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19.08.20

21 Pro Tips for Coffee Brewing Beginners

Coffee Brewing Station with Hario V60

Hario V60 home brewing station / Photo by Jamie Koller

Hario V60 Coffee Brewing Station

Home brewing station / Photo by Jamie Koller

So you’ve just had the ‘wow, I had no idea coffee could taste like that’ moment and it’s changed your life? Welcome to the community, and welcome to a world of flavour! You’re in for a fun ride.

We know it can be a little tough navigating your way through this crazy world in the beginning, but don’t worry, we’ve got you covered!

We’ve put together a list of our top 21 pro tips to help you on your coffee brewing journey. It’s not too geeky, it’s not too complicated. It’s just easy, necessary info that will help you. Enjoy.

1. Use the right coffee

 

It might sound a little obvious, but it’s really important to use the right coffee. We recommend pairing your coffee to the type of brew method that you’re using. It’s most commonly broken down into two different roast profiles; espresso and filter.

Espresso – Coffee roasted for espresso is typically roasted a little darker. This helps highlight the sweetness and body of a coffee. An espresso extraction is also much shorter in duration, therefore a darker roast is more suited as the window of opportunity is much shorter. Darker roasts also tend to complement milk more.

Filter – Coffee roasted for filter brewing is typically roasted a little lighter. This helps to preserve the natural characteristics of the coffee and highlight the acidity. Brewing coffee by filter is a gentler and slower process, so a lighter roast helps to produce a more delicate cup with subtle flavour notes.

In addition to using the right coffee, be mindful of the roast date. Coffee is recommended to be consumed within 5 – 30 days post roast. Coffee that is too fresh (before 5 days) may taste a little lively and coffee that is too old (30 days +) may taste a little stale. 

marketlane coffee seasonal espresso blend

Marketlane Seasonal Espresso blend / Photo by Abigail Varney

2. Consider your water

 

One of the most commonly overlooked aspects of coffee brewing is the type of water that you’re using. A typical coffee beverage is 98% water, so it’s important that you’re using the right water.

The mineral content of your water plays a big part in your coffee flavour, but we don’t want to confuse you with all that stuff. If you’re not sure of your local water, we recommend buying a water filter jug. This will clean out most of the unwanted chemicals like chlorine and help balance the pH.

Alternatively, you can purchase bottled water. Most bottled water will indicate the pH levels and mineral content on the rear label.

For coffee brewing, we advise using water with a neutral pH of 7 and a total hardness of 30 – 150ppm. This is relatively soft water, which is great for coffee brewing. High levels of minerals can lead to overly-intense and bitter flavours.

If you’re considering purchasing a water filter jug, we recommend Peak Water. Peak water is specifically designed to optimise ordinary tap water into coffee brewing water.

Peak-water

Peak Water Jug / Photo by Peak Water

3. Use the right grind size

 

Grind size is key when it comes to brewing tasty coffee. It determines the way your coffee will extract and plays a big role in the way it will taste.

When it comes to evaluating grind size, there is a general rule of thumb that every pro barista follows;

  • If the water is flowing through the ground coffee too slowly and your coffee tastes bitter, then you need to grind coarser. This is generally described as over-extraction.
  • If the water is flowing through the ground coffee too quickly and your coffee tastes sour, then you need to grind finer. This is generally described as under-extraction.

Setting your grind size is a process of trial and error. Unfortunately there is no one-size fits all approach. Every coffee and brew method requires a different grind setting. The idea is to make small adjustments until you are happy with the flow and taste. A well extracted coffee should feature a balance of sweetness, bitterness, and acidity.

We always recommend grinding your coffee fresh before use. Pre-ground coffee will age much quicker and may lose its flavour before you use it.

coffee-brewing-tips-grind-size

Mahlkonig Ek43 dial at Unseok Coffee Roasters / Photo by Unseok Coffee Roasters

4. Use a scale 

 

Brewing delicious coffee is a measured process and the more control you have over your input, the more you can influence your output.

By using a scale, you’ll have an exact measure of the amount of ground coffee you’re using and the amount of water you’re brewing with. You can also measure the amount of coffee you’ve extracted.

Having this information allows you to make calculated changes based on your experience of the coffee.

For example:

If your coffee was too weak; you can try to use a little more coffee or a little less water. Because you have the exact measurements, it’s much easier to make adjustments and diagnose problems.

By using a scale you can also create a coffee recipe, we’ll explain what that is in the next couple of points.

acaia lunar coffee scale

Acaia Lunar coffee scale

5. Use a timer

 

Most digital scales will come equipped with a timer, but if your scale doesn’t have a timer or you don’t have one – you can always use your phone.

Timing your brew is a great way to determine the rate at which your coffee is brewing and helps you make adjustments.

For example:

In immersion brewing (like French Press), a shorter brew time may result in overly acidic flavours, so you can increase your brew time to get more sweetness.

Brew time often intertwines with other variables such as grind size

For example:

In pour over or espresso; a finer grind size will increase your brew time as it takes longer for water to travel through finer coffee particles.

By using a timer you can also create a coffee recipe, we’ll get into what a recipe is in the next point.

Acaia Pearl Scale

Acaia Pearl coffee scale and timer

6. Use a coffee recipe

 

A coffee recipe is just like a food recipe, it involves the ingredients, the measurements, and the process.

Baristas use recipes to have a reference of their brew. This can help with consistency (repeating it), making amendments to your recipe, and allows you to share it with others. To make a coffee recipe you will need a scale and a timer.

A basic coffee recipe will involve:

  • Brew method
  • Coffee to water ration (aka brew ratio)
  • Water temperature
  • Grind size
  • Process

Example recipe

Method: Hario V60
Brew Ratio: 1:16 (15g coffee: 240g water)
Water temperature: 93°C
Grind size: 25 clicks on the Comandante grinder

Process:

0:00 – gently pour 30 grams of water and gently swirl the V60 to help saturate all grounds
0:30 – gently pour 90 grams in concentric circles
1:30 – gently pour 60 grams in concentric circles
2:00 – gently pour 60 grams in the center of the brewer
2:30 – coffee has stopped dripping, brew has finished, stop timer

Stone Barista Notebook

Barista Notebook by Stone

7. Experiment with temperature

 

The temperature of your water can have a big impact on how your coffee will extract and how it will taste. The general consensus is that higher temperatures lead to higher extractions. In other words, the hotter your water – the more things you will extract. Think of it like sugar; it’s much easier to dissolve sugar with hot water rather than cold water.

For dark roasted coffees, we recommend brewing at lower temperatures (85 – 92°C), and for light roasted coffees we recommend brewing at higher temperatures (92 – 99°C).

Most electric kettles have built in thermometers, but if yours doesn’t you can always use an external thermometer.

Just remember, there is no perfect brew temperature for all coffees and brew methods. Find what works best for you and experiment as much as possible.

Stagg EKG kettle temperature

Fellow Products Stagg EKG temperature display

8. Experiment with brew ratios

 

A brew ratio is actually quite simple. It is the simplest expression for the amount of coffee used and the amount of water used in a coffee recipe. Brew ratios help communicate things like strength and intensity. They are always expressed with the coffee component before the water component (coffee:water).

To calculate your brew ratio, simply divide the amount of water you’re using by the amount of coffee you’re using.

For example:

240/16 
= 15  
The brew ratio would be expressed as 1:15.

This just means that there are 15 grams of water for every 1 gram of coffee.

You can also use a brew ratio to calculate the amount of water you need to brew with.

For example:

If you wish to use a 1:15 brew ratio with 12 grams of coffee, the calculation would be:
12 x 15 
= 180
You need 180 grams of water.

While not commonly used, brew ratio has a slightly different definition for espresso.
For espresso, the brew ratio is the ratio of amount of coffee used, and the amount of coffee extracted.

For example:

20 grams coffee used :40 grams extracted
= 1:2 brew ratio.

For filter brewing, we recommend a brew ratio between 1:15 – 1:17, and for espresso we recommend a brew ratio between 1:1.5 – 1:1.25, but keep in mind there is no perfect brew ratio. Again,we always encourage you to experiment as much as possible. Sometimes a slight change can make a big difference to your final cup profile.

tips for coffee brewing - experiment with brew ratios

Try noting down your ratios when you experiment

9. Store it right

 

Coffee has three evil enemies; air, sunlight, and moisture, so it’s important that you help your coffee in the fight against evil!

Air will rob your coffee of all its precious aromatics, leaving it tasting bland and boring. The best thing to do is to keep it in an air-tight container. You can take it a step further and store it in a vacuum canister. A vacuum canisters pushes oxygen out of the container, giving your coffee a stronger fighting chance. We recommend the Ankomn Turn-n-Seal vacuum canister or the Fellow Products Atmos.

Sunlight may be good for humans, but not for roasted coffee. Direct sunlight applies unnecessary heat which will speed up the aging process, degassing your coffee and making it lose flavour. You’re best off keeping it in the pantry, or in an air-tight opaque container.

Moisture can also be a real detriment. Coffee forms moisture from fluctuations in temperature, so we recommended keeping it at a stable temperature. This also applies to the fridge and freezer – removing your beans from an extremely cold environment will cause condensation on the beans. This will turn your coffee funky over time. You may wish to store it in the fridge or freezer, provided it’s in an air-tight container, and you’re not taking it in and out. If you really want to store it cold, we recommend portioning per dose!

Ankomn Turn-n-Seal

Ankomn Turn-n-Seal vacuum canister

10. Invest in a gooseneck kettle

 

Some brew methods (like pour-over) are very sensitive to variables such as agitation and flow rate, so it can be really difficult trying to brew with an ordinary kitchen kettle. A gooseneck kettle will give you more control of the way you pour your water over your ground coffee, positively impacting your outcome.

Some pros of using a gooseneck kettle:

  • Pour precise amounts of water
  • Control the speed at which you pour
  • Control the direction of your pour
  • Control the amount of agitation 
  • Refine your pouring technique

There are plenty of great brands out there, our favourite is the Fellow Products Stagg EKG. Of all the electric kettles that we’ve used, the Stagg EKG has the most consistent flow rate and comfortable grip. It’s also got some neat features and looks great. We’ve been using it for well over two years now and haven’t looked back.

Stagg EKG kettle

Fellow Products Stagg EKG kettle

11. Consider upgrading your coffee grinder

 

One of the things most baristas learn quickly is that the quality of your grinder makes a huge difference to your end result. Good quality grinders produce a narrower spread of particle size, meaning your extraction will be more consistent and repeatable.

We recommend burr grinders over blade grinders. Burr grinders are much more adept to grinding with more consistency and generally have a better lifespan than blades.

If you’re considering upgrading, some brands that we would recommend are:

  • Timemore
  • Comandante
  • Kinu
  • Baratza
  • Fellow Products
  • 1Zpresso

Oh, and don’t be afraid to grind by hand, the quality can be just as good, if not better than electric.

tips for coffee brewing beginners comandante grinder

Comandante grinder

12. Pre-wet your filter well

 

If you’re ever tasted the residue from pre-wetting your paper filter, you’ll know why this is important – it’s gross. If you don’t believe us, try it for yourself. 🙂

Pre-wetting your paper filter can make your coffee taste so much better, but you need to do it properly. We suggest using at least 150 grams of water from the kettle, and making sure that you cover every square inch of the filter. If you’re only pouring in the center, you’re not actually doing it right. 

However, be mindful not to rinse it with too much water, sometimes you can start to pull out the fibers from the paper which can bring an unpleasant mouthfeel.

150 – 300 grams is recommended.

pro tips for coffee brewing beginners paper filters

13. Taste your coffee

 

One of the joys of brewing coffee is picking out the wonderful flavours that come from it, but it’s not always so easy.

In 1995, the Specialty Coffee Association released the Coffee Taster’s Flavour Wheel to help coffee taster’s depict flavour in coffee. 

It’s a wonderful tool that really helps your brain make those connections to the flavours in your cup. The wheel is very simple to use – simply start in the center and work your way out.

Don’t worry so much if you’re struggling to find flavours in your coffee, or if you can’t match what’s on the bag – it takes a bit of practice and familiarity. 

Also keep in mind, different brew methods produce different results. We suggest writing down the notes from each brew – and using that as a reference point. 

tips for coffee brewing beginners SCA flavour wheel

SCA Coffee Taster’s Flavour Wheel / Photo by One Darnley Road

14. Smell your coffee

 

Sometimes just smelling the coffee can be as satisfying as drinking it, but it can also be really helpful in depicting flavour. In fact, you actually cannot perceive flavour without your sense of smell.

We don’t want to bore you with all the science, but here’s how it works.

Your tongue does not actually perceive flavour, your tongue only perceives the five basic tastes which are; sweet, salty, sour, bitter, and umami.

It’s only when chemicals (from food and drink) enter your olfactory system (aka sense of smell), that you start to perceive the flavours. 

So next time you drink coffee, be sure to keep that in mind and use your sense of smell as much as possible!

If you want to learn more about how your sense of taste and smell works, check out our recent post – The Coffee Flavour Pyramid

tips-for-brewing-coffee-smell-coffee

Teodora cupping coffee at Sloane Coffee / Photo by Sloane Coffee

15. Try different brew methods

 

One of the best ways to accelerate your knowledge of coffee brewing is by experimenting with different brew methods. Understanding how different brew methods work, and how they extract coffee will give you a better understanding of the brew method that you’re currently trying to learn.

It’s quite astonishing just how different an immersion method (e.g French press) can taste compared to a drip filtration method (pour over). Even two pour over methods can taste completely different.

Experiment as much as you can in any way that you can. Try different paper filters, try different basket sizes, compare various methods side by side – every little experiment you do brings you a step closer to achieving your goal!

Ryan Pang Hario Siphon

Ryan Pang brewing Hario Siphon / Photo by Ryan Pang

16. Serving-ware matters

 

Have you ever heard your grandmother boast about how she only drinks tea from her special porcelain cup? Or wondered why your bartender only serves your red wine in a tall and wide glass? They’re actually not crazy.

The type of serving-ware that you use can play a huge role in your overall coffee experience. Different shapes and materials can enhance or diminish certain characteristics in the cup. 

For example, a bulbous shaped glass with large surface area for the coffee can help trap and circulate aroma. 

Ultimately there is no right or wrong cup – it’s what you like best, but we encourage you try different serving-ware. You’ll be surprised at just how much of a difference it can make.

Our favourite cup is the Unitea S by KINTO Japan. While it’s actually a glass designed for tea, we find it really pleasant for coffee.

So go out there and find your favourite cup!

tips for coffee brewing serving ware

Kinto Unitea cup and saucer

17. Try different roasters

 

One of the most beautiful things about coffee is that no coffee is the same. There are hundreds and hundreds of varietals, and thousands and thousands of roasters. The journey of discovering new roasters and coffees that you’ve never tried before can be immensely rewarding – but it can also teach you a lot!

Every coffee brews differently, and every roaster roasts differently. The more coffees that you brew, the more knowledge you will have. 

Over time you will work out things like; coffees that are grown at higher elevations will typically be more dense, and therefore require higher brew temperatures to extract, or a washed Kenyan SL-28 really complements your Hario V60.

It might sound a little overwhelming, but you’ll slowly start to pick out those little nuances, and learn so much more!

Tips for coffee brewing try different roasters

Giesen Coffee Roaster at Kurokoffee / Photo by Kurokoffee

18. Attend coffee events

 

One of the best ways to boost your knowledge of coffee is by attending coffee events. You’ll find that there’s always something happening in your local coffee community which you can get involved in. Most of the time these events are free to attend, or cost very little.

There’s lots to learn and do by getting involved and it can be a lot of fun. You can do things like workshops, coffee cuppings, and maybe even try your luck at a coffee competition.

Follow your local roaster, befriend the baristas at your favourite cafes, ask questions and soon enough you’ll find a cool coffee event taking place. Chances are you’ll probably make a few friends along the way!

coffee cupping at Blue Tokai Coffee

Coffee cupping at Blue Tokai Coffee / Photo by Blue Tokai Coffee

19. Join a coffee community on social media

 

The specialty coffee community is bustling on social media and there are thousands of groups across various platforms that you can join. Most groups are filled with passionate and educated people that carry a wealth of knowledge. And the best part is – they welcome new members.

We think social media communities are one of the best free resources for learning and connecting with others in the industry. Some of the great benefits that we love are:

  • Ask questions on particular topics
  • Get feedback on projects
  • Help others with their projects
  • Connect with like-minded people
  • Keep up with latest trends
  • Be part of a community 
  • Make friends

There’s a great community out there that’s waiting for you to join. If you’d like to join our Facebook Community, you’re more than welcome to. Just search for Brew Methods Community on Facebook or click this link. See you there!

tips for coffee brewing - join a coffee community on social media

Member asking a question in Brew Methods Facebook Community 

20. Get a coffee buddy

 

Life is all about meaningful connections, and having that with someone who you share a common interest with is even better. Similarly to joining a social media community or attending your local coffee events, there is so much value in having a coffee buddy. 

Having a coffee buddy can:

  • Accelerate your growth
  • Keep your goals on track
  • Keep you motivated
  • Have your back

‘For me, the best thing about having a coffee buddy is that I have someone who won’t judge me for being a coffee snob!’

@emkmcm

tips for coffee brewing - Get a coffee buddy

Coffee is better with a coffee buddy / Photo by Laboratoria Coffee

21. Consider Competition

 

Nothing can fast-track your progress like competition can. Applying a competitive element can really accelerate your growth as it pushes you to learn and to strive towards a goal. It forces you to think outside the box, to try new things, and to work harder.

It doesn’t mean that you have to enter the high profile competitions like the Barista Championships or the Brewer’s Cup, you can simply get involved in some of your local community competitions. After all, that’s how all the champions start.

Overtime you will develop new skills, gain new knowledge, new friends, and be more confident. Competitions usually involve collaborating with people, so you will have the opportunity to work with a team, receive feedback, and learn from other competitors.

You will not only grow as a coffee professional, but also as an individual. Don’t be afraid, just get out there!

tips for coffee brewing beginners - consider competition

Aylin Ö, German Barista Champion 2020 / Photo by Sinan Muslu 

That’s a wrap!

 

So there you have it, hopefully you’ve enjoyed our 21 pro tips for coffee brewing and we hope they will bring you some value on your coffee brewing journey.

The most important thing to remember is to have fun with it. Coffee is not about being right or being the best, it’s about enjoying the process.

If you want more information, we have plenty of video tutorials on all of the popular brew methods. 

Be sure to tag us in your coffee brewing adventures on Instagram and hashtag #brewmethods. We love to see the progress that you make. Happy brewing!

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