Crafting the Cup

Starting the day with a great cup of coffee is one of life's little pleasures. There's just something relaxing about it, whether it's re-centering oneself in the quiet hours of the morning, before the day's travels or for a mid-day pick-me-up. The amalgamation of quality ingredients, the right equipment, along with a little knowledge and technique goes along way towards crafting that café quality cup of coffee.

Woman enjoying coffee at sunrise

There are many elements that influence a good cup of coffee. Using fresh, high quality beans with a recent roasting date is one of the best ways to maintain the flavor. Roasted beans and especially freshly ground coffee can lose their potency of aroma and flavor over time.

This reference table can be used to remember recommended storage timeframes for unopened coffee. There are typically two sides of the fence on whether or not the freshness of coffee can be prolonged in cold storage. If coffee is to be stored in the freezer to prolong the taste, it is recommended to typically do so with an unopened, sealed package. Once exposed to air in the freezer, the coffee flavor could become undesirable. 

Hand picking coffee bean off plant

A number of factors can influence the flavor of coffee and there are a wide variety of flavors to experience as well! The natural flavor a bean produces can depend on plant type, growing conditions, farming practices, harvesting methods, and how the beans are prepared. In addition to the coffee beans having natural flavors, artificial oils can be added for some fun and unique tastes. 

Hand roasting beans

For example, here is a list of  some of our single origin coffees and their relative tasting notes. It can sometimes be hard to pinpoint flavors out of coffee. This flavor wheel from the Specialty Coffee Association (SCA) and World Coffee Research (WCR) may help identify and articulate certain flavors.

Roasting the beans can have a large impact in the progression of flavor compounds. As the roasting progresses from lighter to darker, the beans develop acidic, to nut and chocolate like qualities. The diagram below maps out some typical tasting notes as the roast goes from light, to medium, to dark.

 Roast diagram that displays characteristics of roasts from light to dark.


Once the coffee is selected, it's time to select a coffee maker and decide how the coffee will be brewed. There are typically two groups of low-concentration (non-espresso) methods. This includes devices that fully immerse the coffee in brew water and those flow water through via gravity the coffee. Some examples are below.

Common Full Immersion Brewers: French Presses, Cold Brew Jugs, Aeorpresses

Common Pour Over Brewers: Drip Coffee Pots, Chemex's, Kalita Waves, Bodum Pour overs, Hario V60 Mugen Drippers

While the full immersion systems control the time the hot water saturates the grounds, flow through makers do not have this benefit. So how fine or how course the coffee grind is can be used to somewhat control how long they interact with the hot water.

The finer and more uniform the grounds, the slower the flow rate of water through them. This is one reason burr grinders are more desired than blade grinders for better control over the size and evenness of the coffee grounds. Immersion brewing also benefits from using burr grinders. If the coffee is too bitter, it may be ground too fine and is over-extracted. If the coffee lacks any body or robustness, the grounds may be too coarse and under-extracted. This infographic from the "I love Coffee" blog provides a nice summary on when to use grounds depending on the method.

How to grind coffee for different brewing methods.

Water temperature is typically higher in full immersion devices, which can increases the extraction rate of the flavor from the coffee to the water. While the higher temperatures extract more of the flavor and also yield a stronger cup of coffee, it also can pull out more of the less desirable compounds. A good rule of thumb is water that is 195 to 205 degrees for good extraction. 

If using a pour over device, using a nice gooseneck kettle can help control the flow of water over the grounds for even distribution of water and temperature with the grounds. The key here is to find a balance depending on the device being used, the size of the grind, type of coffee and personal tastes with the end goal of that cup of coffee.

Drip pour coffee

Water-to-coffee ratio and water type are also important. A general guideline to start with is the "Golden Ratio."  This usually consists of one or two tablespoons coffee for every six ounces of water. A scale can be used here as well for more accurate adjustments on the amount of coffee grounds.

When it comes to water, certain chemical compounds within the water can change the flavor. Soft water that contains low levels of calcium and bicarbonate will usually yield a more acidic cup. Inversely hard water containing high levels of bicarbonate will create a more chalky cup. So trying different types of water can alter the flavor to the desired state. Trying using bottled water vs. the tap water to see the difference.

In summary, there are many variables that can change how a cup of coffee turns out and it will take a little trial and error to figure out what tastes good based on personal preference. Once that combination is figured out, creating consistent café quality cups of coffee should be come a little easier. 

Quick start:

  1. Pick a coffee with desired tasting notes
  2. Look to pick up a nice grinder, gooseneck kettle and coffee scale
  3. Determine grind size based on brew method
  4. Store unopened grounds in an sealed container until ready for use or grind beans immediately before use. Fresher the better before brewing.
  5. Select a brewing method such as a French Press, Pour over or drip machine.
  6. Maintain water temp between 195 to 205 degrees
  7.  Brew coffee for five minutes in drip systems or two to four minutes in French Presses
  8. Enjoy!