How to Prepare Specialty Coffee

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The other day I ran into some coffee roasters while walking around town. After chatting it up with the two hard at work there (Kim and Adam), they were nice enough to send me off with a couple serving’s worth of freshly roasted beans to sample. I have been wanting to do an Instructables on coffee for a while and since I said I would get back to them with my thoughts on their efforts, I documented my preparation of it and gave it the fair review it deserves. Maybe this can be an opportunity to document the roasting process on a commercial roaster next (Kim and Adam *hint *hint). I hope to share some of what I’ve learned since entering the world of specialty coffee so that you’ll be prepared to enjoy your gift to the fullest if you ever find yourself in a situation of being given free quality coffee like I did.

Step 1: Gear Needed

Coffee gear can vary widely in cost and complexity. Here I have a pretty common household setup: Some paper filters, a dripper, mug, grinder, kettle, timer and a couple scales. Coffee brewing apparatus can be as simple as a Melitta dripper found in any supermarket to an elaborate contraption such as a siphon. Although high end gear can cost hundreds of dollars, this simple setup can produce consistent results just like any coffee shop.

Gear

Dripper:

Drippers vary in shape which affects the flow pattern and therefore agitation, and flow rate which affects the dwell time. Agitation and dwell time affect flavor, body and bitterness so manipulating these variables affects the outcome. Popular drippers include the Hario V60 and Kalita Wave which are commonly found in coffee shops.

Grinder:

Grinders vary from cheap Porlex clones ~$15 to commercial machines like the Mahlkonig EK43 ~$3k. The Hario Mini Slim I have here (plus version) is highly regarded; I have used cheaper ones and the grinds come out pretty much the same so feel free to try out a cheaper one to save money.

Kettle:

A good kettle is easy to pour and features such as programmable temperatures offer convenience. The Bonavita digital kettle is a popular one because of its function and price. However I find the Hario Buono a better design as I am able to pour more precisely and with less water missing the dripper and getting all over the scale. Although it is missing features like a heater and thermometer, I found that pouring boiling water into it lowers the temperature of the water to precisely the right temperature, 96C as verified by my temperature meter. For those on a budget a kettle is not necessary as I have made excellent coffee pouring from the carafe of a french press. It is a little hard to pour from and may require many trials in determining whether the temperature is right but it can produce excellent results. Another idea worth playing with is stirring the grounds to simulate the agitation caused by the directed flow of a kettle. I find that a chopstick works well but any small spoon will do.

Timer:

A standalone timer convenient but not necessary. The Gralab mechanical timer in the picture is excessive but it is easy to use and adds a bit a charm to my routine. The clock app on smartphones is a popular option. Some scales come with a built in timer so it could be worth the extra money to streamline the process.

Scale:

In the picture is an AWS-100 and a CJ-4000. I use both because the 100 gram one is more accurate for measuring out the beans. However only one scale is needed; the AWS-SC-2kg is a popular one due to its price.

Water (Not Shown, From the Faucet):

Water is a significant determining factor of the final result. The most important factors in water is its hardness and the presence of trace minerals. Try the local tap water (that’s what I do) and if the results are lacking (for example too harsh or too thin) try experimenting with filtered or bottled water.

Coffee Beans (Girma Esetu, Unity Coffee Roasters):

Sourcing quality coffee beans can be the biggest challenge depending on the location. There is likely a roaster close by but since everyone touts their product as the best it can take some trial and error to find out if it is actually any good. Although shipping is the only option for those who reside in areas without a prominent coffee culture, the best way to try a large variety is to visit local coffee shops and sample an array of different origins and roasters. I’ve found that baristas are always glad to strike up a conversation with customers as they are usually passionate about their work and always on the lookout for new patrons. Finding out which friends are avid coffee drinkers is a great way to determine the best spots in town. It is through people I know that I discovered Klatch and Copa Vida. Those are just a couple that are local and consistent in quality but they are by no means the only or best in or around LA as I am sure there are plenty that are comparable or better. For those ordering online and overwhelmed by options, a few roasters worth mentioning are Intelligentsia, Verve, and Heart. At some point Intelligentsia will be mentioned as they are one of the firsts in specialty coffee although some might say their quality has fallen since. A few in my circle are fervent followers of Verve and Heart. I don’t have much experience with any of the three but they’re a great place to start.

Step 2: Weigh the Beans

Measure out the proper quantity of coffee beans. I usually pour it directly into the grinder but any small container works as well. Common values are 15g, 21g and 25g but any quantity that is convenient can be chosen. Just remember the amount of water is dependent on the ratio (I prefer 1:15 to 1:17) so it helps to pick a value that multiplies evenly with the water ratio. I usually make one or two 225 to 250 ml cups with 15 grams of coffee a day.

Step 3: Grind the Beans

Expect to spend a minute or two grinding the beans with a hand grinder. It is important to set the grinder to produce the proper size grind. A coarser grind results in a lighter body while a finer grind tends to bring out the bitterness. Experiment with different settings as even the same model grinder can produce varying results. I leave my grinder set at 8 clicks from the finest setting; this produces excellent results for pourovers.

Step 4: Prepare the Filter

Place the filter in the dripper. I find creasing it where the seam is helps to conform it to the dripper.

Step 5: Fill the Kettle (And Heat It)

If the kettle has a built in heater and control system set it to the desired temperature. If the kettle doesn’t have a control system an option is to set it out until it cools down. I pour boiling water into my room temperature kettle and the water cools down to exactly where I need it to be.

Note: Water temperature significantly influences the brewing process. I have had excellent results at temperatures ranging from 70-96C. The lower end of the range results in a thinner consistency. However it is less bitter so it is a trade off to be made. Experiment with different temperatures as the level of roast has a lot to do how the grounds interact with the water.

Step 6: Rinse the Filter

Rinse the paper filter to get rid of the taste of paper. I do a couple rounds to fully saturate the paper.

Step 7: The Pourover

Fill the Filter with the Coffee Grounds

It is usually not evenly distributed so I pick up the dripper and give it a few shakes to level out the grinds before putting it back down.

Start the Timer

Set the timer for the proper amount of time. 225 ml takes takes about 3 minutes and a larger pour like 360 ml takes around 4 minutes.

Begin the Pourover: The Bloom

Pour some of the water taking care to thoroughly wet the grinds. I use as little water as possible (~50 grams). Let the grinds “bloom.” The bloom assists the extraction of the grounds as the gases (carbon dioxide) are expelled during this phase.

Complete the Pourover

Pour the rest of the water into the dripper agitating the grinds for the duration of the process. I pour in 30 second increments, making outward spirals and pausing to let the water drain. Some people vary the duration and quantity of water to get different results; I have not tried the technique but feel free to give it a shot to see if there are any differences.

Step 8: Enjoy the Coffee

You have successfully brewed a cup of specialty coffee! It should have an intoxicating aroma (I often think of fruits and toasted sugar) and flavor (I’ve tasted all sorts of fruit notes although my favorite is lots of caramel and a subdued bitterness). I lean towards South American origins although I like a nice African origin once in a while. Well roasted African origins remind me of fruit tea due to their delicate nature. Their acidity sometimes packs quite a punch like an unsweetened lemonade.

Overall I enjoyed this particular coffee. I wasn’t able to pick out the cherry cola, vanilla, or lavender notes but the aroma reminded me strongly of matcha and the taste had a hint of toffee which I particularly like. Unfortunately it turned mouth puckering sour when it cooled down which is common for a lighter African roast. As one who likes a consistent character especially when it is no longer warm, I was a little disappointed. Nevertheless it was an excellent example of the origin and one I would gladly purchase a bag of. With the knowledge of how to prepare and to enjoy specialty coffee, hopefully this has started your journey in search for the perfect cup!

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