The Holiday Season is upon us. For many of us, that means traveling to visit family and friends. For baristas, chances are good we’ll be waking up early and brewing them coffee once we get there.

What do baristas do differently that makes our coffee taste so good?

Better yet, what can we all do to make better coffee at home too?

Read on, dear friends…

What makes coffee taste so good?

A roasted coffee bean is a treasure chest full of flavorful sugars, aromatics, acids and oils. The goal of brewing is to unlock the best of those flavors and dissolve them into a delicious and drinkable form.

Baristas know that brewing good coffee at home requires good ingredients, the right tools, and an understanding of the brewing essentials.

What are the brewing essentials?

When we brew coffee, we’re putting the process of extraction to work. Water does the heavy lifting. It dissolves flavoring solids, breaking the bigger molecules down, and then helping them diffuse out of the coffee grounds and into our mugs. A good barista fine tunes the flavor of their brew by controlling this extraction.

The coffee bean may be a treasure chest, but not all the flavors inside are treasures. Fortunately, different flavors extract at different rates and less desirable flavors tend to extract more slowly. Our goal is to pull out as many of the tasty flavors as possible before things start to go wrong.

How do we control the extraction to accomplish this?

Seven elements of the brewing process, the brewing essentials, can help us achieve that deliciousness. Today, we’ll consider two important and closely-linked elements: grind setting and brewing time.

The Grind and why it’s so important.

Imagine we’re flavoring solids enjoying a concert at The Grind Auditorium with thousands of our closest friends. As the show finishes, everyone’s nicely dissolved and ready to head to the afterparty. First, though, we need to diffuse our way out of the venue (preferably leaving some of the more obnoxious flavors in the room behind).

Who will make it to the afterparty before the Mug Club reaches capacity?

That depends largely on two factors: our distance to the nearest exit and the time we have to get there. If The Grind has opened an exit in our section, we can exit quickly. If only the more distant main doors are open, though, it will take a while for all of us to make our way outside.

Extraction is similar. The smaller the ground coffee particle, the closer the exits and the faster the extraction occurs. Conversely, the larger the particle, the longer it takes for extraction to happen.

Fortunately, managing grind particle size is easy if you use a high-quality burr grinder.

What about time?

A given particle size has an ideal contact time; the amount of time water is in contact with the ground coffee determines the amount and quality of coffee flavoring solids extracted. Too short for the particle size and you leave flavor behind yielding a sour, underextracted cup. Too long and those unpleasant flavors start to show up, turning our party harsh, bitter, and overextracted.

Understanding these two brewing essentials can help us control the extraction by matching grind setting and brewing time.

While drip brewers do let you control how quickly water is being poured over the coffee grounds, the coffee bed’s resistance determines how quickly that water drains out. This means your total brewing time can’t be directly controlled.

What to do?

An encore at The Grind.

Water drains more quickly through coarser ground coffee and more slowly through finer ground. That means changing grind setting affects the results in two ways: by changing the speed of the extraction process AND influencing the total brew time.

That’s why controlling grind is the easiest and most effective way to fine tune your drip brewing process.

I usually start with the grinder setting recommended by the Dilworth Coffee Brewing Guides, brew a batch, and taste the results. If the coffee tastes bitter and brewing took longer than recommended, I’ll try again with a slightly coarser grind. If it tastes thin and sour and the time was too fast, I’ll use a slightly finer grind.

Let those barista guests sleep in!

With the right combination of grind setting and brewing time, you can manage your extraction like a professional and unlock those tasty flavors for yourself. Just make sure to save them a cup, I hear that show at The Grind went pretty late.

To learn even more about the brewing essentials check out next week’s edition of Barista at Home: Coffee Brewing Gear. Can’t wait that long? Contact Brady Butler at 866-849-1682.

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