportation method. Follow Grimpeur Bros. on Instagram and Twitter.