Firstly if you want to get the best from freshly roasted speciality coffee you need to grind it to requirements. Whilst we can supply ground coffee to our customers for no additional charge this is not ideal as the coffee loses flavour and aroma quite quickly. If you are paying for some of the finest speciality coffees available you should enjoy them at their best. That means you should treat yourself to a grinder. Hand grinders are great for small quantities such as this one but for espresso grinds and larger quantities an electric grinder is better. One word of caution would be to avoid high speed bladed grinders. These generate heat that can have an adverse affect on the end result.
Secondly what we are about to suggest here is meant as a guide only. The most important outcome is that the coffee is enjoyed. Individual tastes vary but it is widely accepted that for a non pressurised brewing method a ratio of 60g of coffee to 1 litre of water is a good starting point. A 200ml cup for one person will therefore require 12g of coffee. An accurate set of scales will be a huge advantage.
The primary methods for brewing require either the coffee to be steeped in the brew water or for the water to pass through the coffee grounds. How a coffee is brewed has a marked effect on the taste. The extraction of the flavours and aromas in the coffee bean relies on the interaction of the bean particles and their environment. Therefore many variables exist that can influence the final result.
The main variables are time, temperature, pressure, grind particle size, water quality and agitation. The good news is you can have control over these to some extent or other.
Time: The longer coffee is in contact with the brewing water the more solids will be dissolved and therefore imparted to the beverage. Note however longer is not necessarily better. For example with French Press (Cafetiere) we steep for about four to six minutes whilst with a pourover such as the Tiamo V series dripper we aim for three to four minutes for the water to pass through the coffee. Leave a coffee to steep for too long and bitterness can develop.
Temperature: Chemical reactions occur more swiftly at higher temperatures; also some reactions will not take place until a certain temperature is reached. With coffee brewing there are some reactions that are undesirable that can occur at high water temperatures. It is therefore suggested that the brewing water be no more than 96°C and ideally around 93°C.
Pressure: The greater the pressure the faster the reactions and extraction of coffee solids but for most brewing methods this is not an issue. For devices such as espresso machines they are set by manufactures. For hand operated devices such as Aeropress variations can be controlled by the user and experimentation is suggested.
Grind particle size: A smaller grind size increases the overall surface area of the coffee thereby increasing the opportunities for reaction with the environment. Longer brew times such as with French Press require a coarser grind whereas short brew times, as with espresso, require a finer grind setting.
Water quality: Overly hard water can have an adverse effect on taste, however, some mineral solids in the water are required to react with the coffee grounds. Distilled water will not produce a good brew. A carbon and de-chlorination filter, such as a Brita water filter, is a good start.
Agitation: Quite simply if you stir the grounds whilst in the brewing water more reactions will take place sooner. Leave them alone, such as we would advise with French press, and the brewing time can be extended.
Here at Silver Oak Coffee we recommend the 60g/L ratio for our V drippers. This is a good starting point from which to experiment. The process we undertake is to fold the filter edge over and, once in the dripper, rinse with hot water. Discard that water and place the dripper on the cup or server, add the ground coffee, wet the grinds with water at 93°C, wait 30 seconds. Slowly pour the first third of the brew water onto the coffee ensuring all the grounds are covered, repeat two more times aiming for an overall brew time of 3-4 minutes. We also leave the brewed coffee to cool slightly. At cooler temperatures more flavours can be appreciated.
When preparing French press we use the same ratio as with the drippers and steep for 4 to 8 minutes depending on the roast degree of the coffee. Darker roasts such as The Black Bag range extract more efficiently and require less time. Conversely lighter roasts need longer to reach the same intensity. We do not stir but at the end of the brewing time we remove the bloom that floats at the top. We then plunge slowly and serve immediately.
We recommend the same ratios and time for Sowden pots but of course there is no need to remove the bloom or plunge. I use a slightly finer grind setting than for French press and a brew time of 6 minutes for all but the Black Bag style.
An excellent resource for brewing guides and opinions for the various devices currently available can be found at www.brewmethods.com . If you want to discuss coffee with others www.coffeeforums.co.uk is a great place to start.