A garden hidden in the forest, a tropical fruit grove, exotic spices, and rich chocolate – yes, these are all the notes your local barista can bring to your nose when they make a good pour-over coffee.
Now you are wondering: how come each time I brew it is never as good as they make it in the shop? Of course, you bought their beans, and they made it right in front of you, but why it tastes so sour? Or why is it so astringent and bitter? Or you may wonder where did that beautiful purple bell smell went? This is not the “sorry, it’s not you, it’s me” moment with your coffee beans, before you give up on it, let us try to improve your relationship with your coffee. So you may brew a cup of coffee that you would love, anywhere.
Lesson 1: How old is your coffee?
Unfortunately, coffee is better when they are young. I mean…look at Kevin Costner, beauty doesn’t last forever, and neither is the freshness of your coffee.
You should always look for the roast date on the coffee bag. If it is within a month between now and the roast date, you should have no problem using this coffee. If it is more than 90 days since the roast, I would approach this with caution. The older beans will start to have that stale taste, or maybe even oily rubber smell.
Lesson 2: How did you grind your beans?
If your grind looks something like this pile to uneven mess above, then you are going to have a hard time drinking your coffee. You will need to grind your coffee like this image below.
The grains of your grind should resemble the size of brown sugar. And you may ask why should you do this?
Imagine putting whole coffee beans in your filter cone and pouring hot water over it, and imagine what that will taste like? Nothing, that is what you will taste. The more surface area exposed during the brewing process, the more you flavor you will extract out of the coffee. But trust me for now, don’t grind too fine, that way your pour-over will likely extract the bitter/unpleasantly sour taste out of the coffee. If you grind it finer than salt, then that’s for good for espresso, usually not for pour-over.
Now you might be asking, but Matt, my grinder is a blade grinder, and it only grinds things into fine flour-like powder, is there a way for me to achieve the brown sugar consistency? Well, we actually have a solution for that in a future article called I Love My Blade Grinder but I Also Love Filter Coffee, What Should I do.
For now, let’s just assume you have a burr grinder and you have achieved this brown sugar grind, and we are moving on to the next portion.
Lesson 3: Water, Water, and Water
Use mineral water. The calcium and magnesium content in mineral water will help you extract the best kind of flavors out of your coffee. If you are using distilled water that is without minerals, that coffee will very likely taste more bitter than using mineral water.
Use ratios to decide how strong you would want your coffee. In general, it’s best to start with a 1:17 coffee to water ratio. Such that if the coffee weighs 10 grams, use 170ml of water to brew it with.
Use a thermometer.
Water temperature is the key to unlocking the fullest potential of the coffee. You will need a thermometer for your kettle, it’s usually super affordable and you can get it at almost any online shopping sites. Your thermometer should read between 88-95 degrees Celsius or 190-203 degrees Fahrenheit when pouring.
Lesson 4: The Pour Doesn’t Have to Be Beautiful
Those fancy looking Japanese spiral pours may look beautiful, and they achieve decent brewing results as well. However, this is not completely necessary for a good cup of coffee.
The key to the pour is volatility and evenness. When the water hits the coffee grind, it makes the coffee tumble and swirl. And with stronger water flow, the more force the water has to extract the flavors out of the coffee beans. Which brings out the question: why spirals? Why not horizontal lines? Why not tiny circular loops? The answer is: it doesn’t matter as long as the water hits on all areas on the coffee evenly.
Like tea, the longer you brew it, the stronger it tastes. The concept works the same with the amount of time coffee is soaked in water – and the longer the brewing time, the more extraction you will achieve.
However, the part that is just as important and you must remember is how strong the water flow is. Usually when a coffee is a darker roast, you would want to have a softer pour, even soft as a drip if that is something you perform. Which lighter roasts you may want to have a fast-paced pour to get as much flavor out of the coffee as quickly as possible. There will be another article that goes more in-depth on this topic called Does My Coffee Like the Way That I’m Hitting It (with Water)?
Lesson 5: When Brewing, Practice Patience…Really, Be Patient Because This is the Longest Part
The hard fact in coffeemaking is that it is never perfect, and everyone has their own definition of perfect. We all grew up eating and drinking different types of goodies growing up, so it is easy to say it is very hard to make the one cup that is perfect for everyone. But you can always make the cup that is perfect for you, and your loved ones who give you feedback on what they like.
Use your senses.
Thinking of coffee brewing like party-hosting; if you are expecting a big party but only 1 guest showed up, it might be an uncomfortably cozy party; if you invite too many guests over and they also invited their party-pooping cousins, nobody will have a good time. Therefore, when your coffee tastes astringent and sharply sour, then it is likely that it is under-extracted – when the aromatic compounds are not sufficiently transferred from the bean to the cup (not enough guests at the party). On the opposite, if a coffee tastes bitter and strongly sour, then you have over-extracted – that’s when you carried out too much of the aromatic compounds and the bitterness came tagging along.
Let’s restate the basics mechanics of coffee brewing here:
The finer the coffee is grind is, the easier the extraction.
Hotter water extracts more.
The longer the pour, the more extraction happens.
The more volatile your pouring is, such that you are stirring up a storm in the filter, the more coffee grinds are going to move with the water, and finally the more you will extract.
Wrap-up: I hope this article help you find new ways to improve the relationship between you and your coffee beans. Before you give up on pour-over making and go to the nearest Blue Bottle or Starbucks, remember pour-over making is a journey and an adventure. Have fun with it! Embrace your kinky syrup infused coffee preferences. Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t love dark coffee. And even if you are a guy, it’s ok to like cinnamon and flowery notes, men can have feelings too.
If you would like to have a start-up bean to try out without breaking the bank, try our Purple Bellflower from Sidamo, Ethiopia or Chocolate Healing from Kilimanjaro, Tanzania. Or even better, contact me via email Matthewlu310@gmail.com, we never judge on the type of coffee that you love, and every ounce of our beans are freshly micro-batched roasted with Aloha~