Is your goal to recreate that one coffee that you can never forget? Are you on a journey to discover your perfect cup?
This guide is to start you off on your journey to find your ideal cup of joe.
I wrote this guide, not from the perspective of a coffee professional.
It’s written from my perspective of a coffee lover and a home barista who has heard it all from the coffee professionals and has 30+ years of experience brewing coffee at home.
I don’t know about your coffee knowledge, budget, or level of passion. I realize though that you are a coffee enthusiast, and that you will need to figure out what stage you are at and make coffee decisions that reflect that.
This guide explores the coffee knowledge you will need to start your journey as a home barista and offers guidance, perspective, practical advice, and a healthy dose of my opinion to make those decisions and develop your personal preferences.
My goal is to provide you with the baseline of knowledge you will need to discover your own perfect, delicious cup.
There is no one right way for any of it; just remain curious and enthusiastic.
We all enjoy good coffee, but we don’t have to appreciate it in the same way.
Why Should You Brew Your Coffee at Home?
Discover your ideal cup, and craft a great coffee that is adjusted to be just right for you. Why? I can think of at least 5 reasons.
1. Brew Quality Coffee
When you start brewing a great coffee cup at home, you will find that you can control the quality of your cup. You can get the beans and the gear of your choice anywhere these days without spending an arm and a leg, or order them online. You can control the entire process to make great coffee every time.
2. Pay Less for a Cup of Coffee
At a coffee shop, the cost of a cup of coffee is not cheap.
You can make great coffee at home for a fraction of the cost. So start making coffee at home.
You’ll be glad you did because you will learn to make your coffee just the way you like it, it will be your perfect coffee cup.
3. Drink Fresher Coffee
You can make the coffee as fresh as possible, right before you drink it.
I have noticed that coffee shops grind beans in batches, which means the grounds are sitting around for a while- maybe even a day or more.
Using old coffee grounds does not enhance the flavor of the coffee.
Now you can grind your beans right before brewing, and get the freshest coffee.
4. Have More Variety
Unlike at a coffee shop, where you can choose from a limited range of coffee, at home, you can make many different kinds of coffee.
If you create custom blends, you can also adjust your brew’s strength to be perfect for your taste.
5. Make it More Convenient
Going to a coffee shop once in a while is fun, but if you do it daily as part of your routine, it consumes a lot of time.
You have to drive to the coffee shop, order, pay, pick up your coffee, drink at the shop, or take it to go.
Once you can brew at home, you will make a great coffee and impress your family and friends.
What’s in A Perfect Cup of Coffee?
A great cup of coffee is one that is tuned perfectly for your senses.
It has great, complex flavors; it is fresh and served at just the right temperature, it smells great, it is just right.
You know great coffee right away when you have it.
Characteristics of Great Coffee
- Quality coffee Beans
- Freshly ground coffee beans
- The perfect degree of grind
- The water
- Quality brewing
Quality Coffee Beans
Even high-quality beans will produce low-quality coffee when brewed in a reduced- quality automatic coffeemaker.
It’s crucial to start with great beans. Espresso machines of the best quality and proper techniques can only do so much.
No matter how much you perfect your technique, you won’t be able to improve the quality that much if you’re starting with low-quality beans.
In fact, coffee scientist Christopher H. Hendon suggests that the outcome of any given cup is dependent on four key variables: the quality of the green (unroasted) coffee beans, the roast, the water, and the brewing technique.
However, he doesn’t give each of these equal weight.
What influences cup quality?
Hendon says the quality of the green coffee beans has the most significant influence on the brew (50%).
Its impact is enormous compared with those of the roast (20%), water (20%), and brewing technique (10%) to emphasize, this is assuming that the brewer uses the best methods.
Another way to look at this is to realize that there are limits to what a great roaster and a great brewer can do to improve the bean’s quality if the quality is not there.
Robusta vs. Arabica
The variety of a coffee tree, the conditions where it is growing, make a big difference in the flavor of the coffee.
There are only two important species of coffee trees that produce coffee beans that are widely sold: Coffea Arabica and Coffea Canephora, also known as Coffea Robusta.
Arabica beans have a better, sweeter flavor and are the way to go for making great coffee.
Robusta coffee is easier to produce and has more caffeine, but Robusta is bitterer than Arabica.
You may be able to tell the difference between Arabica beans and Robusta beans by looking at them- Robusta beans are more round, and Arabica beans are more elliptical in shape.
Processing the Beans
Once a crop of coffee cherries is harvested, the green coffee beans need to be separated from the cherry flesh.
Coffee processing is the stage where the coffee seeds or coffee beans are extracted from the coffee cherry.
The process by which the cherry is removed can significantly affect the taste of the beans.
Here are some of the conventional methods of processing coffee and how they affect the flavor.
There are several processing methods:
The main ones are natural or dry process, pulped natural or honey process, or washed or wet process.
Each processing method will have an effect on the flavor of your coffee.
Natural Process/Dry process
When brewed, natural process coffee tends to have robust fruity notes and full body texture.
Pulp Natural/Honey Process
Pulp natural coffees will lack the natural process coffees’ fruity notes, but it will have a very similar body texture.
It will have the sweetness and the acidity similar to washed process coffee.
Wash process coffee tends to be juicy as far as texture and will have delightful bright flavors and good acidity.
When buying coffee beans, you should find on the label or listed on the website what process the coffee is. But if you don’t, leave and buy from someone else.
By storing your coffee beans correctly, you can keep it fresh for up to four weeks from the time it was roasted, but not more than that.
To freeze or not freeze?
There is a debate in the coffee industry regarding freezing coffee.
Some say you should, and some say not to freeze.
I go by what my roaster tells me, just buy enough for a couple of weeks at most, and keep it in a cool dark place.
The enemies of coffee are oxygen, moisture, heat, and light.
So the best way to store it is in airtight, opaque canisters in a dark, cool, and dry place.
One right way to store coffee is to divide it into smaller portions. Keep about half of it in one container and the rest in another.
This way, you can use one container for one week, and the other half of the coffee won’t be exposed to air every time you open the can.
Freshly Ground Beans
You found the perfect blend of coffee beans roasted correctly, but if you don’t get the grind right, you can ruin the cup of coffee you are about to make.
Coffee beans, not roasted, would be unpalatable without being roasted and will remain no more than the light green seeds of coffee.
A roaster decides at what temperature and for how long the beans should roast to achieve the sensory profile required.
Often, a few seconds beyond the exact roasting time makes all the difference in the ideal degree of roast.
Chemical and Physical Processes
Chemical and physical processes that occur during roasting change the composition of the green beans and transforms them into ready-to-grind coffee beans.
Heat causes carbohydrates, proteins, oils, and acids to interact with each other causing the cell walls to expand.
The beans increase in volume and could double in size, some of the oils rise to the surface of the bean, and the coffee loses moisture, which creates many aromas.
How Fresh Is Your Coffee
Enjoy the best cup of coffee possible; the coffee must be fresh. But how is a freshness to be judged?
Here are a few fundamental principles that will guide you.
Because coffee is freshest immediately upon roasting if you happen to live close to one of the many small artisan coffee roasting companies can easily purchase the freshest of coffee beans.
Freshly roasted coffee emits carbon dioxide for several weeks following roasting, and it is a natural process.
The Enemies of Fresh Coffee
The enemies of fresh coffee are oxygen, moisture, high temperature, and light, all of which speed up the oxidization process.
This process of oxidization causes the oils in coffee beans to turn rancid, losing taste and aroma, leaving you with stale coffee.
It’s not that coffee suddenly turns from being beautiful, flavorsome, and aromatic to being stale, dull, and rancid.
Instead, it is a slow process, and proper packaging works to prevent oxygen, moisture, and light from getting at your coffee beans.
The Packaging is Important
The packaging is important and why most of the larger commercial coffee companies package their coffee in sealed bags with a one-way valve that allows the carbon dioxide to escape but prevents oxygen from entering the bag.
Vacuum packed coffee beans can last for a considerable time without spoiling while still retaining (most of) their freshness, taste, and aroma.
Once you have bought coffee beans, you should keep the package away from moisture, high temperature, and light.
So much for roasting and packaging, but what happens when coffee is ground?
Ground coffee exposed to air begins to stale immediately. Whereas deterioration of whole beans is a slow and gradual downhill process.
If you want to keep your coffee the freshest, grind your coffee immediately before brewing.
The Degree of Grind
The type of grind depends on the brewing method. French Press uses coarse
grind while Turkish coffee uses the finest grind.
You found the perfect blend of coffee beans roasted correctly, but if you don’t get the grind right, you can ruin the cup of coffee you are about to make.
Coffee begins losing flavor and aromas as soon as it is ground, so you should grind your coffee immediately before brewing.
But it’s not just about grinding your coffee daily, you also have to get the grind right.
The type of grind depends on the brewing method.
French Press uses coarse grind while Turkish coffee uses the finest grind. All other brewing methods fall somewhere in between.
Drip coffee makers use a medium to fine grinds. Espresso makers use fine grinds.
So the brewing method you are using will dictate the type of grind you need.
Type of Grinds
We’ll talk about brewing methods later, but now, let’s focus on the type of grinds.
A coarse grind is the easiest to distinguish visually. It has a lot of coarse particles that you can probably even pick up separately.
It is also the easiest to grind; you just need to grind for a short amount of time.
This type of grind is used in the French press method.
If you use a finer grind in French Press, you’ll get “mud” at the bottom of your cup.
A medium grind looks like granulated sugar.
It is used in drip coffee makers, which have a flat coffee filter. You have to grind in short bursts and keep an eye on the coffee to eyeball the level of the grind.
A find grind looks like powdered sugar, but if you hold it between your thumb and forefinger, you should still feel a little grit.
This type of grind is used in drip coffee makers with conical filters and in espresso coffee makers.
A Turkish grind is the finest grind you can get. The coffee looks like flour and has no grit.
And obviously, you use it only to make Turkish coffee.
It leaves “mud” at the bottom of the cup, which is acceptable in Turkish coffee even though most other coffee drinkers don’t like it.
You have to let the mud settle at the bottom and not stir or shake the cup too much while drinking the Turkish coffee.
Blade grinder vs. burr grinders
You can use either a blade grinder or a burr grinder to grind your coffee.
Blade grinders are cheaper and grind the coffee quickly.
But they also have drawbacks. They grind unevenly and make a lot of noise.
And their motors can get hot, which can start cooking the coffee even before it goes into the coffee maker. Also, blade grinders can’t provide the finest levels of grind.
Burr grinders are more expensive but also more consistent.
They use two disks or cones to grind the coffee, and you can set the level of grind you want.
For espresso makers, burr grinders are preferred over blade grinders.
You can also find hand grinders which might be blade or burr type but use hand power instead of electricity to run.
It might sound crazy, but you can also use a more traditional method to grind coffee. It’s something known as a “mortar and pestle. “
This is how coffee was grounded for ages before human beings became lazy. It requires a lot more effort and time, but you have full control over the level of grind.
As a cup of coffee is more than 98% water, the water’s condition and taste are at least as critical as the coffee.
People quite often buy coffee from a coffee shop where they enjoyed an excellent cup of joe.
They take the coffee beans home, grind and brew it and then wonder why it doesn’t taste the same.
As a cup of coffee is more than 98 % water, the water’s condition and taste are at least as critical as the coffee you use, and only water from the same source will re-create an exact feeling.
Hard Water vs. Soft Water
Coffee experts agree that the best water for brewing is slightly *hard; a few minerals will enhance the coffee flavor and the old custom of adding a “pinch of salt” to bring out the character.
If the brewing water is very hard, the calcium and the magnesium ions can get between the water molecules and the coffee particles, interfering with the extraction process, and the brew will have a little flavor.
When we check out the effect of *soft water in brewing coffee, we find out that the softest water possible is distilled or de-ionized water, it has virtually no taste, and no one would dream of making coffee with it, except me.
Therefore, let’s assume that coffee made with distilled water would also be tasteless and would need a “pinch of salt” to bring out the flavor.
Because it contains nothing to interfere with extraction, coffee brewed with tasteless, distilled water has a robust coffee flavor, which in the process of brewing, especially with a cheap blend, could easily be too strong.
Very soft water requires less coffee per brew, or a slightly coarse grind, or less contact time, which works to ensure that there is no over-extraction.
The old wife’s habit of adding a “pinch of salt” might have worked not to bring out the flavor, but instead toning it down and modifying the taste for the better if the original water was very soft.
Chlorinated or other chemically treated water or water polluted by old pipes, rust, or different tastes can affect the flavor of the coffee.
One choice to filter water is a permanent fitting that attaches to the kitchen central water system, another option is filtering devices, which filter and removes terrible tastes, are available in a carafe.
*Hard water has a high mineral content made up of calcium and magnesium carbonates, bicarbonates, and sulfates.
*Soft water contains no minerals and is de-ionized, in other words, distilled.
Before you can improve your brewing skills, you must know what happens when water meets coffee.
Making coffee is simple, but the bean itself really isn’t.
The more time you spend trying to understand the bean, the more complicated it becomes.
It’s almost as if coffee beans do everything in their power to give you a hard time.
By nature, the beans are inconsistent, and if you want to improve your coffee, you must account for the irregularity.
Here you will find out about coffee’s inconsistencies and how water and coffee interact to make our beloved beverage.
It also describes how (and why) you can manipulate factors such as brew ratio, dose, and grind size to make your brew just right.
With a solid understanding of these concepts, you can create the coffee you want to enjoy day after day.
Which is the best brewing method in the world?
On the one hand, we have caffeine-addicted espresso nuts, and on the other hand, we have the drip coffee aficionados.
Then there are the Moka pot lovers and the French press plungers!
There are a lot of different brewing methods, and every brewing method has its own loyal fan base.
But the truth is that it all comes down to personal choice.
No brewing method is better or worse than the others, it’s just different.
One thing that’s common to all brewing methods is that roasted coffee beans are ground into a powder, and then hot water is added to the mixture in different ways.
Of course, there’s also cold brewing, which doesn’t use hot water.
The water extracts the flavors from the coffee, but the timing has to be right; otherwise, it will extract the bitter flavors and result in a bad tasting coffee.
Brewing great coffee is about being precise and consistent.
In this guide, I am focusing mainly on espresso, as it is the method I love and have the most experience with.
A mixture of Science and Art
Espresso, to me, is on the top of the hip of brewing methods. An espresso machine pushes hot water under pressure over finely ground coffee beans.
Brewing a shot of espresso is a mixture of science and art.
Espresso represents a coffee culture that has spread throughout the world.
The shot of espresso is different from any other brewing method, with a thick, silky texture, concentrated flavors, caffeine, and It contains more suspended solids and nutrients.
To top it all off is the crema, a layer of emulsified oils found in coffee, and cannot be formed by any other method.
There is no set standard about how to pull the perfect shot, every barista does it in their own way.
You place 7-9 grams of coffee grounds are packed in tightly in the basket.
The water is heated to just below boiling automatically, it is pushed through the coffee with about ten bars of pressure for 20-25 seconds, and you get a single shot.
When making a double shot, you need to prorate the amount of coffee and the time.
Start brewing by turning on the machine.
Check that there are enough coffee beans in the grinder and enough water in espresso machine by looking at the sight glass that indicates the water level, and lastly, clean the group head screen.
Start by detaching the porta-filter from the last brew from the machine, Clean up the porta-filter and the basket in it and prepare it for the next drink.
Get the porta-filter under the grinder, check that the grind setting is correct, and fill the basket with freshly ground coffee.
From there, use the tamper and press the coffee well and mount the porta-filter to the group head.
When you notice that the brewing light went off, which means that the water has reached its temperature, and you’re good to go.
Press on the brew button and watch the rich, thick brew dripping, creating your espresso shot.
To start frothing, you inset the steam wand almost the steamer’s button, open the steam valve most of the way, and keep the steam wand like that for a few seconds, until the bottom of the steamer feels warm to the touch.
Lower the steamer away from the wand until the wand is just below the milk surface, Keep it there while it begins to froth, and when you hear a hissing sound.
When you feel that the frothing is done, Insert the wand further into the milk and turn the steam down.
Let the milk steam, and in a few seconds, there will be a rise in volume.
When you see a gentle smooth foam forming, and it has reached the steamer’s rim, close the steam valve and give the steamer a few swivels to make the foam even consistency, and it’s ready to pour on the espresso.
How to Ensure the Perfect Espresso?
Making slight adjustments to the grind, dosage, and tamping pressure can result in the ideal shot.
The appearance of the crema on the surface is an excellent way to find out if your cup of espresso is perfect or not.
If the crema is whiter than brown, the coffee is under-extracted, and it needs a finer grind and/or a more firm tamping.
If the crema is burnt or is very dark in the middle, the coffee is over-extracted: possibly the grind is too fine, the dose too large, the tamping too hard, or too much water was run through the coffee.
Keep in mind that it will take some time to master the art of brewing espresso.
Espresso Coffee Drinks
Espresso also forms the base to a variety of other popular coffee drinks such as the cappuccino, latte, Americano, macchiato and more.
These drinks are made by adding frothed milk to the espresso shot.
Each drink varies in how the milk is added to the shot and what ratio is used.
Macchiato: one part of espresso with a thin layer of micro-foam.
Cappuccino: one part espresso, one part steamed milk, and one part microfoam.
Americano: one part espresso, two parts hot water.
Latte: one part espresso, three parts steamed milk, a thick layer of microfoam.
Cortado: one part espresso, one part steamed milk.
Flat white: one part espresso, two parts steamed milk, a thin layer of micro-foam.
There are more variations of drinks made by using espresso coffee by adding different things to it.
Flavored coffees can be made by adding syrups of different flavors. Spices can also be added to enhance the flavor. For example, cappuccino is often served with cinnamon spice.
I hope the information and advice in this guide will help you in the pursuit of your perfect cup, like anything else you pursue, making the ideal cup at home will take you on your own unique journey.
In this guide, I provided you with some milestones to help you along on your quest.
Each milestone is/will be a marker that signifies a stage in building a body of knowledge and experience in the wide world of coffee.
There are so many different kinds of coffee beans, brewing methods, and gear you can try; every experience will change your view and taste.
I started with an espresso machine I stumbled upon in a grocery store and bought as a birthday gift for my wife, little I knew, that started my exploration of coffee that hasn’t stopped to this day.
Keep learning and trying new blends of beans, and latest brewing techniques and tips, and what’s new right here at Brewing Java.
I will always be here to answer any questions you might have.
If you enjoyed reading this guide, tell your friends about it.