In honour of drinking good coffee for over a decade now and because my friend Beije requested (two years ago) I wrote one, here’s a short guide to good coffee.
Table of content
Regardless of how strong you like your coffee is basically 98% water so that’s where we start.
Now, personally, back in Finland I couldn’t tell the difference between spring water, filtered water or tap water. Living in the UK where water is, well, disgustingly hard and chalky, I might be able to tell the difference but I haven’t redone the tests.
Depending on your water quality, your mileage can vary a lot.
If you think it’s fine to drink straight from the tap, it’s good enough for your coffee.
After water, fresh beans will make the biggest difference to your coffee.
The spectrum of freshness is simple: the smaller the bean particles, the faster their volatile compounds evaporate into the air.
Smaller coffee grounds means more surface area, means faster oxidisation.
But you don’t want them in the air, what you want to do is put all those delicious compounds, such as carbonyl and sulfur alicyclic aromatic benzenoid into your morning brew.
Mmm, delicious compounds.
Some freshness guidelines:
- Green beans (unroasted) can last between 6 and 12 months
- Whole beans (roasted) remain stable for a month – I think 2 weeks
- Ground coffee, one to two weeks – I think 24h
The trick is to keep these compounds together until you actually use them. The best way to do so, keep the particles bigger.
Whole beans will always stay fresher for longer than grounded coffee. But let’s be honest, you do you and as long as you’re enjoying your morning brew, who am I to say whether you should buy whole or grounded beans.
Buy whole beans.
After this, your freshness will vary depending on how you store your coffee, whatever the particle size, so let’s talk about storage.
Many well-meaning people say you should store coffee in the fridge, or freezer for optimum freshness. These people are also, unfortunately, wrong.
The enemy of storage is excessive air, moisture, heat and light (in that order).
The fridge, well, it’s the going in-and-out that makes it build up condensation, and condensation leads to moisture and oh, would you look at that, your coffee now tastes faintly like that takeaway leftover you still have in the back of the fridge that you swear you’re going to eat but let’s be honest it’s been there since Tuesday you’re probably not going to.
Don’t store your coffee in the fridge or freezer.
I store my beans in Kilner glass clip top jars. I bought them years ago.
If you decide on ground coffee, grinders won’t matter to you so feel free to skip to coffee machines. Otherwise, let’s move on to the grinders.
So you’ve decided on whole beans, my kind of person! High five!
Now we need our particles to be smaller so that we can extract all the deliciousness from them.
If you’ve been paying attention to the chemistry of all of this so far you’re probably thinking what I’m thinking, “But Carlos, I don’t technically need to make the particles smaller if I make the extraction time longer.”
And you would be right.
That’s why beans for Espresso is ground very fine and extracted for a short time (25-30 seconds).
And why this blog talks about brewing by extracting from whole beans.
Note to self, I need to try that.
But for the sake of this entry, let’s assume you want to grind your whole beans down a bit smaller.
The history of grinding is an interesting one, but your options are pretty much: burr or blade grinder.
The more expensive of the two, the burr grinder will allow you to set the size you want your particles to be and make them uniformly that size.
A blade grinder will cut your particles, they will be uneven and you can’t set the size. But, they’re cheap as shit and you can pick one up today.
I’ve owned both but only one of them came with me when I moved to the UK, you guess which one.
As with anything in this guide, doing either is better than none.
You guessed it, it’s the Zassenhaus Brasilia 151 conical burr grinder!
Before moving on to the coffee machines, let’s talk about your bean-to-water ratio.
Most coffee masters, including the SCAA (Specialty Coffee Association of America), agree that the best starting point for your ratio should be around 60 grams of coffee per 1L of water.
How do you know if it’s 60 grams?
Use a scale.
Some well-meaning people say that they can measure things like flour and beans consistently but just like the fridge-lovers, they’re also wrong.
Honestly, a kitchen scale, whether you’re baking bread, making pancakes or measuring beans, is worth its—ba dum tss—weight in gold, get one.
Now, depending on your preferred brewing method, or your preferred particle size, you will need to adjust one or the other as they are intimately linked.
As long as you remember the simple chemistry of volatile compounds extraction, you’ll be fine.
So, you’ve got your non-English tap water, your non-fridged beans and you’ve smashed them into smaller particles, let’s brew!
Now you’re in for a world of options and a lot of this comes down to your preferences.
A quick note on brewing temperate, it should be between 90°C and 96°C.
Right, let’s get you a coffee extraction device.
“I’m only 12% awake in the morning and need something with minimal effort.”
An Electric Drip Brewer (Technivorm Moccamasters is amongst the best) might be your thing.
“Yeah cool, but more flavour. The filter absorbs too many of the compounds. I don’t mind a bit of sludge at the bottom of my cup.”
A French Press is what you want. A double walled to keep it hot enough whilst you’re brewing, such as Bodum Bistro Nouveau is good.
“No, more flavour!! I hate sludge! Make it more science-y!”
Okay, how about a Vacuum Pot.
“No, not that kind of science, the other one, were I can show off to my friend.”
Ah, get an Espresso Machine.
“Woah, that’s way too expensive, have you got anything cheaper? I’d still like an espresso though.”
Moka Pot (Bialetti Moka Express is amongst the best).
“I changed my mind, what was that first thing you said, electric something, yeah that but make it not electric!”
Sure, you’ll want Pour-over.
“Thank you. Okay, so now that I’ve done all this work, what I’d really like to do is absolutely shit all over the coffee.”
Percolator is what you want, you horrible person. Now get out of my house.
Ultimately, you decide which of these things you think are worth your time.
Maybe the only thing you change is getting fresh beans, it will still make your morning brew so much better.
For me, I use tap water, buy whole beans 2-3 per month (in 250-gram bags), store them in Kilner jars, grinding only what I’ll use for that brew in my burr grinder…
…my ratio used to be 66g to 1L and then I’d brew it in a French Press for 4 minutes. I did this for about nine years.
…nowadays though I wing the ratio (I might as well join the fridge-lovers ey) and brew in a Pour-over because I prefer the clean cup—a habit I picked up in South Korea.
I’ve never actually tried a Vacuum Pot but would really like to—few coffee houses use them and I’m not buying one.
As long as we can both agree that life’s too short for shit coffee.