Coffee 101: The Science of Brewing

Reprinted from The Brewing News, Feb. 2003

There are numerous parameters that can affect the taste of coffee, which can ultimately be adjusted to your liking, but the bottom line is if you pay attention and remain consistent, you’ll almost always wind up with a good tasting brew. Here’s a short list of things to be considered:

• Type and origin of beans (all gourmet coffees are Arabica variety, not Robusta used in standard, supermarket coffees), but coffees grown in different climates and different elevations have unique flavors

• Type of roast – available in light (typical American coffee), medium and dark roasts; the latter tend to offer more complicated and interesting flavor

• Freshness – Coffee loses its flavor really fast after roasting, so it’s very important to think about how you store your coffee. First of all, fresh ground coffee is always better than pre-ground, so either buy a Grind and Brew coffee maker, or invest in a coffee grinder (not a cheap mill that is almost impossible to control the fineness of the grind; a decent burr grinder starts at about $60.) Coffee storage is another widely misunderstood topic. Many folks refrigerate or freeze their coffee to prolong freshness. In reality, the moisture that condenses on the coffee when it’s removed from cool storage is more deleterious than leaving it at room temperature. To maintain maximum flavor, storage of beans (or ground coffee if you must) should be under vacuum. Many coffee companies sell their product in vacuum-sealed or inert gas filled bags, which increases shelf life enormously. And now you, too, can vacuum store your coffee beans in convenient 1/2 pound cannisters manufactured by the company that makes those wine bottle stoppers – highly recommended.

• Type of grind – the particle size of the ground coffee is one of the more important elements you can control and should be matched to the type of coffee maker you are using (e.g., perk, French Press, drip, espresso). Over grinding will result in over extraction and a harsh, bitter flavor, while under grinding will result in a weak brew with little body. (The Cuisinart Grind and Brew grinds to the proper particle size automatically, one its best features.)

• Quantity of coffee – The ratio of coffee/water is extremely important and is probably the area that gets the least attention – eye-balling the measurements leaves too much to chance and can’t be expected to provide reliable results. By the way, the recommended ratio is one full scoop (Approved Coffee Brewing Council (CBC) scoop of 1/8 cup) per 6 oz. of water. It gets confusing in that many coffee scoops are considerably undersized and many coffee pots are calibrated in 5 oz. measures. So, you’ve got to do a little math before you get started, but it’s not really too tough. You can make adjustments from here, but this is a good place to start if you enjoy rich, flavorful coffee.

• Brewing method – Most standard coffee nowadays is brewed in electric drip machines, which when set up properly (see parameters above) can make very good tasting coffee. There are several interesting alternatives worth checking out (e.g, French press, vacuum, espresso, Americano). The latter is a really nice compromise if you’re looking for really full-bodied (almost syrupy) coffee without any bitterness. Start with two shots of good espresso and add about 4 oz. of hot water from the espresso machine. When I’m looking for an individual cup of coffee, Americano is my usual preference.

Published in: on November 7, 2009 at 12:04 am  Leave a Comment  

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