How to brew excellent coffee at home
Cafés that take their work seriously often adopt a certain ‘look’. It’s kind of a mash-up of white cube gallery foyer + Scandinavian wood cabin + rickety laboratory and it has caught on the world over. The last ingredient in this aesthetic – the lab, with bulbous glass vessels perched in wooden stands, attended to by focused-looking folk – speaks to the seriousness with which craft coffee is taken and the myriad ways in which it is prepared.
The array of kit associated with brewing craft coffee is not just for show. Coffee has thirty percent more chemical compounds associated with flavour than wine does: there’s a lot going on in those little beans and many ways to tease out their flavour potential. That’s why quality coffee shops often have so much apparatus.
You don’t need to fit your kitchen out like a café but it’s fun to have the choice of a few different methods to call on at home. We’ll get onto the different kit below, but there are also other factors to bear in mind when brewing domestically: it goes without saying that the quality of the beans is key, but similarly significant are the quality and temperature of the water used; the water-to-coffee ratio (in terms of quantity); the brew time; and the grind size of the coffee.
But, never fear – brewing excellent coffee at home need not be intimidating. Let’s break it all down a little.
One common misconception is that more coffee means more bitterness, but adding more coffee to your brew will actually just make it stronger. What does lead to bitterness is when you don’t use enough coffee, because you end up over-extracting the coffee that’s there.
The best brew ratio is 15 parts water to 1 part coffee. So if you know how big of a cup of coffee you want, weigh the water on an electronic kitchen scales and divide the figure by fifteen to get the weight of coffee you should use.
If you don’t fancy going the whole hog and using a thermometer, the main thing to remember here is that coffee doesn’t like being boiled. If you are going full thermometer nerd, the best temperature for brewing is 90-95 degrees Celcius, a range that amplifies coffee’s natural flavours.
The right grind size (i.e. how coarse the ground coffee is) really depends on the brewing method used. See the next section for more about that. But one thing to note is that the quality of grinder has a big influence on the end result. Treat yourself to a burr grinder for the best results.
A good rule of thumb is that brewing your coffee shouldn’t take less than two and a half minutes or more than four minutes. But there’s the odd exception, such as the Chemex (see below).
Popular since the early noughties, this is a lovely method for brewing one pour-over cup at a time. This option is a great way to get started in trying new brewing methods. V60s take a medium grind.
Similar to the V60, but with a flat bottom which, in theory, gives you a more even result. But that also depends on the evenness of your water pour!
This stylish, vase-like contraption is a great pour-over option when you want to brew high-quality coffee for a few people at once. You can make up to six cups in one go with a Chemex, and the brew time is longer than for other methods: four to six minutes. Go for a medium-coarse grind.
Satisfyingly ingenious, fun, hard to break and really easy to transport. You can end up making a bit of a mess if you don’t plunge carefully, though. Once you have the knack (we go for the ‘inverted’ method), the AeroPress produces consistently excellent one-cup results. Medium-fine grind for this one.
A classic piece of kit that generates a quite intense body. Use a scoop of coarse ground coffee for each cup you’d like to brew and serve with a chilled out playlist and pastries.
Invented nearly two centuries ago, this marvel of glass chambers and metal coils looks like it should come with a Bunsen burner and a pair of goggles. It’s a theatrical choice but hardly straightforward, and oh-so easy to smash. Takes a medium grind.