Tag Archives: coffee

4 steps to perfecting your pour-over.

Are you one of the thousands of people that have upped their home brewing coffee game? coffee brewerPour overs, Aeropress and so many other single cup brew methods have invaded kitchens across Canada.

Recently we did a post about how to have a better coffee experience. This was more about getting you into a mental state prior to cupping or drinking coffee.

Today I want to talk more about the technical side of how to brew a quality pour-over at home consistently.

However you approach your brewing, you want to make sure it is replicable. When you’re playing with variables, make sure your consistent with what variable you are changing.

Here are the top 4 steps to monitor:

Agitation – are you pulsating your water doses as you get to your desired weight? If so, how much and how often?

Stirring – are you stirring the coffee at the bloom or once you’ve hit your water weight?

Particle size – Are you adjusting your coffee particle size according to the amount of coffee you’re brewing? Are you keeping it consistent?

Temperature – have you played around with brewing your coffee one or two degrees hotter or cooler?

Isolating variables will help you pin point how an action affects outcome and if it was a desirable outcome or not. By isolating the variables you can replicate the results next time you brew.

I hope this helps you get a better cup every morning and give you a better day every week.


3 things you can do to have a better coffee experience.

I have had the opportunity to introduce many people to their first cup of great coffee. I have 

Photo credit: Joe Driscoll, http://goo.gl/7E83X6

Photo credit: Joe Driscoll

been a part of hosting and attending many cuppings from California to Canada. A few months ago the government of Chiapas, Mexico covered all expenses to have me meet with farmers and cooperatives in Chiapas and to be a part of that years coffee cupping competition to rate the best coffee coming out of Chiapas.

Just yesterday I hosted a cupping in Toronto which got me thinking I need to write a blog about how people experience their first cup of great coffee.

The thing is, there is something I experience every time I’m at a cupping table. I admit that it’s my fault, I should probably have created a better explanation on how to approach taste, or I should respect the moments prior to the cupping to get people in the right frame of mind. You can’t just throw people into the “cupping ring” and expect them to come out unharmed. The thing that happens almost every single time I take people in unprepared is at least one individual comes out thinking they hate great coffee!

It’s mind boggling  absurd! And years ago I even thought slightly offensive. Disgusting!? Tea like!? Doesn’t taste like coffee!? Listen to yourself. It’s coffee, in fact its great coffee! (I don’t know about you, but I find great humour in this!)

So I think it’s time I work through my pre-cupping routine, and we’ll do it together as I’m still hashing this out and haven’t tried it on “subjects”. I think both I, and the participants will come out better for it.

3 things you must do before you experience great coffee:

–       Define what constitutes “great”?

When we’re drinking great wine or eating great food we approach it with a different state of mind. We want the experience of grandiose flavors. Does the steak make me want to throw ketchup on it? Maybe it’s just ground beef.

–       Flavor and aromatics are King and Queen.

Exemplary flavor = Sweet, balanced acidity, clean, well-developed body and phenomenal aromatics. Use the tools at your disposal; nose, taste, feel.

What does it smell like? How does that smell alter or complement the taste? How does it feel? Is the weight in your mouth heavier like milk, or lighter like water?

–       Put your preferences on hold.

We tend to approach everything in life through the lens of our culture. Food and drink is no exception. If you grew up with bland food and coffee, chances are you want to neutralize and are put off by any thing that has flavor. Try to put preferences aside as much as possible and approach the coffee by concentrating on what you’re smelling and tasting and not thinking about if you enjoy it or not. 

See how taking 5 – 10 minutes prior to cupping and going through these steps changes your outcome on the experience.

I can already see that when I’m going into a coffee cupping, before my mind and mouth are prepared I get much less value out of the experience. 

It’s ok to dislike certain coffees, foods and wines; the important part is knowing why you dislike them. This will help in your purchasing decisions and you’ll grow by leaps and bounds in knowing your likes and dislikes.

And because your taste buds are on 10 day to two week cycles, you might actually start enjoying that coffee you hated two weeks ago. 

When Adding Salt To Your Coffee Is A Good Idea.

I remember my grandma putting salt in her coffee bed before brewing. This was many years 

This is not my grandma. :)

This is not my grandma.

before I drank or even thought about coffee. I never knew why she did that but it turns out that many people add salt to their coffee to reduce bitterness.

Since being in the coffee business, from time to time I still hear about people putting salt in their coffee.

So when should you add salt to your coffee? 

People add salt to their coffee to reduce bitterness. The sodium ion interferes with the transduction mechanism of bitter taste. But interestingly enough, the reasons behind this are not fully understood.

A study done at the University of Munich revealed that bitterness is extracted at the end of a brewing cycle. Over extracted coffee will comprise of more bitter compounds. Also, coffees that are brewed at really high temperatures or high pressure (like espresso.) This is because bitter tasting compounds are less soluble than others.

Caffeine it self is a bitter compound but not the main bitter compound in coffee.

As a blurb on our last blog, the darker the roast of the coffee the more bitter it will become.

Chlorogenic acids are highly present in light to medium roasted coffees, as you roast longer and darker higher levels of phenylindanes emerge by breaking down the chlorogenic acids. These phenylindanes cause a more lingering harsh taste in your mouth.

So the longer you roast the coffee the harsher it seems to get. But getting rid of bitterness in your cup is not isolated to the roast profile.

Some experiments done by a wine connoisseur revealed positive results in reducing bitterness in his coffee and espresso when putting a pinch of salt into the basket. It did however alter the taste of the coffee, it did not taste salty, but it lost some desirable qualities he was getting from the coffee on the brews done before salt was added. Adding salt to coffee is done differently in different cultures. For instance:

–       In northern Sweden there is a tradition of serving cured ham and other meats with their coffee this is believed to produce the same outcome of reducing the bitterness of the coffee.

–       In costal areas where fresh water mixes with salt sea, people are known to simply use that water for brewing coffee.

–       In Ethiopia it is common to serve salted popcorn with coffee.

A study done by P.A.S. Breslin and G.K. Beauchamp in the Oxford Journals showed that there was no consistent degree of bitterness suppression from salt in coffee. Which means that adding more salt won’t necessarily convert into less bitterness.

Salt can do a lot for poor coffee beans, poor roasting and poor brewing.

If you happen to get and consume good coffee, you’ll be doing yourself a big disservice by adding salt to your coffee. (Tweet This!)

 As my chef friend would say – “Ketchup is used to cover up bad cooking.”

On the left we have specialty grade coffee. On the right, your "bargain" coffee brand.

On the left we have specialty grade coffee. On the right, your “bargain” coffee brand.

If you’d like to read up on a few other experiments about molecular gastronomy,  check out, Tasting Salt With Coffee by Tim Windelboe and Martin Lersch.

Alchemy – Inner secrets of coffee.

Coffee goes through many changes from seedling to the displaced gasses that you’re drinking in

Chlorogenic Acid

Chlorogenic Acid

your cup, but according to thermodynamics, “matter is neither created or destroyed, but simply changes form.” Today we want to touch on alchemy as one of coffees top secrets. 

Side note: I’m currently drinking coffee from kong  (near Yirga Cheffe) Ethiopia. Yum.    

Coffee plants produce lots of organic acids and other compounds in their lifetime. (“Organic acids” are any acids that contain carbon in their molecular structure.) (Check out the Calvin CycleAll of which remain trapped inside the bean at harvest.

As we know, altitude plays a big role in physical characteristics such as bean size and density but it also alters the chemical composition. Higher altitudes tend to produce higher perceived acidity.

For every 100 meters gained in altitude we can expect 0.60 degrees Celsius drop in temperature and for every 300 meters – 10 percent increase in sugar production (sucrose.) Which equals higher acidity.

For countries that lack the elevation necessary to maximize the beans potential they rely heavily on shade to slow down the speed in which it takes the plant to reach ripeness, increasing sugar production and ultimately cup quality.

Arabica contains almost twice the amount of sucrose as Robusta.

Roasting plays a very important role and is responsible for the amount of perceived acidity and sweetness that you experience in the cup.

Chlorogenic acids amount for the majority of organic acid found in coffee. Making up about seven percent for Arabica and ten percent for Robusta. Although it might not appear to be much, the relative content to caffeine is about eight times higher.

During a Medium roast, almost half of the chlorogenic acid is decomposed, where as in a Dark roast we experience about an 80 percent loss. The chlorogenic acid that is decomposed is used in the production of quinic acid. The acid that is responsible for giving you a bigger mouth feel and higher astringency (dry mouth.)

So the darker you take your roast, the more sweetness and perceived acidity you will lose and the higher mouth feel and astringency you will gain.
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – Are you looking to taste more, or feel more? Your preference will guide you.



3 common misconceptions on espresso.

What is espresso? Is it some bitter jolt of caffeine, or something new and trendy?

In this article we will cover 3 of the most common misconceptions with espresso.

1)   Espresso is a type of bean.
2)   Espresso is a type of blend.
3)   Espresso is a type of roast.

The finger could be pointed in many directions, inaccurate marketing by coffee chains and grocery stores, or in word of mouth terminology as those ever popular “chocolate covered espresso beans.”

If you ever get the privilege to travel to a coffee farm and experience the beauty of the coffee farming process you’ll quickly discover that the trees look quite similar. Sure, there may be some different varietals on the farm but one thing you will not notice are trees labeled, “drip”, “aeropress”, “syphon pot”, “espresso”… and so on.

This may sound slightly ridiculous. You may think this is obvious information, but it is humorous how many people would rather choose a large cup of coffee rather than an espresso based drink assuming that it is from a different bean and has different chemical composition.

There is some truth in that some companies choose to make some espresso blends. These blends are often used to try to “tame” the coffee and are often easier to work with that single origin espressos (SOE). The problem doesn’t lie in that so much, as in the belief that you can’t use anything than an espresso blend to brew espresso with, or espresso beans.

Espresso roast, this unfortunately would be poor marketing on behalf of coffee companies. I have a strong belief that many coffee companies thrive on keeping the general public uneducated. The less they know, the less they’ll question us. Unfortunately this causes us to dumb down one of the worlds most complex products.

You can use any roast profile you desire to brew espresso with. You might find that you’ll need to adjust your brewing parameters to compensate for the roast, but if you’re using a good coffee, you should be getting a good result. Contrary to popular belief, a dark oily bean is not a good sign. This is a sign that the coffee bean is over roasted or past it’s prime and the cell walls have begun to be compromised and they are starting to release the oils (the aroma and flavor) that you’re trying to get out of it while brewing.

Take away; If you’re fortunate enough to have an espresso machine at home, try to use the same coffee through it as you would use for your drip brewer and think about the differences in taste that each brew method brings to the table.

Why adding less grinds doesn’t equal weaker coffee.

Rarely does a day go by that I don’t hear about using less grinds to make the coffee 

brewchartweaker. This does have its place, and if your ratios are correct an often overlooked aspect is if you are using the proper grind consistency for the brew method of choice, or if your water is at the proper brewing temperature.

In this article I’d like to touch on;

How extraction works?
What is proper extraction?
How to properly extract, and get weaker coffee!

How extraction works;

Coffee extraction occurs in two stages. First the water contacts the grounds, which rapidly washes away at the coffee solids and displaces the gases. Secondly, the coffee absorbs water and swells which drives off the carbon dioxide where the volatile aromas are trapped within the grounds and migrate into the liquid by diffusion.
Roughly half of your extraction occurs almost immediately.

Rate of extraction is determined by ground size (how fine you grind), water temperature, agitation, and brewing ratio (percentage of coffee to water)

So lets assume we have the least amount of variables possible. Our coffee has the proper and consistent grind for the brew method we are using, our coffee is fresh, our brewer is dispersing water evenly across all the grounds, and our water temperature is stable and consistent (in volume). Our only variable is how much coffee we are using.

What is proper extraction?

Most coffee associations including Norwegian, Europe, and American recommend an 18%-22% extraction. Simply put I would suggest beginning with a 1:17 ratio. Measuring both the coffee and the water by mass. In other words, using 1 gram of coffee for every 17 grams of water. In this range you have the highest chance to maximize sweetness and minimize bitterness.

If we are using less coffee for the same amount of water we are allowing longer contact time and the coffee will gradually increase in bitterness. In the first half of your brew, you are extracting acids and sugars, as your brew continues and all your sugars and acids have been extracted, all that remains to be extracted from the coffee are it’s bitter components.

So how do I properly extract and get weaker coffee!?

The key word is dilution.
It is ok if you find coffee brewed at a 1:17 ratio still to strong. You do have some flexibility, trying going down a little in your coffee weight, but don’t stray from it to far. It is far more beneficial to brew at the proper rate and add hot water to your already brewed coffee after. This way you can extract the oils out of the coffee allowing for a well-balanced cup and simply dilute it to your desired strength. This will preserve the flavor more and result in a more enjoyable cup.

What are other ways you have successfully brewed coffee for people who like it “weaker”?

Coffee Processing: Part 2

Last week we touched on coffee picking, the parts of coffee as well as processing methods. If Coffee Picking.you’d like to check that out click here. I like to keep the posts shorter in length so instead of diving into coffee processing methods in that post, we’re going to get into it this week.

The three methods used worldwide are:

The washed method. (or wet)
The dried method. (or natural)
The pulped natural method. (or semi-dried)

After picking and selecting the ripest cherries, the producers need to be in full control of their cherry-to-green-bean process, whether it is fully washed, dried natural or semi-dry. The moisture content of the ripe fruit generally does
not exceed 65 percent. The key is to extract the beans from the cherry and to dry the fruit to a maximum water content of 12 percent, which allows the preservation of the bean.

Washed Method.
At least 50 percent of all coffee in the world is processed wet, and for most specialty coffee producing countries this is the preferred processing style. During the wet process, the pulp, including the pulp and the parchment are mechanically removed with a coffee pulper. The remaining mucilage, which sticks to the parchment, must also be removed before drying. This can be accomplished in two ways: by fermenting the parchment beans (dry or in water) or by removing the mucilage mechanically.
Washed coffee is generally cleaner and more consistent flavor.

Dried Method.
The sun-dried process is generally used in areas with little or no access to water and countries like Brazil and Ethiopia rely heavily on this processing style. Often, the sun-dried process is used in combination with non-selective picking methods or in countries (like Brazil) where coffee cherries are harvested mechanically. In this processing style the entire cherry is dried, sometimes on elevated “African beds” in the sun and often on the open soil. Once sufficiently dried, the entire hull is removed mechanically to reveal the green beans.
Dried coffees generally has a heavier body and is more complex.

Pulped Natural Method.
The semi-dry process, involves fewer steps. The cherry is pulped with a slightly different pulper as in the wet process. Instead of removing the mucilage after pulping, it is dried together with the parchment. During the final step, the dry parchment is hulled and graded. Specialty semi- dried coffee can be found in Brazil, Ethiopia, Sumatra and Costa Rica. Currently, producers around the world are experimenting with this process, specifically because of the benefits it offers for the espresso preparation method (less acidity, more body and more sweetness).
Semi-dry coffees generally produce a very natural flavor ranging from extremely sweet and fruity, to harsh and pungent.