Brew Quest Coffee Basics 101: The Trifecta of a Great Brew (part 3)
Here is the 3rd 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, proof that kids do drive parents to drink!
Now that you have a good understanding of how the grind and your added water can affect your coffee brewing results, we will discuss the third facet of your trifecta that discusses why getting the ratio of the two just right and how it allows you to control just what kind of cup you want.
Good Enough for Government Work Coffee
If you are in a hurry; or, just not feeling that particular about how your cup tastes on some mornings; or, have a new bag of untried beans and no directions on how much to use, the general rule is that you can use two tablespoons of ground coffee with 6-8 ounces of water for your cup.
Simple enough, but it has its problems:
• You wind up wasting beans trying to grind enough, accurately enough to be spot on at 2 tablespoons.
• You will very unlikely get close enough to having a satisfying cup of coffee on the first try.
• It will lead to inconsistent results as you try to fiddle with other factors toward improving the taste in your following cups.
A Better Way to Approach the Brew Ratio
A better way to approach the ratio is to first decide what do you want in your cup of coffee that particular morning—something relatively strong or something milder?
Remember, strength in coffee has to do with the concentration of extracted flavor components from the grind. If you add more grind than normal to 8 ounces of water, the extract will be more concentrated and thereby stronger to your senses as it will lay heavier on your tongue. Conversely, if you use less grind (or add more water) the strength will be weaker and yield a lighter feel.
As a general rule a brew ratio range of 1:15 to 1:17 provides a good starting point when trying to determine the correct dosage in your cup of coffee. A 1:15 brew ratio is stronger than a 1:17 ratio, but there is surprising not much difference in how much grind to use between each.
To make matters simpler, more accurate, and the results consistently reproducible, baristas and other coffee professionals factor the ratios in units of grams. In other words, rather than trying to measure out the dry and the wet components with a typical cookbook measuring system based on volume where tablespoons and cups are the standard, it is much easier and more reproducible to stick to one measurement standard that applies to both the amounts of grind and amount of water used based on weight.
In brief, why they do this is because if you use a volume-based system—say tablespoons of grind—one level tablespoon of a finer grind will be more compact and weigh more than a level tablespoon of a coarse grind. The result is that if you try altering other factors such as amount of water, time extracted (the flow rate), etc. then you will have just complicated the adjustments because the level(s) of the grind rather than the weight of the grind has to be factored in.
Another reason is that there is not as much room for variation in how much of each ingredient is used when it comes to comparing coffee brewing over baking a cake. Plus, each coffee brewing system is different. So, what dose of coffee and water you use for one system will likely need to be adjusted slightly in order to achieve the same taste in another system. Especially since the recommended dosages can vary by as much as 1:12 to 1:17 depending on the brewing device. Thus, a weight-based gram system makes better sense.
So, how do we measure out the grind and water by weight? With a small tabletop scale of course.
A Ratio Brewing Example
Let’s go through the process using a pour over system as an example:
• Begin with the upper limit of a recommended brew ratio for a particular bag of beans. If the bag does not come with a recommended brew ratio, choose a 1:15 ratio as your starting point since this is likely to be a strong coffee and it’s always easier to taste your way down than it is to taste your way up (at least for me this is true).
• One cup of coffee requires 8 ounces of water, which weighs 237 grams. For a 1:15 ratio, that means you would divide 237 grams by 15 to give you 15.80 grams of whole beans of coffee. Round up to 16 grams.
• While you are weighing your beans, have your kettle turned on to boil.
• Place a small cup or beaker on your tabletop scale. You will see the weight of the cup. Now hit the tare button to zero out the weight of the container. Add your beans to the container on the scale and stop once you’ve measure out 16 grams of beans according to the scale. Remove the beans and grind to your desired level. For a pour over system this is typically a medium to fine grind.
• With or without a paper filter, run some boiling water through your brew system to preheat it. You may also prefer to preheat your extraction container or cup.
• Place your preheated pour over brewer on top of your preheated cup or container and add the grind to the brewer, and shake it gently to get the grind bed to level.
• Place the system on the scale, and once again push the tare button to zero the scale.
• By now, the boiled water has likely cooled to the recommended 195 to 205 degrees Fahrenheit. Add 59 grams of water to the bed gently to start the bloom process. Start a stopwatch or timer to time the extraction process.
• After about 30 seconds, continuing adding the remaining 178 grams of water to the bed using your preferred pour method until the scale reads 237 grams. Stop, and let the brewer continue to its final drip or two.
• Taste the coffee before adding anything to it, and make notes recording the conditions of the brewing such as the amount of beans and water as well as the temp of the water, the grind level, time spent extracting, source of beans, brewer used, aromas detected, etc.
• If the extract is too strong, repeat the process making a change only in the amount of beans used. For example for a weaker extract brew you could try a 1:16 or a 1:17 ratio which would be 15 grams and 14 grams of beans respectively.
• After you’ve discovered the strength you prefer with your brew with this particular bag of beans (recorded in your notes), then you can begin adjusting other factors like water temperature, grind and time to fine tune your way to a perfect cup.
This concludes the Trifecta Series of articles. Yes, there are many more additional and finer details toward brewing great coffee; however, by being mindful of the basics of your grind, your water and the ratio of the both in dosing your brewers, you are well on your way to upping your game and your future coffee tasting experiences.
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.
Recently, a study determined that having kids at home rather than in school is resulting in an increase in adult alcohol consumption. REALLY?! They needed a study to know that?! Apparently, they do not follow “Mommy Needs Vodka” blogpost on Facebook—my reading recommendation for coffee as well as alcohol. Enjoy!
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: Courtesy of photo by Victor Muñoz on Unsplash
Reference: “Parents with children forced to do school at home are drinking more” The Conversation July 29, 2020.