Brewing the Best Cup!

People get their PHD in coffee brewing these days, dedicating their entire lives trying to answer this very question! So this is our attempt to break down the science to help you figure out the basics of brewing a great cup. 

If you are searching for instructions based on your brewing apparatus, see the drop down menu on the left.

The differences between good and great cups of coffee boil down to a variety of factors.  Most important are:

  • Coffee roast level
  • The brew method (there are SO many to choose from!)
  • How you grind it
  • Coffee to water ratio
  • Quality and freshness of ingredients
  • YOUR taste buds

The classic pour over

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What Do You Like?

The first factor to consider is, of course, the coffee.  Each batch of coffee has the potential to taste entirely different, and you have to decide which combination of flavors and attributes you prefer in order to find your perfect blend. The professionals approach coffee cupping like wine tasting, rating each individual quality of every brew.

This isn't necessary for the home brewer, but there are a few terms you should be familiar with in order to determine the coffee that's right for you:

  • FLAVOR: coffee flavor is simply the taste, typically compared to other foods such as fruits, spices, chocolate, nuts, and caramels.
  • ACIDITY: the zing in the corners of your mouth. High acidity coffees often have a fruitiness to them, similar to the tartness of an apple or berries. Lower-acid coffees, alternately, have less-zing, are smoother and are less-bright than higher-scoring coffees. Contrary to popular belief, this acidity does NOT refer to actual ph-scale acid. 
  • BODY: this is how "full" the coffee tastes, how thick it feels, relating primarily to the texture. For example, water has no body and milk has full body.
  • SWEETNESS: how sweet the coffee tastes, also used when coffee lacks bitterness. Lighter roasts are generally sweeter, giving way to caramelized notes and a more bittersweet quality the darker the coffee is roasted.
  • AROMA: the smell of the coffee once it is brewed. Related is the fragrance, which is the smell of the dry coffee grounds. This is where you might pick up strong  food comparisons, like chocolate (Timor!) or blueberry (Ethiopian!).
  • AFTERTASTE: Aftertaste is defined as the length of positive flavor (taste and aroma) qualities in the back of the palate and remaining after the coffee is swallowed. A lower aftertaste score means the taste does not linger quite as long, or the remaining taste/aroma are unpleasant.

The Roast

You’ve already chosen to purchase quality organic and Fair Trade coffee…now you get to choose your roast level and favorite blend. Our coffees come in medium roasts, medium/dark blends, and dark roasts. Medium roasts are roasted for less time than dark roasts (even if only by a few minutes), and the differences are huge!

  • Medium Roasts: have unique flavors characteristics that shine through. They tend to have pleasurable acidity, more sweetness, and are lower in bitterness.
  • Dark Roasts: are bold, robust, and strong in flavor. They have lower acid, higher body, and more "roasted" or smoky and bittersweet flavors.
  • Medium/Dark Blends: combine the two for a combination of flavors and characteristics.

Country of Origin

The country of origin that each coffee comes from can also have a huge impact on flavor to take into consideration.  For example:

  • Ethiopian coffees tend to be quite floral and fruity.
  • Central and South American coffees can have hints of chocolate or caramel
  • Indonesian coffees (such as our Sumatran varieties) are full-bodied and earthy, which lend themselves well to dark roasts

But within each region (and even elevation) there are differences, too.  You can explore each country of origin, and meet the growers here.

Pick Your Perfect Bean

Let's put it all together and find the brew for you!

 

Light Roast

Medium Roast

Dark Roast

Central America

clean, sweet, high acidity, floral flavor

sweet light to medium body, floral flavor

bittersweet, medium body

South America 

clean sugars, low to medium acidity

caramel, chocolate, medium-bodied

full body, bittersweet, dark chocolate

Africa

high a

cidity, light body, flavorful, fruity (citrus or berry)

medium body, flavorful, fruity (citrus or berry)

bold, flavorful, fruity (citrus or berry)

Indonesia

low acidity, smooth, good balance

bold, smooth, dark chocolate, earthy

spicy, bold, dark chocolate, earthy, syrup

 

Freshness

You should brew the freshest coffee you can.  Fresh roasted coffee should be kept in a cool, dry and dark place in an airtight container.  A five-pound bag of whole bean coffee will last up to 3 weeks at room temperature.  Unopened one-pound bags, however, are nitrogen-flushed and sealed, and will stay fresh for at least 3 months if left in stable temperatures. Whole bean coffee taste fresher longer than ground coffee.

To freeze or not to freeze…that is the question!  Although it is not ideal in terms of freshness, we recognize that many of our customers purchase in larger quantities to save money, and need to store coffee for a longer period of time.  This is where the freezer comes in.

If you want to freeze coffee:

  • Break up the coffee into small increments that will last you one week
  • Put the coffee into a freezer safe bag or airtight container
  • Keep the first amount out on your counter for immediate use, and stash the rest of it in the freezer
  • Replace your immediate stash with one from the freezer whenever you need!

*DO NOT take the coffee in and out of the freezer. The drastic changes in temperatures will cause it to stale much quicker. It should last in the freezer in an air-tight container/bag for up to 3 months.

*Let the coffee come to room temperature before grinding/brewing. 

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Brewing!

There are many different ways to brew your coffee, and each method makes for a unique coffee experience.  And of course, each method requires different grinds, coffee-to-water ratios and time.  The most common brew methods are:

  • The Autodrip Machine (your standard Mr. Coffee or Bunn-o-Matic)
  • The Pour Over (including the Chemex)
  • The French Press
  • The Percolator (including stove top Moka Pots)
  • The Espresso Machine
  • The AeroPress

Grind

The single best way to improve your coffee at home is by grinding your beans right before brewing with a burr grinder. A blade grinder works alright for French Press or cold brew, but will never match the consistency of a burr grinder.

Different brew methods call for different grinds:

Grind

 Autodrip

 Pour Over 

 French Press 

 Percolator

 Espresso

Normal 

X*  

 X  

 

 

 

 Coarse

 

 

 X 

  X**

 

 Fine

 

 

 

  

  X***

 

*AeroPress needs a normal grind

**Moka Pot needs not-quite-fine

***Espresso grind should be close to powder

If ordering ground coffee from us, you have three options – Normal, Coarse and Fine.  Normal is a medium grind, so the middle of the range on your home grinder.  If you are grinding at home, you will need a little bit of trial and error to figure out how YOUR grinder and brew method work best together. If the coffee tastes weak, grind finer. If the coffee tastes bitter or too strong, grind coarser.

Why Use a Scale?

The most accurate way to measure coffee is with a scale. Each coffee and roast level has a different density, so measuring by volume will produce dramatically different results. A scale also makes measuring water much easier. The metric system is the way to go. Measuring coffee in grams provides very accurate results, and 1 milliliter of water conveniently weighs 1 gram. You simply need to tare the brewer/mug on the scale, add the coffee, tare again and then you are ready to weigh the water.

Ratio For Brewing

It’s best to measure by weight if you can (instead of volume – see chart below), which means investing in a kitchen scale.  But if you can’t (or don’t want to!), a general rule of thumb is 2 to 3 heaping tablespoons of coffee per 8 ounces of water.  The difference from 2 to 3 tbl depends on your taste buds and what you like.  If you like it stronger, go with more, and less if you like it more mellow.  (Again, trial and error until you find what suits you!)

 

 

  Autodrip

(for 4 cups brewed)

 Pour Over

 (Size: #2 filtercone) 

 Chemex

(Size: 8 cup)

 French Press

(Size: 8 cup)

 Moka Pot

(Size: 4 cup)

 Coffee

(weight)

 56 - 84 grams

 16 grams

 42 grams

 56 grams

 15 - 17 grams

 Coffee

(volume)

 8-12 Tbls

 2-3 Tbls

 6 Tbls

 8 Tbls

 Enough to fill the filter basket

(do not compact)

 Water

32 oz

(4 cups)

10 oz

(1 ¼ cups)

40 oz

(5 cups)

32 oz

(4 cups)

Fill the bottom base

 (Use Heated Water!)

 Time

5 - 7 mins

 (your machine will do the timing for you!) 

 2.5 mins

 4 mins

 4 - 6 mins

 5 minutes or so

 (listen to it; the sound will no longer sound like gurgling) 

 

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Dos and Don’ts!

DO rinse your filter with hot water before brewing. Paper filters (especially the brown kind) produce a papery taste when not rinsed. (Soak a brown paper filter in hot water and then drink it, you'll see.)

DON'T use dirty equipment. Wash with hot soapy water often to get rid of coffee oils which can be bitter or rancid after time.  For autodrip machines, clean periodically per the machines instructions.

DO let your coffee “bloom.” Pour a few tablespoons of the hot water you’re using onto your grounds before you start to brew. Let sit for 30 – 45 seconds, and the coffee grounds will expand. This allows for better extraction, and a better cup.

DON'T sneak a cup from an autodrip brewer. A pot of coffee is made up of the entire brew cycle: the first cups worth that comes out will be very strong, and the last cup will be very weak. They need to blend together to produce the perfect ratio.

DO use good, clean water.  No need to buy bottled water, but make sure its as pure as you can get.

DON'T let people make you feel bad about adding sugar or milk or soy or almond or...  It's YOUR cup of coffee.  Not theirs.  

Most importantly, DO remember to appreciate where your cup of coffee comes from. A good cup is more than just the right brew method + correct grind. Think about the growers and the impact YOU have on their lives when you purchase Dean's Beans.