I am not a coffee connoisseur by any description or imagination. I have a fairly shoddy sense of smell so I tend to over-season my food and I will never find employment as a sommelier. Despite marginally-effective nerve-endings, I find great pleasure in the enjoyment of a great cup of coffee.
First, let’s mention Starbucks, since their coffee has become the baseline for good coffee these days. I throw back enough Starbucks doppio espressos to have a Gold Card. That’s a fair amount of espresso. It’s not bad, and it’s a nice stroll away from my office. I find their cupped coffee to be heavy-handed, nearly vulgar with overwhelming flavors. I think this is in part to maintain consistency across their 17,000 stores.
If you enjoy Starbucks coffee, there’s nothing wrong with you and you might, in fact, really enjoy the pour-over drip coffee method I propose here. If you enjoy a fine glass of wine, a purposefully made cup of coffee just might be your thing. A glass of wine is said to have around 200 flavor notes. Coffee, surprisingly, has more than 1500 flavor notes. The experience of enjoying a cup of coffee can have more dimension, complexity, subtly, and body than a glass of wine.
This has been a ten year journey for me. I’ve tried many coffee preparation techniques and none give me the satisfaction I get from a well-made cup of pour-over drip coffee. French Press is fast and easy and a very good option, but I found the bitterness of that technique overwhelms the coffee’s subtle flavors. An automatic drip machine, like the one in our office, can yield a decent cup with patience and effort and is extremely convenient, but most machines don’t get hot enough to properly extract flavors from the grounds.
At first, this may seem like a technical process, but it only takes a few minutes out of your day to enjoy the simple pleasure and robust flavors of a well-made cup of coffee.
What You Need
- Whole Coffee Beans (fresh is best!)
- Paper Filters (unbleached)
- Pourover Dripper (plastic starts at $4, but treat yourself and go ceramic, starting ~$10)
- Grinder (more on this in a sec)
- Kettle (make water hot!)
- Coffee Mug (duh)
But First, Some Details
Don’t cheap out on the beans. Spend $10–15, or the cost of a few Venti Lattes, and every morning, you’ll thank yourself. Your best bet for high quality, fresh beans is a local coffee shop, especially if they roast their own beans. Freshness makes a difference. Here in San Francisco, I like to get beans from Hearth Coffee Roasters at Brown Owl Coffee. If the dudes at your neighborhood coffee shop are self-involved dicks, Whole Foods usually offers locally sourced, freshly roasted coffee on their shelves. The selection at Trader Joe’s is decent too, but I’ve found freshness to be an issue there.
And since you dropped some coin on these beans, why not store them properly? This means in an air-tight, light-tight vessel at room temperature. I have a ceramic jar that works well. I think it came from Ikea. Oh, and don’t freeze your beans; this encourages condensation to form on the beans, which compromises their freshness and flavor.
Grind the Beans Properly
For this method, you’ll want a grind that is not quite as fine as an espresso grind, but not as chunky as a French Press grind either. Think grains of sand from your favorite beach. There are a few ways to grind coffee; so let’s review:
In the store: Please don’t. When do you think the last time that machine was cleaned, if ever? You just spent more per pound on coffee than Arabian gasoline or bottled water from exotic South Pacific islands. Why bother dropping that kind of dough only to moments later grind it in a machine lined with rancid grounds from 30 other varieties of coffee?
Blade grinder: Most folks who enjoy their coffee start with one of these, because they are cheap and sold everywhere. It’s great for grinding spices too. These things aren’t ideal but they’ll work ok. You want to grind for about 10 seconds, but you’ll have to figure that out for your particular machine. Stop every few seconds so the grinds don’t get overheated by the blades. Pulsing with also help distribute the everything to yield a more even grind.
Conical Burr Grinder: Pretty much the only way to get a consistent, even grind every time. I am fortunate enough to have a wife who thought I was worth $100 last Christmas, so I posses a Capresso 560 Infinity.
Water to Grounds Ratio
Herein lies the fun, a chance for you to experiment and perfect your own technique. I’ll get you started.
James Freeman, founder of Blue Bottle Coffee, likes a 10–1 (ml of water to grams of coffee) mixture. Me, I don’t like my coffee so strong, so I go with something more like 11–1. It’s helpful to know that 1ml of water = 1 gram of water.
Making the magic happen
- Boil the water
Measure out the beans, but don’t grind yet! I’ve been using 28 grams for a while now, but I’m not telling you what to do.
Put your filter in the cone.
- Once the water is boiling, grind those beans! Fresh is best, after all. It’s not like you need to grind your beans exactly 78 seconds before you begin your pour, but it’s good practice to brew as soon after grinding as possible.
- Pre-wet the filter to get that yucky paper taste out!
Grinds go in.
Tare the scale for grinds + filter + dripper + cup. Tare is a fancy way of saying “zero out the scale to get the net weight of the product you are weighing”
- Pour in 60 grams of hot water. If you are pouring straight from the kettle, let it sit for a minute. We are looking for a temp of ~200 F. Or, if you transfer to another vessel (like a glass measuring cup, or my case a Hario Pouring Kettle) the act of transferring will cool the water enough.
- Let the moist grinds sit for 45–60 seconds. 45 seconds for old beans, 60 seconds for fresh beans. But your beans are fresh, right? It’s fine to always do 60 seconds. That’s what I do, but hey, who am I to say how you should spend your precious 15 seconds? Especially if the beans are fresh, you should see bubbles rising up out of the slurry. This is the CO2 off-gassing. This is a pretty important step.
- This next should take you about 2 minutes. Pour water over the grains until the scale reads 310 grams. When pouring, make sure the stream is narrow and as vertical as possible. Move the stream back and forth over the grinds. Some folks suggest pouring in a counterclockwise circle about the size of a half dollar. I dunno. Back and forth works for me.
- Some folks like to stop periodically and stir the slurry vigorously with a spoon. That’s cool too. I can’t say it makes too much of a difference.
Enjoy! Tell me what you think via Twitter or email.
If anyone wants to buy me an Aeropress, I’d be overjoyed. I’ll also review that technique and invite you over for a cup. As long as you aren’t a creep.↩
Oily beans are often a sign of over-roasting or stale coffee.↩