Coffee Questions

Coffee Questions: Why Temperature Matters by Caleb Savage

Ever tried to make a cup of coffee with water that isn’t hot enough? I didn’t intend to, but the downside of having a variable-temperature kettle is, if you make tea the night before at 175ºF and don’t change the temperature back, you’ll end up with a muddy mess that takes too long to draw down, tastes aggressive and sour, and barely qualifies as a hot cup of coffee.

But why does brewing temperature matter? More specifically, how does temperature affect coffee brewing and how hot should my water be to make a good cup of coffee?

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Coffee Brewing Basics

The goal of coffee brewing is to extract from the coffee beans all of the good flavor characteristics with none of the bad. Using tools like time, temperature, coffee to water ratio, coffee grind size, and agitation, we can adjust extraction until we get a coffee that is balanced, with a bright and clear tasting note, pleasant mouthfeel and body, and a sweet, clean finish. 

Trying to make decisions about five different variables is way too complicated, especially since it’s likely before you’ve had a cup of coffee. Too make it easier, we recommend using brewing recipes. A good brew recipe is straightforward, easy to replicate, and does a good job of balancing all of the variables for you to create a great cup of coffee. So how does temperature affect brewing?

Water Extracts

Water quality is important. We use the variables mentioned earlier, including temperature to control how water extracts the goods from the coffee. Adjusting temperature determines how quickly the water will be able to extract coffee compounds. As with cooking, the hotter the temperature, the faster the desired change will occur. This is one of the reasons why a shot of espresso can be brewed in thirty seconds while cold brew can take up to sixteen or eighteen hours to brew.

Brewing an AeroPress with a Bona Vita Kettle

Brewing an AeroPress with a Bona Vita Kettle

Slurry vs. Kettle

So water temperature matters, but water temperature at what point? 

It’s always been easiest to measure the temperature of the water in the kettle. Whether using the off-boil method of a stovetop kettle or using an electric kettle, it’s been fairly common to recommend your kettle be within the SCA brewing guidelines of between 195ºF-205ºF. However, just because your kettle reads 200ºF, it doesn’t mean that the coffee is actually being extracted at that temperature.

When the water leaves the kettle, it travels 4-6 inches through 70-75ºF air, into a brewer that has (hopefully) been preheated, and a bed of room temperature, dry coffee grounds. If you start out at 200ºF, you may end up at 195ºF or 190ºF by the end of your brewing. To counteract this, we recommend setting your kettle at a higher temperature and making sure to thoroughly preheat your brewer. We recommend starting with 210ºF on an EKG kettle. However, coffees tend to become more soluble the darker they are roasted, so if you’re drinking darker roasted coffee than what you find here, you might benefit from a lower temperature.

Brewing a 10 Cup Chemex with a Stagg Kettle and Acaia Pearl Scale

Brewing a 10 Cup Chemex with a Stagg Kettle and Acaia Pearl Scale

Temperature Experiment

Since temperature isn’t the only variable we use to brew coffee, we can adjust the other variables to adapt to lower brewing temperatures. Slowing down your pouring can keep the water in the kettle longer as long as you make sure to keep the coffee bed saturated, grinding your coffee more finely, or incorporating some stirring into your brewing can all increase extraction.

No one wants to drink a bad cup of coffee, so instead of suffering through a pourover at 175ºF, try making a cup of coffee at five degrees cooler than you normally would, but adjust grind to a slightly finer size. These variables should offset each other, and you should end up with a similarly tasting cup of coffee!

Let us know what other coffee questions you have!

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Coffee Questions: Great Coffee at Home by Caleb Savage

Home Brewing

“What’s the easiest way to improve my home brewing setup?”

Making coffee at home can be a lot of fun, but with recipes, brew methods, and brewing variables, making great coffee can be frustrating or feel like more work than it’s worth. We think coffee brewing should match your interest, time, budget, and taste. If it feels like making coffee at home is too complicated, too time intensive, or too costly, chances are, we can find a better way for you to make coffee!

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Interest

Is the idea of making a perfect cup of coffee overwhelming? Does the thought of breaking out a calculator to make coffee seem outrageous? Finding easy-to-use recipes from companies like KLLR Coffee or brewing methods like the Stagg XF and it’s “Fill-up” Method might be your solution!

Time

How much time do you want to invest in making a cup of coffee? Do you take your time in the mornings or do you base setting your alarm on the number of minutes it takes to get out of your house? If you’re short on time, immersion brewing methods like a French Press, Aeropress, or Clever Dripper may work best. Investing in an electric kettle like the Stagg EKG can hold a temperature for up to an hour, allowing you to heat up your kettle in advance!

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Budget

It’s easy to spend a lot of money on coffee equipment, but it doesn’t mean you have to. Some items like scales have a pretty large range in price, but it’s possible to find a quality scale that can the job done under $30. That being said, coffee grinders have a higher baseline for one that will grind your coffee consistently enough to be effective. We think the Baratza Encore gets you the most bang for your buck, but if you only use one brew method or go through a bag of coffee within a month, a Fellow Atmos might be a good alternative! Check out our last Coffee Questions post on freshness and using the Fellow Atmos Canister to keep it fresh.

Taste

If you prefer your coffee to taste clean with a sweet, bright acidity, you’re going to have difficulty being content with a French Press. If you enjoy the taste of espresso or americanos but aren’t interested in making espresso at home, an aeropress might be your best bet!

Using these four categories, we can help you take the next step with home brewing! Chat with a team member next time you’re in the shop and let us know what you’re most interested in and we can help!

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Coffee Questions: Coffee Grinders & Freshness by Caleb Savage

THE GRIND

If you want to make great coffee at home, do you have to have a grinder? And do you have to grind your coffee right before you make it?

Kinda.

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As we’ve said before, Coffee is a fruit. Fresh fruit means great flavors. Since coffee loses flavor the older it is, and, coffee stays fresh best when it it’s kept as a whole bean, waiting to grind coffee until right before you brew can keep your coffee more fresh. That being said, you shouldn’t buy a grinder based on freshness alone.

For making great coffee at home, buying a serious coffee grinder is probably the most impactful purchase you can make. While finding a brewer might depend on preference or style, and all scales generally do the same job, (some are more beautiful than others) not all grinders are equal.

All grinders grind coffee, but good grinders grind coffee evenly.

Thought experiment: You want to cut a pizza into equal size slices to ensure that everyone gets the same sized slice. Giving someone a larger slice means that someone else will get a smaller slice. In a world where one slice of pizza is enough to eat, one person will have too much food and the other won’t have enough. Getting flavor or extracting coffee is similar.

Holding all other variables constant, coffee particles at different sizes will extract at different speeds, because smaller particles will have less to extract than larger particles. This means that some coffee particles will over-extract, giving off bitterness and weakening the body of the coffee, and other coffees will under-extract, adding sourness and lessening sweetness of the cup. Having the ability to extract each coffee particle evenly leads to a balanced, sweet cup of coffee with brightness, clarity, and body.

Is it better to have coffee that tastes fresh or evenly extracted?

Freshness changes, grind consistency doesn’t. That being said, buying a great grinder isn’t the best option for everyone.

Solution: Fellow’s Atmos

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Do you go through 12oz of coffee about once a month or faster? Fellow’s Atmos Vacuum Canister might be the solution for you! By removing oxygen and sunlight from the equation, the coffee beans are able to retain the acids and sugars that give us the flavors we love longer, slowing down the ill effects of aging on coffee. Let us grind your coffee for you on our Mahlkonig EK43! This will give you more consistency than any home grinder could provide. By storing your ground coffee in the Atmos, you’re able to retain the freshness you want from whole bean coffee while getting a more consistent and improved extraction.

Coffee Questions: Brewing That Works by Caleb Savage

NOT JUST HERE FOR THE CAFFEINE

“What’s the best way to make coffee at home?”

Coffee making can be pretty frustrating. We want good coffee. We want to make it in a way that’s both fun and relatively easy. We don’t want it to break the bank. Why? Because we want coffee to be both utilitarian and pleasurable. We want it’s caffeine, but we want also want it to be sweet, well-balanced, and enjoyable. We want it to help us wake up in the morning so we don’t want a setup that requires us to be alert to be able to do it well.

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So how do we balance making great coffee without having to have the best equipment or follow a complex set of rules to get your first sip of caffeine?

The best cup of coffee is a coffee you like to make and drink.

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The Balancing Act

We can divide home brewing into a couple areas to determine the best setup for anyone: Interest, Time, and Cost.

Interest

Do you enjoy learning about where coffees are from? Do you follow recipes when you make coffee? If you want good coffee, but don’t have a lot of interest in the details, there are some great automated brewers that make Specialty quality coffee at home!

Time

Are you looking for a coffee setup that allows you to start a cup and be out the door five minutes later? A stovetop kettle might not be the best choice. Also, avoid hand grinders. If you have the time and interest, you can sip slowly and think critically about the coffees you make and make slight adjustments to your recipe until you’ve found the program that works best for you.

Cost

Sometimes we have a lot of interest and time to make great coffee but are missing the budget to have the “perfect” setup. Don’t sweat. Sometimes small improvements to things like water, coffee quality, or temperature can have dramatic results on the finished product!

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THINGS WE LOVE

“What equipment should I get?

The equipment we sell comes from companies we believe in. We use and sell Acaia scales, XF brewers and kettles, Chemexes, and Baratza grinders. If you are considering a new kettle or brewer, ask us about why we love the gear we use.

We also love helping you make the best coffee you want to make. Our team loves finding the gear or solution you need the balances your interest, time, and budget. Stop by the shop and chat with your baristas about the best set up for you.

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