Brew Quest Coffee Basics 101: The Trifecta of a Great Brew (part 2)
Here is the second installment of a three-part series that covers the trifecta of what you can control during your brewing towards a great cup of coffee. Plus, coffee talk conversations about what you need to know about the water in your home and how it can become poisoned.
Out of the three facets of the trifecta, water is the one where the most mistakes can be made—any of which could spoil what would otherwise have been a good cup of coffee.
Listed below are points that need to be followed in your home kitchen when brewing coffee:
1. How Your Water Tastes
How your water tastes may seem trivial. Especially in a country where it is safe to drink from the tap. Unfortunately, however, depending on where you live and how long you’ve lived there, your palate can become so accustomed to the amount of chlorine, the levels of hardness and softness due to mineral content, and the aerated freshness of the water you pour from your tap, that you may not realize that a problem is there and that it actually affects the taste of your brew. Not an insignificant factor when you consider that coffee is 98-99 percent water!
Chlorine is an obvious taste killer. But did you know that the mineral content is important as well? In fact, minerals such as magnesium and calcium chemically assist in the extraction of some of the flavors from your grind. The point here is that water that is too soft or too hard can affect how your coffee tastes.
Another matter is freshness. Water needs to be aerated some in order not to taste flat. Have you ever returned from a week-long trip and poured a glass from your filter pitcher that sat undisturbed all that time, or took a swig from a camp canteen? There’s a reason why your commercial bottled water has a “fzzzzzt” to it when you open a new bottle.
The point here is that you should never brew your coffee with chemically-tasting city water, mineral-free distilled water, mineral-rich bottled mineral water, or water that has sat around for more than a day.
There are two solutions for this type of problem: 1. Find a reputable home water filtration service that can talk about how water should taste rather than being focused solely on how their system protects your pipes and appliances. 2. Buy a pitcher style water filter device that you can refill fresh every morning just before starting your morning cup of coffee. Either solution should take care of most of your water taste problems if you have any.
2. How You Pour Your Water
Here I am referring to pour over brewing systems where you have to physically pour your hot water over a grind. This has been covered in an earlier article, but is so important toward achieving great taste that it bears repeating.
Basically what it comes down to is that the length of time the hot water spends in direct contact with the grind affects significantly how much flavor is extracted. It’s a balancing act. Too little contact and the coffee comes out sour. Too much time and the coffee comes out bitter.
When it comes to achieving the best extraction you can—aside from getting the grind particle size right, which we discussed recently in part 1 of this trifecta series—technique can make or break a good cup of coffee.
Here’s a short check list of sequential steps you should take with most pour over systems after your bean have been ground:
• Before adding the grind, preheat your brewer by running boiling hot water through it briefly. This is especially important if your brewer uses paper filters so that the hot water pre-rinse removes the paper taste.
• Add the correct dose of grind to your brewer and gently tap the sides to make the ground coffee settle into a nice even bed in the brewer.
• Add just enough hot water to the bed very gently until you see the bed swell some so as to give the grind time to de-gas (about 30 seconds) the carbon dioxide still locked inside the grind particles.
• Gently add your hot water in a controlled fashion to the de-gassed grind so as not to overly disturb the bed; A circular or pulse fashion works well. The point here is to try to get all of the grind exposed as equally as possible to the hot water so that extraction is optimal.
• Monitor how fast or slow your drip happens and adjust the grind as needed for your next cup of coffee when using the same brew system.
3. Your Water Temperature
Directly adding boiling water to your grind is never advised; the boiling point of water (212°F ) causes too many compounds from the grind to extract too fast resulting in an imbalance of flavors that turns your coffee bitter. The only possible exception is in high altitude regions where water boils at a lower temperature than at sea level. In any case, the rule of thumb is that the best overall temperature in general to add to your grind is between 195°F and 205°F.
While you may have observed some baristas carefully control the exact temperature of the water with the scrutiny of a demolitions expert, for the beginner and most of us who are experienced, close enough is good enough. But, it makes a good show and it is part of good service. That said, it is really not necessary in the home to apply a temperature measuring device every time you brew.
The most practical recommendation is to find yourself a good quality hot water kettle that will boil more water than you will need, and then do some pretesting of just how long it holds its decreasing temperature as it cools once removed from its heat source. After you’ve timed how long it takes to cool down from 212 degrees to 205 degrees, you are set and can put your thermometer away until a change in seasons lowers or raises your morning ambient kitchen temperature.
A note here about thermometers: I would not recommend using a glass thermometer of any type, even if it is laboratory grade. Microfractures can and do occur which risks leaking whatever is in the thermometer into your water. Mercury is no longer used, but depending on the source you never know for sure what you are getting.
Another note is to avoid cheap digital pocket pen like thermometers. I’ve tried a variety of ones from places like Harbor Freight and all gave inaccurate and inconsistent results.
However, what I found does work well enough (from Harbor Freight) and is not expensive are those electronic multimeters that come with a temperature feature and separate special temperature probe. At twenty-some dollars, I keep one just for coffee and other food use that has proved to work remarkably well.
Tomorrow will be the end of the trifecta series as we discover how the ratio of the first two facets of the trifecta (grind and water) can affect your coffee brewing results.
Coffee Talk is meant to encourage discourse between you and someone you are having coffee with, as well as for the comments section below. If you agree or disagree with the topic and what is said, or have something you would like to share, Coffee Talk is there for you.
Have you ever wondered about whether your water in your home is really safe? Here’s an interesting article about a study that found how your home’s water quality could vary by the room and by the season.
Plus, an interesting piece about how that if your home has been within the vicinity of a fire like the large-scale wild fires in California, your house may have survived, but your water source might now be poisoned.
Timothy Boyer has a Ph.D. in Molecular and Cellular Biology from the University of Arizona. For 20+ years he has been employed as a freelance health and science writer. Timothy continues writing about science with a focus on the connection between coffee and healthy living. For continual updates about the benefits of coffee on your health, you can also follow Timothy on Twitter at TimBoyerWrites.
Image Source: Image by Pixabay
“Study: Your home’s water quality could vary by the room—and the season” Purdue University News, Feb. 19, 2020.
“Wildfires can poison drinking water—here’s how communities can be better prepared” The Conversation, Aug. 3, 2020