I love coffee, obviously, and for many years I kinda struggled, for no real reason actually, with making a perfect cup of coffee.
My routine was:
- Measure two heaping spoons of whole bean coffee.
- Throw them in the coffee grinder (which eventually I learned was a blade grinder...haha).
- Grind it for what felt was long enough.
- Throw the grounds in the french press.
- Then add boiled water up to about the base of the handle.
I got my caffeine fix, and I guess that's what mattered, but as a person that appreciates good flavors, I was always dissatisfied with the fact that some days I had an awesome cup of coffee, and other days I had a not-awesome cup of coffee.
Eventually, I discovered several tools that really revolutionized my coffee game, and in a way, made me fall deeper in love with coffee. :)
For the beginner coffee enthusiast, these may seem like overkill. I suppose that's why I suggest easing into it. Start with one item and see how it changes the quality of your cup of coffee. Eventually, you'll see that these small and simple steps will make a major difference.
Top of the list, coffee-game changer....drum roll....a food scale.
The biggest favor you can do for yourself is to stop using your soup spoon to measure your coffee! (I feel like I'm yelling at my past self...lol).
A scale allows you to measure how many grams of coffee you use each time you brew, and how many grams of water you add to your coffee grounds (incidentally, those of you who may have taken chemistry will remember that 1 gram of water = 1 mL of water, fact).
With a simple scale, suddenly your cup of coffee is a HUGE step closer towards being consistent. That's because every day you will measure the same mass of coffee (remember: mass is different than weight...thank you high school physics!) and every day you will measure the same amount of hot water. Mind-blowing right?
The next step in improving your brew game will be all about figuring out what ratio of coffee to water you prefer. For every 10 grams of coffee, do you like to add 150 grams of water? More? Less? It's totally up to you, and guess what? You can now fine-tune your recipe because suddenly you are MEASURING, and one of the most important lessons I learned in the corporate world is....you can't manage what you can't measure. Boom.
Here's a list of scales I recommend from most pragmatic to most style points. I'm a scientist by training, so I'm totally cool with the Honda Civic of scales, but others are willing to pay more for aesthetics, which is cool too. To each their own. Note: I will add this. Get a scale with a timer. At some point, you will want to measure your brew times and while you could use the timer on your iPhone, that's so...clunky. Just get the scale with a timer, it doesn't add much to the price, and you'll regret not getting it.
Next on the list of coffee-game changers....drum roll....a burr grinder.
Before I started Triple Coffee, I actually started a coffee club in my neighborhood (shout out to the Marina Coffee Club on Nextdoor...woop woop!). I did that for several reasons, one was to understand the coffee consumer market, and the other was to practice brewing coffee. On a bi-weekly basis, I would get coffee samples from Honduran micro-producers and just brew them for the people in the club. At the time I was using a blade grinder, which eventually I realized was a major mistake. Why was it a mistake? Well, what would happen is that at home I would fine-tune coffee ratios and blade grinder time to find the best brew. But then when it was showtime, I would grind and brew for the club members, and ... the coffee would come out terrible ... and I would get confused and upset because everything was measured and replicated. (lol sorry coffee club friends!!!)
"How a blade grinder works."
Through trial and error, I eventually realized that blade grinders are just super inconsistent. Why though? Well, imagine making paper confetti by swinging two ninja swords in the air as the paper comes down. That's more or less how a blade grinder works. The result is that sometimes your coffee grounds will be small, other times they will be big, and the variation is unpredictable. And with coffee brewing, grind size matters. It matters a lot.
So if you have a blade grinder, but not a scale, definitely get the scale. Eventually, though, you'll find that while the scale has improved your coffee, a burr grinder is the next major missing piece.
Now, the big hesitation with burr grinders is that there are no cheap burr grinders. I mean, there are, but as with most things, price likely correlates with quality, so I would highly hesitate to buy a burr grinder that's less than $50. But if you feel ok with that, go for it! And please let me know how it goes!
On a trip I took to Hawaii, I visited a well respected organic coffee farm and they had a nice little Bodum burr grinder to brew samples for their guests. So I figured, if it's good enough for them, it'll probably be good enough for me. (And it was! ... for a few months anyway.)
Ok here's my list:
The fourth grinder on the list is actually a hand grinder, which means that you have to manually turn a lever to grind your coffee. It seems like more trouble than it's worth, but people swear by it, so that why it's there.
Essentially what I've laid out are the two most important things you can do get closer to brewing a delicious (through measuring) and consistent (through better grinding) cup of coffee. People might say, "hey well, brew method matters too! and I like Chemex, or like Hario or I like blah blah blah." Yes, that's fine. The brew method obviously matters. But I find it a bit backward to get the fancy brew toys when you don't have a scale or a good grinder. It's kinda like having a Ferrari and driving it around the block, speed bumps and all. It's just kinda sad.
So get the scale, then when you're ready, get the grinder, and soon enough, you'll be chasing that perfect cup of coffee.
Bon Appetit, Guten Appetit, Provecho.
I want a ninja sword grinder, haha. Great article Tim. I’m going to use a scale tomorrow and try the measuring approach for a taste comparison to how I normally make my coffee, eyeballing the about of beans and water. I have a Baratza grinder and love it.
Tim!! Did you write this?? It’s awesome!!
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