Do you love coffee? If you answer with either yes or no then we need to talk.
If you are already confident in your ability to brew a kick ass cup of coffee then you probably also know the difference between fragrance and aroma, and you’re not intimidated with phrases like single origin, extraction, bloom, or mouth feel. Awesome. Even though I think we will get along, this article may not be not for you. Please stick around though because I have some in-depth discussions about things like paper vs. metal filtration or immersion vs. gravity planned for the near future.
Right now my goal is to reach out to those of you who are interested, but still apprehensive about jumping into the world of manual brew, and encourage to you to take that first step towards a richer, full-bodied lifestyle. It’s surprisingly simple and there is much to enjoy about home brewing that goes beyond taste, the process itself is actually fun and once you hone your skills in the home kitchen you can apply it to your office/tailgate at work, camp kitchen, backpacking and yes, biking. With some basic knowledge and the right tools you can quite literally bring a fresh brewed cup of coffee anywhere you go.
I’m not an expert and I have never worked professionally in the coffee industry, so take everything I say with a grain of salt sized coffee ground. I can’t stress enough that the more opinions and input you can find, the more well-rounded your skills and palate will become, so research, research and research. Also remember that the proof is always in the cup, which means that if you brew something, regardless of the methods, ratios or standards and you enjoy the taste of your labours then it was by all accounts a success.
A common reaction I receive after telling folks that I prefer to manually brew my own coffee vs. using a conventional drip machine or buying it from a coffee shop is “So you’re kind of coffee snob then?”
Well, no, I do not consider myself a snob by any means. A nerd, yeah sure, but not a snob. I would never want someone to feel excluded because I give off some holier than thou vibe, I’m not all that holy, and I believe in inclusion. And love. And peace. Make coffee not bombs. So gather round, hold hands, and lets dive into this wonderful world together.
One important thing to note before we drink the kool-aid is that we are here to discuss coffee. Not dessert. I love dessert, but as a personal philosophy dessert shall remain segregated from my coffee cup (except affogato). There are hundreds of brilliant, vibrant and complex flavours waiting for you inside these little roasted cherry seeds, lets not overshadow them with milks and sugars like some kind of liquified birthday cake.
Over the course of a few articles I will attempt to guide you through the early steps to becoming an amateur chemist in your own kitchen, but first, here’s a breakdown of what you will need to get your home adventure started:
Bean me up
Admittedly, it is simply overwhelming to look in from the outside, words like french, light, dark, fair trade, arabica, sumatra, kona, and many more being thrown at you every time you step into a starbucks. What do these words actually mean? Which is the right one to start with?
Basically, do whatever you want. Sort of. Just make sure you only buy whole bean, never, ever buy grounds. My next suggestion is buy the bean that is the most consistently available to you. If you are ready to start developing your palate to accept all the wonderful and intricate flavours that will be contained in your mug the best thing you can do is start with a baseline. A good bean is one that will be available to you all the time to use as a standard to compare and contrast with the local coffee shop or a fellow enthusiasts home brews.
I will recommend that you don’t start with espresso beans as they work best with specific equipment and recipes. Basically any type of light or medium roast will provide you with an excellent jumping off point.
At some point we can get into origins and the differences that each country, roaster, and blending will have on the flavour profile. For now though, we will focus on turning that delicious smelling bag into the best possible cup of coffee.
So you have the beans. Next step, and an absolutely crucial one, is to get a burr grinder. Do not buy your beans pre-ground and do not get the coffee shop to grind them for you unless you immediately go home (like, less than 15 min) and brew the entire bag worth of coffee. The anatomy of a roasted coffee bean creates a protective shell around the precious oils and gasses inside which are extremely delicate and volatile, once that shell is cracked the bean quickly turns into a Slingshot, when what you actually brought home started life as a Santa Cruz V10.
Not just any grinder will do. It must be a burr grinder. Repeat. It must be a burr grinder. A blade grinder may seem appealing because they are cheaper but the blades actually destroy the bean, will likely burn them and I guarantee it will ruin your coffee. Again, please don’t ruin your beautiful new V10.
But burr grinders can cost hundreds or thousands of dollars.
Yeah, and someday you might actually want an ek43, but for what we are trying to achieve here you can find an adequate, adjustable grinder for $50- $100, and its worth every life changing penny. Electric or hand-mill, either one is gonna be just fine at this point in your career.
While a scale is not crucial for measuring out the grounds and water, I highly recommend one for, again, consistency. Most basic digital kitchen scales are under $50 and accurate to 0.5 grams.
In a pinch you can get away with a coffee scoop which is roughly equivalent to 2 tablespoons.
You know what, just go with a scale, it’ll guarantee consistency and therefore simplicity. You’d really be taking your chances with a scoop. You already bought the boat, don’t skip on the life jackets.
I guess its up to you to weigh the, um, odds.
Pedal to the Kettle
Again, these can equal in price to a healthy kidney, but in the real world a simple electric kettle will do for now. There are specific kettles for different brew methods but I don’t want to over complicate things just yet. Preferably you will find one with multiple temp settings. 195f-207f (90c-96c) is what we’re after for most brew methods. Stove top is also fun, but electric is a little quicker, as if that matters.
H double O
Find a consistent clean, pure water source. This is crucial because believe it or not, coffee is actually made almost entirely of water! City tap water is usually loaded with enough chemicals to paralyze a newt so I suggest bottled spring water or a Culligan type water dispenser. Because, you guessed it, consistency is key, it should be the same tasting water for every cup you brew.
Lastly, the fun part. Choose a brew method. There are plenty, and almost all of them are fantastic. Better yet, choose more than one. The equipment for most methods is fairly cheap, $25 for a basic pour over or up to $200 for a high school chemistry set they call a siphon. Each method creates unique aromas, flavours and mouth feels. The only way to find your favourite is to try as many as possible and start experimenting. The Kitchn has a nice flowchart here or, if you’re adventurous (which you are because life is too short to stay inside) Loam Coffee has a handy breakdown of some of the best outdoor apparatuses here
That’s all for now folks. You have my blessing to go forth and spend your money. You’ll thank me in a couple of weeks when we dive into the actual process of using your new toys and you get your first taste of your own manually brewed cup of coffee.
Check back often for follow-up articles with details on my favourite ways to brew coffee on my kitchen counter or tailgate.
While you’re logged into the web, do some research on brewing, roasting, and tasting. Much like you, I am just a man on a journey so don’t use my ramblings as your only source of information. There is plenty of great info out there and the best part is that it’s all opinionated, just like me, and just like you will be too soon enough.
Please leave some feedback here or email me directly from our contact page for any questions, concerns, fears or heartaches you may be having. I’m a real good listener.
Words by Tim Friesen
Photos by Shane Wiebe