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How You Brewin’?

With so much information out there, it’s easy to get overwhelmed and resign yourself to continue drinking subpar coffee. But we are here to break down the rules for better home brewing.

Tiffany Duncan
Chelsi Fisher
April 29, 2017

If you’ve ever brewed coffee at home, these questions might sound familiar to you: why doesn’t this taste like when I get it at a coffee shop? Why is it so watery? What am I doing wrong? The answer to these questions is multi-fold, with a lot of different variables coming into play.

Over the past couple of years, there’s been a movement toward brewing better coffee at home; commercial-grade coffee out of a standard pot just isn’t cutting it for a lot of people anymore. But with the desire to brew better coffee at home comes a lot of new questions about equipment upgrades, which coffee beans to purchase, how the beans should be roasted, etc.

With so much information out there, it’s easy to get overwhelmed and resign yourself to continue drinking subpar coffee. But we are here to break down the rules for better home brewing once and for all, and walk you through one of the easiest pour-over methods for exceptional home coffee: the Chemex.

Key Factors in Brewing Good Home Coffee

  • Use quality, whole bean coffee that has been roasted within the same week of purchase. The roast date should appear on the bag somewhere. If it doesn’t, put that sucker down and move on. Like anything else, freshness is a huge factor in taste.
  • Never buy pre-ground coffee! In as little as 30 minutes post-grind, coffee grounds will begin to oxidize, flatten, and lose flavor much like an avocado or an apple does. Just imagine what’s happening to grocery store coffee that’s been on a shelf for who knows how long — yikes. Also, the grind size may not be what you need for your home brewing equipment.
  • Purchase a light to medium-roasted coffee. When roasting coffee, a lighter roast is optimal for bringing out the naturally occurring sugars inside the bean that will blossom forth when brewed. But if beans are pushed into the dark roast category, all the sugars have been burned out, leaving nothing but carbons and the taste of ash and smoke behind.
  • Make sure you are using filtered water as opposed to distilled or tap. Because coffee is over 98 percent water, using the wrong water will obviously affect taste, making it either too harsh or too thin. There are many factors in tap and distilled water that can mess with the coffee’s extraction (pH too high, too much calcium, too little mineral content or too much, etc.).
  • The right water temperature is also crucial to properly extract flavor from the coffee grounds. In specialty coffee shops, the water temperature of the brewing equipment is set between 195-205 degrees, whereas most standard home coffee pots lack the proper heating elements that are necessary in bringing water up to proper extraction temperature, yielding a weak and underdeveloped taste.
  • Use a burr grinder, not a blade grinder. Blade grinders are standard kitchen stock, but all they do is slash up the coffee into larger and smaller pieces rather than uniform throughout (which is important for even extraction). A burr grinder uses two revolving surfaces to evenly grind up the coffee a little at a time, and it also gives you more control in making the grind size bigger or smaller according to your need.
  • If you do not wish to invest in a grinder, at least buy whole bean coffee from a local specialty coffee shop and have them grind it for you so it’s as fresh as possible. Also, the burr grinder they use will produce an accurate and even grind throughout.

Why Does Grind Size Matter?

Imagine pouring water into one jar filled with rocks, and one jar filled with rice. The water will run down into the bottom of the rocks jar much quicker than the rice because there is less inside surface area to cover. In the same way, the grind size of your coffee will affect how fast the water runs through your grounds, either running too quick or too slow.

If coffee is ground too coarse (think of the rocks jar), the grounds will not be exposed to the water long enough to properly extract, making your coffee taste thin, sour, or watery. And if the grind is too fine (think of the rice jar), water will not run through quick enough, pooling too long on the grounds and Myielding a bitter taste.

Chemx Instructions

1: Fill gooseneck kettle with filtered water and plug in to boil.

2: For an 8-cup Chemex like we are using here, dose out 45 grams of coffee beans on the scale. Set aside (you don’t want to grind it until immediately before use).

3: Pop open the filter and place three of the folds against the notched pour spout (the Chemex relies on air flow to work properly) and one against the back.

4: Remove gooseneck kettle from heat (does not need to be boiling yet) and pre-wet the filter to wash out any chemical or papery taste lingering on the filter. Return kettle to heat.

5: Once water is finished dripping through, momentarily remove the filter and dump the rinse water out of the Chemex. Return filter.

6: Using your home burr grinder, set it to a medium-course setting and grind your 45 grams of coffee. If using the Baratza Encore like we are using, set it between a “25” and “30.” If using a different grinder, this will simply take some fiddling around before finding a satisfactory grind. Once coffee is ground, pour it exactly into the center of the filter, getting as little on the sides as possible.

7: Set the Chemex on the scale and tare the weight to zero. Once water is boiling, remove from heat. Wait about five seconds (for water to cool just slightly) and press start on the timer. Using a circular motion, pour 150 grams of water onto grounds before the first 30 seconds is up. Using a stirring apparatus, slightly agitate the grounds and break up the clump at the bottom of filter so water can more easily flow through.

8: Once the timer hits 30 seconds, pour on the next 150 grams of water. Stop when scale reads 300 grams. Wait.

9: Once timer hits one minute, pour on next 150 grams. Stop when scale reads 450 grams. Wait.

10: Once timer hits 1:30, pour on last 150 grams. Stop when scale reads 600 grams.

11: Gently pick up the Chemex filter and replace it so there is a clear flow of air through the spout. If the filter settles and blocks spout, Chemex will not drain.

12: Pick up entire Chemex and gently tap the bottom flat onto the table twice. This knocks down any grounds that have improperly settled.

13: Chemex should finish draining between minute 4:15 to 4:30. If your Chemex drains quicker or slower than this, the grind will need to be readjusted.