Sunshower Farms’ Guide to Brewing Great Coffee
We want you to enjoy our coffee as much as we enjoy it, and the key is to brew it well. There are so many aspects to brewing a great cup of coffee that it can easily become overwhelming. This guide will hopefully help you to get the most out of your coffee without getting too crazy (i.e. Gale in Breaking Bad).
Beans and Roast
The first and most important step is to start with great beans that have been roasted well and recently. If you have purchased our coffee, you have already succeeded at this first step! However, buying great coffee is only the first step of the process of brewing a great cup of coffee. Poor brewing can ruin an otherwise excellent coffee!
The best way to store your coffee is to keep it on the pantry shelf. Keep it fresh by storing it in an airtight, opaque container, away from light, heat, and moisture. Do not freeze or refrigerate your coffee. Also, freshness matters:try to drink your coffee soon after receiving it because the more recently it was roasted, the better it tastes!
First, you should start with whole bean coffee whenever possible. When the coffee bean is still whole, it acts as its own storage container, trapping most of the flavor inside. A coffee grinder is a pretty inexpensive purchase over the life of the grinder—especially if you are an avid coffee drinker. Also, if you are purchasing great (and expensive!) coffee, it makes sense to get the most out of your purchase by grinding it fresh. Some experts say that coffee, once ground, can go stale in as little as 7 minutes if not stored in an airtight container. We recommend a burr grinder because it grinds the coffee more uniformly, which results in more even extraction and a better cup of coffee. However any type of coffee grinder will be better than using pre-ground coffee.
Once you have your grinder and are ready to grind, the main question is: how finely should you grind your coffee? That depends greatly on how you are brewing it. If you are using a French Press, you will have a much coarser grind, whereas if you are making espresso, you will want a very fine grind. There is an exact science to how much surface area in relation the mass of the coffee should be exposed to the hot water during brewing. But for the non-chemists among us, it’s good advice to just follow the general guidelines on your grinder.
Bad water makes bad coffee. A cup of coffee is mostly water, so the water you use will have a big effect on the final taste of your coffee. If your water has a “taste” you really should not use it to make your coffee, as it will impart those flavors into the coffee. You also should not use water that has been softened or distilled, as it lacks the minerals that are essential to the extraction process. If you are unsure about what water to use, just use bottled water.
The other important aspect of your water is the temperature. If you are using a drip coffee maker to brew, it will regulate the temperature for you (although some can be too cold, so test the temp on yours if you aren't sure!). If you are using any other method (like a chemex, French press or pour over cup) you should really take the temperature of your water before brewing. The brewing temperature of water should be between 195 F and 205F. Water that is boiling will burn your coffee and water that is too cold will not fully extract the oils and flavors from the coffee.
Water to Coffee Ratio
In my opinion there is no one “right” water to coffee ratio—it is completely individual taste. However, the standard amount of water to coffee is a ½ oz (usually approx. 2 tbs) of ground coffee to 6 oz of hot water. That is a good starting point—albeit a little bit strong—for determining the perfect ratio for you. The proper way to measure coffee is by weight because different coffees can have different densities. If you are really serious about coffee, then you should invest in a scale that can weigh small portions (grams is best!) of coffee accurately. However, many people measure their coffee by volume, and that is fine, too, especially once you have figured out the perfect ratio for you.
Something to remember, though, is that you can always add hot water to brewed coffee to reduce the concentration (like an Americano), but if you have brewed it too weak, you just have to start over. It is really important to experiment and find your own personal coffee brewing ratio because an otherwise great coffee can easily be misjudged if it was brewed using a ratio that is not to your taste.
There are three main ways to brew coffee: immersion brewing, percolation brewing, and pressurized brewing. Immersion brewing is when coffee is “steeped” in water like tea and then filtered out;the most common form of immersion brewing is a French press. Percolation brewing is when the water moves through the coffee using gravity;this method is used by both drip coffee makers and pour over cups. Finally there’s the pressurized method, which is how espresso is made. All of these brewing methods have their own pros and cons and different people have different tastes. Any of these methods can be great if the grind size, temperature, and timing are on point.
As a rule of thumb, the longer the water and coffee are in contact, the larger the grind should be. There is a tendency to assume that the more finely a coffee is ground that the better the resulting infusion will be. This is where you can really go wrong! If a grind is too fine, and the exposure too long, you will get much more flavor than you want,including undesirable flavors (generally referred to as “bitters”). Timing is really only a big issue for amateur coffee brewers (like yourself) if an immersion brewing method (like a French press) is being used. I wish I could tell you exactly how long to infuse your coffee when using a French press, but even coffee enthusiasts are very divided! The best advice, in my opinion, is to start with a 3 minute immersion and then push down your plunger and try a little sip of coffee. If you want it stronger or more flavorful, lift the plunger back up and put another minute on the timer. Just keep doing that until you get the coffee you like, and that will give you a better idea about your personal preferences. You may even find that you prefer different coffees with different extraction times. Just experiment!