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Coffee 101: How To Refine The Taste Of Your Cup Of Joe

Coffee 101: How To Refine The Taste Of Your Cup Of Joe main image

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The beauty of brewing coffee at home with a manual coffee maker is that you can make your favourite drink exactly the way you want it. You’re in control, which means you have the opportunity to refine and perfect the taste of every cup. So, how can you ensure that once the brewing process is complete you’ll be drinking the coffee of your dreams?

Coffee’s Three Key Attributes

When you brew coffee, you’re making a drink with three main attributes: acidity (an invigorating, sparkling ‘brightness’ and fruitiness), bitterness (a pleasing contrast to the acidity) and body (how the coffee feels – light, heavy or smooth – in your mouth). Lightly roasted coffee beans are usually hard. The harder the beans, the more acidity they’re likely to possess. Darker roasted beans are usually soft. The softer the beans, the more bitterness they’re likely to possess and the more body they can provide.

Processing Beans Affects Their Flavour

The way your beans have been processed also has an impact on their characteristics. The natural processing method involves leaving the beans inside the coffee cherries as they dry. Beans processed in this way yield plenty of fruity, sweet notes and body. Honey-processed beans are dried surrounded by a very thin layer of the cherries (known as the mucilage) and so their sweetness is less pronounced.
By contrast, the cherries are removed entirely from washed beans before they’re dried. Choose this processing method when you want a ‘cleaner’, clearer coffee flavour.
It’s also worth paying attention to the variety of beans you purchase. Arabica beans have a reputation for being much better quality than the other major variety, Robusta beans.

Hard Water Is Best When Brewing Coffee

Adding water to ground coffee draws out the qualities of the particular beans you’re using. Numerous flavour and aroma compounds are released and gradually spread through the water. Coffee experts refer to this process as ‘extraction’. Hard water, with its high mineral content, is regarded as the best kind to use when brewing coffee. That’s because it’s better at extracting the crucial compounds than soft water. If you’re dissatisfied with your tap water, you may find that switching to filtered or bottled water gives your coffee a new lease of life.

Top tip: When using freshly roasted beans, always let your coffee ‘bloom’ to avoid poor extraction and sourness. Simply dampen the ground coffee, wait for about 30 seconds while carbon dioxide bubbles escape, and then continue to pour the water.

The Right Ratio of Beans to Water

The number of flavour and aroma compounds extracted, as well as the speed at which they’re extracted, is influenced by the amounts of ground coffee and water you use. As a general guide, we suggest using one scoop or tablespoon of ground coffee and 4 oz./125 ml water for each cup you wish to make. Bear in mind that different compounds are released at different points in the brewing process. Fruity acids are extracted first, followed by sweet notes and finally bitter notes. That’s why under-extracted coffee tastes sour and over-extracted coffee is too bitter.

Other Key Factors in the Extraction Process

Having the right ratio of ground coffee to water will help to bring out the best in your beans. In addition, three other factors exert a considerable influence on extraction.

Grind Size

The more coarsely beans are ground, the slower the rate of extraction and so the more pronounced your coffee’s fruity acidity will be. A coarse grind can help you to avoid excessive bitterness when using dark roasted beans, as their compounds are released faster than those of lightly roasted beans. If you’re not keen on coffee’s acidic notes, grinding beans finely will help.

Water Temperature

When the water you use is particularly hot (93°C to 97°C), the flavour and aroma compounds are extracted quickly. In addition, very hot water helps you to make the most of the beans’ fruity acidity.
Brew with slightly cooler water (85°C to 93°C) to reduce both the speed of extraction and bitterness.

Brewing Time

The longer the water is in contact with the ground coffee, the greater the number of compounds that will be extracted. The optimum brewing time leads to coffee with a well-balanced flavour profile (that is, neither excessively acidic nor excessively bitter). When using Bodum coffee makers, we recommend brewing for approximately four minutes.

Refine the Taste to Reach the Sweet Spot

By experimenting with different kinds of beans and water, as well as different ratios, grind sizes, water temperatures and brewing times, you’ll discover what works best for you. Keep refining the taste of your coffee and soon enough you’ll hit the ‘sweet spot’: the point at which the flavour profile and feel of each sip perfectly matches your preferences.

As coffee lovers ourselves, we believe that the answer is to go back to basics (a ‘coffee 101’, so to speak). By exploring what happens when you combine water and beans, as well as familiarising yourself with the factors that influence coffee extraction, you can create and enjoy a beverage that reflects your personal preferences.

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