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Brewing a Better Cup of Coffee

Published on under the Coffee category.

It’s almost essential that you start brewing coffee from a humble beginning. I don’t have an origin story where I sat drinking bitter diner coffee into the early hours of the morning. I drank instant coffee for a while but I gave up on it. Instant coffee was good because it felt like it packed a punch. I felt a bit more adult drinking instant coffee than tea, which I had been allowed to drink for a long while before coffee.

I brewed my first cup of speciality coffee with an Aeropress. I made many mistakes. But that’s how I learned how to make a better cup. I’ve made some bad cups of coffee but each of them seems to be incrementally better than the last. My first Aeropress was much better than any instant coffee I’ve tried. My first cup of coffee with fresh beans was notably better than supermarket beans.

I’ve made three big changes to my brewing process since starting that I’d like to share.

A Grinder

I resisted buying a grinder for a while. Electric grinders were way too expensive. I was, and still am not, willing to pay over 100 pounds for a coffee grinder. I only paid about 30 pounds for my Aeropress. I get that grinding is important but, at least to me, it’s not worth spending all that money on an electric grinder.

I knew that manual grinders were cheaper and more accessible. I’d need to adjust my grind on a dial and after that I’d have my grinder set up. I found a number of great entry-level grinders at a low price point. But for a while I was not willing to buy one. I was happy having my coffee ground for me. This took out a step of the brewing process that I was not ready to take on.

I was almost forced to buy a grinder. I signed up for a coffee cupping and all the samples came as whole beans. In a rush, I decided that I would buy a grinder so that I could participate. I’d been looking forward to the session for a while. I did not want to bail out because I did not have a grinder.

I found a Hario Mini Mill on Amazon that looked great. I had saw the particular model I bought on the Union Coffee website so I knew it must be good. Union was out of stock and Amazon offered quick delivery so I ordered the grinder on Amazon.

Having a grinder has improved the quality of my coffee. It sounds almost cliche for me to be saying this because so many blog posts and coffee books talk about the importance of getting a grinder. It was not until I tasted beans that I had ground myself that I realized what a grinder meant to my cup of coffee.

It was not just the taste of the coffee that changed. My coffee ritual changed. I had to spend more time brewing a cup of coffee. I enjoy the process of grinding all of my beans from scratch. It can be laborious but I am in the moment when I grind coffee. I become attuned to whether there are any beans which require me to push stronger because I can feel the resistance to the grinder.

A Scale

Like with the grinder, I was hesitant to buy a scale. I thought that having a scale to make coffee would make the process too scientific. I know that there’s a lot of science that goes into coffee. I didn’t want to measure quantities every time I brewed a cup of coffee.

I’ve been brewing my coffee with a scale for a few days because I wanted to see how it would impact my brewing process. A digital scale was a small investment. I only spent about 17 pounds on the scale. I’ll be able to use it for baking should I attempt to bake again. Suffice to say, it’s been good to brew coffee with a scale. I’ve had a few hiccups but I am getting used to this new stage in the process.

It’s hard for me to say that my coffee is more consistent because I’ve not had enough cups yet. But I do feel more comfortable when I am brewing. I don’t have to worry about whether I’ve ground too much coffee. The amount of coffee I grind is measured exactly. I prefer this to my old system of eyeballing.

A Timer

I’ve been timing my brews since I first began. I could not brew with an Aeropress by using my body’s internal clock. I am not that good at tracking the time. There’s too much going on for me to just guess the time. I started by using the timer on my Fitbit. I would set a 1:15 timer and wait until it reached 45 seconds. Then I would stir my coffee. I’d reset the timer and let my coffee brew for 1:15.

I’ve recently started to use my phone for timing instead of my watch. I’m no longer setting two timers. I set a stopclock and count upwards. When I start pouring, I start the timer. As soon as 30 seconds have elapsed, I stir my coffee and pour in the rest of the water. I wait until 1:45 and then attach the filter cap to my Aeropress and press down to move the coffee into my cup.

This is a small change but it’s made it easier for me to brew coffee. I don’t have to set two timers on my watch. I can lay my phone on the counter and rely on its timer for my brew times.

Always Changing

My coffee brewing process is slowly changing. I only get to run two experiments each day at the most because I only brew two cups of coffee. I could brew more if I wanted but I’m happy with my current intake. I don’t want to spoil the ritual of brewing a cup of coffee.

I like to change variables when I can. I try to only change one variable at a time. The changes I’ve mentioned have occurred over the last month. When I change my process, I try not to change the beans I use. This makes it easy for me to evaluate the impact of the variable I have changed. I don’t have to worry about any differences in flavor as a result of using a new bean.

I’m going to keep experimenting to see what I can brew. There is no perfect cup that I want to brew. I just want to get better at brewing a clean, sweet, and consistent cup of coffee.

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