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Questions and answers (Oct 3, 2012)

This is an original blog post which I wrote towards the beginning of my coffee journey. I have left it unedited and republished it here for your reading pleasure.

On a visit to the doctor this week, the discussion of what I do for a living once again came up. From there the questions start: what machines, which grinders, beans, blends and single origins and ultimately the issue of how much coffee to use when making your favorite brew.

He showed me his coffee maker, his grinder, the cups he serves in and explained to me how he goes about making a pot of coffee.Through trial and error, he has been able to reach some standard on how full to fill his blade grinder so that when it has all been chopped up he can tip it into his machine, fill it with water and let it brew. His process is anything but ideal but due to circumstances he has had to make do with what he has.

Once all had been explained to me, it was time to correct a few brewing basics and my first question was what the volume of the carafe (or pot) for his coffee machine was. “12 cups”, was the answer. But that didn’t really answer the question. So I left with the promise to find out what the specifications for the machine are and get back to him with and answer and some advice on how to get the best coffee from his machine. My research seemed fruitless but did bring up the question of cups and CUPS.

The issue often raised on internet chat forums is about what the cup markings mean on filter machines and what the manufacturer tells you about the machine you have bought. It became evident that most consumers were confused by the cup markings on their machines. The 6, 10 or 12 cup brewers, made in Europe, the US or in the East don’t always indicate the volume of maximum coffee brewed or what cup volume are they referring to. There are far too many cup volumes used in the world for any real clarity on the subject.

Except this: I have mentioned in a previous blog posting that the recognized water to coffee ratio is 55 – 60 grams per liter of water. Regardless of what your strength preference is, this is the ratio to use when brewing any filter/drip coffee to get the coffee experience the roastmaster worked hard to achieve. If you find it too strong make sure you’ve got the right coffee to water ratio. If you have and still find it strong, add some hot water to your cup after brewing. If it is too weak, you haven’t used the correct amount of water to coffee and there is nothing you can do to save it bar making a fresh pot of coffee.

Added to this is the grind size of your coffee. Ideally you want to grind according to the type of coffee brewing method. In this case, for filter coffee, you set your grinder to a medium coarseness, playing a little with the settings to grind slightly finer or slightly coarser. If you insist on purchasing pre-ground coffee, make sure you buy filter ground (most on South African shelves are). Just bear this in mind: too fine and the coffee will be in contact with the water too long, causing over-extraction resulting in a strong, bitter cup. Too coarse and the water will pass through the grounds too quickly causing under-extraction. Invest in a burr grinder to give you the best control and better grind consistency. More on that here.

Back to the situation at hand. All this talk of cups, grind and water can seem rather daunting and far too much hassle. You might rather throw in the towel and opt for instant. Hopefully not. Once you’ve got you’re recipe and routine in place armed with this knowledge, you’ll find that it becomes second nature. You know it’s worth it because now you make the best coffee at home or at work.

Remember this:

  1. Grind according to the brewing method you’re using. Invest in a burr grinder. Blade grinders don’t grind, they chop and the longer you let them run the finer the grind becomes;

  2. Add the right amount of coffee to match the amount of water (remember 55-60g/L);

  3. If you don’t have scale use proper 1tbs measure (+- 7g) per 125ml (2tbs/250ml; 4tbs/500ml);

  4. Forget about the cup markings. Rather focus on volume of water used. Use the cup markings only as reference points to guide volume of water;

Be prepared to experiment within these guidelines as everyone has their own twist on the them but use this is your starting point.

Practice and patience are well rewarded.

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