3 Elements of Great Coffee
Updated: Feb 14, 2022
Water + Beans + Brew Method
Three elements go into making your great cup of coffee and all three must be done well to achieve a superb result.
Its 98% of what is in your cup. Much attention is given to selecting great coffee beans or choosing your favorite brew method. But when it comes to water many just go to the nearest water tap and fill up.
Municipal water providers will ensure that tap water is within safe standards for drinking. But that water may have wide variation, within safe standards, on things like chlorine, fluoride, mineral content, etc... And each area will have its own unique content depending on local factors and where the water is sourced. The composition of water used to brew your coffee will have a direct impact on extraction from your coffee and determine the resulting taste in your cup.
Ever wonder why the beans you bought from the café where you had a great cup of coffee don't seem to taste the same when brewed at home? Cafes will pull water from the local municipal water supply, but will run it through a softener, reverse osmosis, and remineralization before it is used for brewing. This process strips the water of everything in it and adds back just what is needed for perfect coffee brewing.
So how can you get good water for coffee at home?
Copy the cafes. At home you can get a small version of what cafes use with an under-sink reverse osmosis and remineralization set up. This can cost a bit up-front but can quickly pay for itself if you use a lot of water for coffee. Plus, it gives great water for drinking, cooking and other around home uses.
Make you own coffee water. A lower cost and very effective option is to use a gallon jug of distilled water and add a packet of Third Wave Water. Packets come in premeasured amounts to be added to 1 or 5 gallons of distilled water. Distilled water has nothing in it and each Third Wave Water packet has the exact amount of minerals required for perfect brewing. Total cost is about $2 for a gallon of perfect brewing water.
If you primarily use an automatic drip brewer at home, you may have noticed how quickly it gunks up with mineral deposits and may stop working altogether. Either of the above options will help keep your machine running clean and significantly increase its life span saving you money on replacing broken brewers.
What about while traveling, how can you get great brewing water?
Bringing gallons of water from home probably is not a realistic option unless you are on a road trip. So bottled water is the most practical option. You may have noticed, however that not all bottled water is the same. The Specialty Coffee Association lists the following parameters for perfect coffee brewing water. When choosing a bottled water, you would want to find something as close to these as possible. Several companies publish this info on their labels.
Ok, nice science, but what is the practical version of this when buying water at the store? Many bottles of drinking water and spring water will be close to these standards. Look for something that has a neutral pH (close to 7) and was distilled with minerals added for taste. That should at least get you in the ballpark.
Freshness - Peak between 2-14 days, use by 30 days.
Coffee is very shelf stable but just like every other food product its freshness diminishes over time. After coffee beans are roasted, they emit or off-gas carbon dioxide which carries with it the enjoyable aromatic compounds of the coffee. This off-gassing will be highest immediately after roasting and taper off over about 30 days at which point, they become stale. Peak freshness for brewing is between 2 to 14 days after roasting when off-gassing has calmed slightly but the coffee still contains a lot of flavor. Because roasting breaks down the cellular structure of the bean, darker roasted beans will off-gas more rapidly and become stale sooner. Good coffee roasters will always print the ‘roasted on’ date on their bag. Always look for that date when you shop.
*Pro-Tip: If you buy your coffee at the supermarket, next time you are there look for “roasted on” dates on the bags. You probably won’t find them on most coffees. Why? Because they are old. Most supermarket coffee does not make it to the shelf for sale until a month or more after roasting.
Grinding coffee also breaks down the bean further and exposes more surface area causing rapid staling. For the freshest coffee it is recommended to grind immediately before brewing.
Flavor – Personal preference: flavors of the bean or flavors of the roast
Like wine, every coffee bean will have a unique flavor profile imparted on it by the terroir in which it was grown. General flavors are often attributed to countries or regions in which coffee is grown, such as chocolate flavors from Central and South American coffees or light and fruity notes from African coffees. These flavors profiles, however, can be extremely unique and individualized all the way down to the particular plot on the farm on which they were grown. Roasting coffee is much like cooking any other food product; cook it lightly and you will preserve the original flavors, cook it well done and you will taste more of the cooking process. Roasting coffee lightly will preserve more of the original flavors found in the beans, whereas darker roasted beans will have more of the burnt flavors. Which you choose to drink is up to your personal taste preferences.
Grind Size – Match to brew method
Brewing espresso requires a fine grind whereas a French press uses a very coarse grind. Brewing is all about extraction and the exposed surface area of the bean (grind size) is a major factor. For freshness and proper extraction its recommended to grind immediately before brewing to the proper grind size for your brew method. Most pre-ground coffee is done to a middle-of-the-road size usually suitable to drip or pour over brew methods. Choose your brew method or coffee grind size accordingly.
There are a million ways to mix coffee and water from simple to geek. Getting a good cup of coffee is all about controlling extraction of the right amounts of the desired flavor compounds in the beans. Which brewing method you choose is personal preference and making sure your chosen method is done correctly.
Drip / Pour Over
Pouring water over coffee grounds contained in a basket and filter. Drip coffee is probably the most familiar method as this is the operating method of every coffee machine sitting on a kitchen counter. In recent years pour overs have been come a popular preparation method. Pour overs follow the same concept as a drip coffee maker expect the user pours water from a kettle by hand instead of the machine. Coffee extraction, and the taste in your cup, is influenced by water flow rate and agitation. Unless you get a high-end drip coffee maker, most automatic machines do a poor to margin job at this function. Pouring by hand with a gooseneck kettle allows the user to control these variables with better accuracy and produce a better cup of coffee.
Mixing coffee and hot water for a set amount of time, at which point the drinkable liquid is separate from the grounds. The original preparation from the middle east involved very finely ground coffee boiled in small pots with the liquid poured off while the ground settled to the bottom. Many people are familiar with this method in the form of the French Press; where the ground and water steep for several minutes before pressing down a plunger to push the grounds to the bottom and pouring the liquid into your cup.
Finely ground coffee extracted in small volumes under high pressure, 130 psi or 9 atmospheres of pressure, in about 30 seconds. A good quality espresso machine is needed to produce true espresso; however, at-home and travel alternatives like the Moka Pot and AeroPress with Fellow Prismo attachment can produce similar results at much more affordable prices.
Coarsely ground coffee mixed with room-temp or ice water and allowed to steep from 12 to 24 hours at which point the coffee is filtered from the grounds. This will produce a coffee concentrate that can be consumed straight, used as an espresso substitute in drinks like iced lattes or diluted to normal coffee strength. Steeping process will produce coffee that is less acidic and smoother that brewed coffee.
Getting your great cup of coffee
Takeoff Coffee Company is dedicated to helping you get a great cup of coffee at home or wherever your travels take you. There is a dizzying array of coffee preparation options out there, but we are using our years of experience to curate the best of the best here on our website. All our products have accompanying recipes and education guides to make it easy to get a great cup of coffee anywhere.
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