There are 3 general processes for brewing coffee: full immersion, percolation/gravity fed, and pressurized systems. Each of these processes has subsets of brewing methods and tools that can all create a satisfying coffee brew. In most cases, we support all the different brewing methods available, as each person will have her own favorite. While we intend to slowly build a library of in-depth brewing guides for you, here are some generally applicable pointers for brewing tasty coffee yourself.
Selecting a brewing process:
There are many different methods for brewing coffee, but each of these methods employs one of three basic processes. Choosing the right brewing method is largely based on your personal taste, but each process has some characteristics that make it better suited to brewing a specific style of coffee.
In full immersion brewing, the coffee and water are in full contact with each other for more than a few seconds. People are most familiar with this process through their experience with the French Press and/or cold brew Toddy brew methods. We generally recommend full-immersion for heavier-bodied coffees that feature lots of sweetness.
While the percolator brew method does percolate coffee, the term 'percolation' refers to a liquid moving through a porous substance using gravity. Most people think of this as the standard way to brew coffee, as most home drip machines use this process. In recent years, “pour over” brewing has become popular in the specialty coffee industry, though it is not actually a new innovation at all. We favor drip brewing for coffees that are citrusy, floral, or pleasantly acidic.
The big factor in this process is pressure: lots of it. The normal air we breathe (at sea level) is, by definition, at 1 atmosphere of pressure. The most common pressurized brewing method, espresso, uses at least 9 atmospheres of pressure to push water through a bed of coffee. Pressurized brewing works for any style of coffee, but intensity of flavors (especially acidity) can be drastically different when brewed under pressure, meaning that your favorite coffee for drip brewing might not be to your liking when brewed as espresso.
Elements of coffee brewing:
Whatever combination of coffee and brewing method you choose, there are some fundamental elements of coffee brewing that apply to all of them.
Coffee to water ratio
This ratio determines the strength of the coffee and it is the first thing you'll want to tweak in order to brew coffee you like. We always start each coffee at a brew ratio of 55 grams of coffee (~2 oz) to 1 liter (~35 oz) of water. This is just about a ratio of 1 part coffee to 18 parts water.
Water Quality and Water Composition
Your coffee is mostly water: 95-98% of each cup is water! Thus, you need to have clean, good tasting water. Recommended quality and composition standards do exist for water used in coffee brewing, but these standards are not easy to summarize. If you are interested in them, and we’ll pass them on to you. Or, if you really want to geek out, check out Water for Coffee by Chris Hendon and Maxwell Colonna-Dashwood.
For hot water brewing, the temperature should be in the range of 92-96 °C (195-205 °F). Many electric drip brewers don’t get the water hot enough, so consider an upgrade if yours isn’t producing the correct temperature, which you can measure using a kitchen thermometer.
Appropriate grind setting
The particle size of your coffee depends on your brew method. As a rule of thumb, the longer the water and coffee are in contact, the larger the grind should be. Grind particle size distribution is another factor, but is not well understood... yet.
Filters can be cloth, paper, metal, or even ceramic. Each will have its own effect on the resulting brew, depending on how many oils and fine particulate they remove from the brew. We like all the options and use them to create subtle differences when we're feeling experimental. Pick one that suits your taste and enjoy the results!
Different brewing methods require different levels of skill. Automated batch brewers, for example, require no skill at all, while pulling a perfect shot of espresso on a manual machine might take years of practice. If you're interested in learning more about specific brewing techniques, check out our coffee school!
Tips & Pointers for treating your Specialty coffee right
Ultimately, you are the arbiter of what you like to taste. We provide guidance using our knowledge and experience, but you may discover that these rules of thumb don’t make the kind of coffee you like. Don't worry! Go ahead and tweak them to suit your personal preference.
Don’t keep your coffee warm artificially after it has brewed. The constant heat speeds up normal chemical changes in the coffee (and possibly creates new chemical reactions) that tend to make it bitter and sour. If you want to keep your coffee warm, preheat your mug and/or store the bulk of your brewed coffee in an insulated container.
Drink coffee as close to the roasting date as possible. Fresh coffee is more intense and complex than stale coffee. Ideally, drink up your coffee within 2-4 weeks of when it was roasted. Store it in an airtight container on a shelf or counter. If you feel the need to chill or freeze the coffee for long term storage, ensure that it is stored in an airtight container. This won’t stop the staling but it probably will delay it a bit.
Grind your coffee just before brewing it. The biggest culprits in coffee staling are oxygen in the air interacting with the coffee and aromas in the coffee leaving the coffee. Pre-grinding greatly accelerates staling because the increased surface area let’s more oxygen reach the coffee and creates more sites for aromas to leave. So, while buying coffee pre-ground is convenient, we encourage you to invest in grinding the coffee yourself, on demand.