When you know what flavors you enjoy and understand what creates the taste of coffee, you can probably find those flavors in the cup right in front of you, without adding a single thing. In this short series, we've discussed how origin, process, and roast, and impact the taste of coffee. In today’s post, we’re going to discuss the final step in creating the flavor of your morning cup of coffee, and this step is all up to you.
Your Coffee’s Journey, From Farm to Cup
The journey is almost complete. We’ve talked about where your coffee started, at origin, and the way that origin impacts flavor. Then your coffee went on to be processed, where the elements of flavors from origin were locked in. As your coffee was roasted, flavors from origin were preserved, and now it’s time to talk about your role in extracting all of these flavors, as you brew your coffee!
The Science of Taste
Like most things in your kitchen, there is a science behind how things will ultimately taste. Understanding the science behind coffee is just as important and will ultimately impact the flavors you taste in your morning cup. Let’s dig in a little deeper and look into the science behind brewing coffee.
Despite the choice of brewing method (equipment) you may have, there are four key fundamental elements that ultimately impact flavor. These four elements are freshness, grind, proportions, and water. Adjusting each of these can assist in extracting your optimum flavor, time and time again. Let’s take a look at how each of these four elements can play an important role in the brewing process.
First, is the coffee fresh?
At this point, we’re focusing on the freshness of the roast. The freshest coffee is usually roasted and optimized for freshness within a week to a week and a half, if stored at room temperature. After that, it starts to oxidize (going from fresh to stale) at a fairly steady incremental pace, unless it is stored in a one way valve coffee bag. This one way valve technology in coffee bags has been a huge breakthrough in coffee, allowing roasters to preserve the freshness of roasted coffee, locking in moisture. The enemies of coffee after roast are light, oxygen, and moisture.
You should buy whole bean coffee, and grind your coffee just before serving. The reason for this is that during the roasting process, the molecular structure of the bean has been preserved in such a way that it’s holding tiny little pockets of flavor that will be released as you grind, and extracted as you pour. Those flavors will fade if the coffee is then stored after being ground.
There’s a misconception about roast dates. Roasters put roast dates or best before dates, but coffee does not necessarily expire as the term suggests...it does however get stale and flat. When a coffee is roasted, there's a lot of chemical processes that are happening, and to maximize those bursts of flavor that are locked into the bean, it's important to know that these air pockets last as long as you grind fresh roasted coffee and brew right away.
How am I going to grind it?
Every brewing method has a different grind requirement. A rule of thumb is, the shorter the brew time your equipment needs, the finer the grind. For example, a 14 second espresso shot requires the finest grind. Conversely, a French Press requires 4 min of steeping, so the grind is a lot coarser.
What’s the proportion of water to coffee?
Next, it’s important to find the right proportion of water to ground coffee. This makes or breaks your coffee! When coffee is roasted, depending on the type of roast, the weight of the coffee can vary. Because of this, it’s very difficult to give an accurate coffee/water ratio based on simple measuring. Just as professional bakers weigh their flour rather than scoop it in a measuring cup , coffee is best weighed rather than simply scooped in a pre-measured spoon. A simple rule of thumb is a 1:16 ratio or 1 gram of ground coffee to 16 grams of water. Weighing out your coffee on a simple kitchen scale will provide you the most accurate proportions. Once you’ve figured out how much coffee you want to brew, you may find it helpful to write down your different coffee/water ratio proportions for future reference. You may find, during your first few attempts at brewing using the weighting method, that using a measurement conversion app is helpful. For those who don’t have a kitchen scale, a good ratio to remember is 1:4 or 1 tablespoon of coffee for every 4 ounces of water.
Some people confuse the result of strong or weak coffee with proportions, when in fact they’ve simply not brewed their coffee long enough, or brewed it for too much time. Time is also an element of optimizing coffee flavor, because the time water and coffee are together result in the strength of your coffee.
What Type of Water should I use?
A cup of coffee is 98-99% water. That shows you just how important water is to good tasting coffee. You can’t underestimate your water, it should taste clean and fresh and free of impurities.
Some water is highly ionized, some has high alkaline, so the PH of water can affect the PH and taste of your coffee. Most coffee shops use water purifiers, which purify the water but don’t remove all the natural elements. This is important because the natural elements in water play key roles in the extraction of flavor. It’s not good to use bottled water because some of those natural elements are removed.
But, it’s not just the type of water that matters. The temperature is also very important. To receive pure range of extraction, your water needs to be at least just off of boil, which is a little over 90 degrees Fahrenheit. If it's not over a boil, then it's not hot enough to break the molecular structure of coffee's molecules that are holding on to dear life. They will hold on to the last degree and won't expose themselves and you'll be missing out on the flavor if your water is about 80 degrees. So make sure to heat your water to the right temperature.
We set ours to 190-202. If it’s too hot, then it will scorch the flavors and not give them time to extract, you’re speeding up to expose the well done like a steak that’s well done on the outside and raw in the middle.
The Last Mile
We hope you’ve enjoyed this journey from origin, to processing, to your cup. We hope you've gained an appreciation for the work that farmers put into preserving the flavors at origin, and how those flavors are stewarded throughout the process. As we’ve walked through the different elements that impact the taste of coffee we hope you have the tools to start to find coffees whose natural taste you enjoy. There’s no harm in a little cream and sugar, but we want to challenge you to taste the natural flavors the farmer has captured for you at origin, that have been preserved and enhanced through your coffee’s journey to your kitchen. We think you’ll love what you discover. If you're looking for a place to start, try our Founder's Series Coffee. It's a single origin, medium roast, coffee from Rwanda.