The art of brewing coffee using a recipe: mastering temperature & grind size

Brewing a delicious cup of coffee is both an art and a science. Everyone starts from the holy grail of 60g to a litre of water (science). Beyond that, you’re a bit on your own. You start worrying about quite a few variables (art).

To make this slightly easier, some good souls (coffee roasters/baristas) have published recipes. These are based on a specific brewing method and honed through daily practice and customer turnover.

But recipes do run short as they’re based on a set of assumptions!

Two key assumptions are the kettle aka water temperature and your grind - they’re the base for a good extraction. Funnily enough, most recipes get them wrong. They’re either vague, or downright missing.

To help you get the most out of your awesome beans, I’m going to walk you through a couple of V60 recipes. I’ll showcase tips on how to deal with the vagueness including tools that will help.

 Here are the recipes

Both are V60 recipes, one is from the excellent Heart Coffee Roasters in Portland (recipe 1) while the other is from newly discovered Soyuz Coffee Roasting in Russia (recipe 2).

Go through the recipes to familiarise yourself with the techniques used. I can wait …

Both can produce amazing cups of coffee but use different doses, grinds and water temperatures during the process. To avoid flipping backwards and forwards between web pages, here are each recipe’s main points.

 Recipe 1

Dose 22g                       Water 360g (including bloom)

Bloom time 20 sec       Bloom water 40g (360g - 40g left)

Grind ???                       Temp 45 sec-1 min off boil (200-205F / 93-96C)

Ideal total contact time 2:20 to 2:30 min


 Recipe 2

Dose 18g                                 Water 300g (including bloom)

Bloom time 20 sec                Bloom water 30g (300g - 30g left)

Grind like grains of sand??   Temp 4 min off boil (197-201F / 92-94C)

Ideal total contact time 2:00 to 2:50 min

 The tools

These matter most:

More stuff:

I am assuming that you already have a V60 brewer with the correct filters and beans from a good coffee roaster.

 Get to know your kettle

Before we start brewing, we really need to understand both our kettle’s boiling point as well as its pouring mechanism aka spout.

 Stove top kettles

A good start. On boil, depending on your current elevation and the mineral content of your water, you can generally guarantee 100C / 212F.

However, they do take a while to boil and cleaning them could be a bore.

 Standard electric kettles

I feel they have a mind of their own - each with a different boiling point.

I run into this problem a lot. To ensure I’m close to boiling point, I always manually hold down the switch for at least 2 extra mins. More often than not, I burn a finger but I do get really hot water!

 Temperature control kettles

The ideal. An example is the Bonavita Variable Temperature Kettle. They’re a bit expensive but great if you really want to pin things down.

 Using a thermometer

Luckily, most recipes list the desired water temperature. Owning a thermometer really simplifies things. Practice with your own kettle and keep boiling until you get the correct temperature.

 Using a pouring jug

A jug can come in handy as pouring speed is a subtle way for controlling extraction.

Weigh out the desired water dose after the boil. Afterwards, keep testing the temperature with your thermometer before brewing using the water from the jug.

 Most recipes assume a gooseneck kettle

Most coffee brewing recipes including recipe 1 and recipe 2 assume a stove top gooseneck kettle. If you have one, you can follow the instructions to the letter. The gooseneck spout is ideal for controlling your pour. This is highly important for V60 brews as more water flow speeds up extraction while less flow slows things down.

Personally thermometers and pouring jugs were getting in the way of my enjoying the brewing process. So, I just bought a gooseneck kettle - life is now simple!

 Measuring the grind

Varying the grind size but keeping other variables constant e.g. water temperature, coffee dose etc.. is a simple way of triangulating to a good brew.

As recipes tend to be vague about grind, we need to come up with our own mechanism for finding a measure for grind size. This will depend on your grinder. Some grinders can change the grind size based on turns and clicks,. Others, like the Hario Skerton require some very minor mods to reliably arrive at the same grind size over and over again.

 Practice in small batches

Practicing a new recipe can mean wasting a lot of (expensive) beans.

I use a basic formula to adjust recipe ingredients to achieve smaller coffee doses: coffee dose / amount of water - this ratio dictates the strength of the brew.

I then apply the ratio to small water measures to get the right amount of beans needed. For example, grabbing a calculator and using [recipe 1]((http://www.heartroasters.com/pages/v60)),

 Tweak and take notes

When its time to start brewing, we have to keep notes of our experiments. This will make it easier to replicate and adjust brews. Here, I only vary the grind size:

Note: This is based on recipe 1 & I’m using a gooseneck kettle

Recipe name a recipe           Grind measured grind

Dose reduced                         Water reduced (including bloom)

Bloom time 20 sec                 Bloom water 40g

Temp 45 sec off boil

My water contact time fill in after brewing completes

Result undrinkable / good / very good / matches flavour profile

Notes any helpful notes or reflection

 The proof is in the taste

It is the only way to cheaply test for a good or bad brew. A good tip is to try a V60 at a great coffee shop. Purchase the beans and try them at home.

Very importantly, only start tasting after your brew has had a chance to cool down a bit.

 Good brew

Should taste as described by the flavour notes provided by the roaster found on the pack.

Should be clean, delicate and flavourful. If you get a citrusy tasting brew it can mean that you’re very close and may need to go for finer grind.

 Bad brew

Can have a bitter aftertaste and strong mouth feel.

Can be weak even for finer grinds as water normally passes through the least path of resistance not extracting enough oils from the coffee.

Basic guidelines:

When dry and bitter aftertaste, make the grind coarser.

When sour / empty / watery / citrusy taste, make the grind finer.

 Brew and adjust recipe 1

Our only task is to figure out our grind. The target water temperature is a brilliant clue. We’re looking for a range of 200-205F / 93-96C - this is pretty hot. So, we can start with a coarser grind.

I’m using the Porlex hand grinder. I adjust the grind to 7 notches which opens up the burrs to the coarser end of grinding. Do the same to your grinder. Finally, experiment using a small batch and the notes above. You’ll find you might have to go up and down depending on taste.

My result: a grind level of 10 notches on the Porlex hand grinder.

 Brew and adjust recipe 2

Recipe 2 opts for a slightly cooler water temperature at 197-201F / 92-94C. We should still go for a coarser grind but something lower than the 10 notches for recipe 1.

Again, I re-adjust my Porlex hand grinder back to zero meaning completely closed and unable to grind. Then I adjust it to 5 notches thinking that this a good mid range. Do the same to your grinder and start experimenting / tasting.

My result: a grind level of 7 notches on the Porlex hand grinder.

 Conclusion

Understand your own setup and practice - that is all. With the correct grind levels and a convenient way to measure water temperature you can start enjoying bigger batches.

If you’re ever unsure about your results, just hit your favourite coffee shop and contrast the coffee there with your brew at home!

Did you find this article helpful? I collate tips & articles like this for the Home Barista and send them Fortnightly.

 
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