After brewing manually at home for two years, I still suck at making coffee. But I’d like to share how and what I’m brewing, and anything else I’ve picked up along the ride.
Currently in the kitchen is a Baratza Vario-W, purchased after an accident with a Capresso Infinity. The Vario is great and a pain all the same: calibration took a few weeks and required additional tools before the burrs set correctly, including times where they seemed correct, but later readjusted.
The Capresso was great because the grind settings were sparse enough for a few “magic” settings that made okay coffee in the morning, but there was much static in the machine. I’m glad my brother figured out a way to rebuild the monster post accident, as he’s enjoying it.
With the Baratza, I wish there was more time/money/coffee to tune the settings per bean and brew type! Ultimately, I do feel like I get a better cup, and thank the flat steel burrs. The macro and micro tuning helps, but the 230 distinct settings Baratza claims is not correct, as there is a lot of overlap between, for instance, the high micro of one setting and the low micro of the next step up. It is also unclear where they overlap. If I had a do over purchase, the Encore would probably be fine for 99% of what I’m doing, and for 25% of the budget.
At ~300g per cup, here’s what I’m digging, and what I’m still not quite sure about.
What I’m Loving
Setting: 3, mid micro range
Brew time: 45s bloom, 3min total
Though not my first brewer, the Hario is my first love. It brews a morning punch in the face, so it’s my “flavor wakeup machine” when I need coffee. The simplicity and conical shape worries me less than non-conical pourovers (see below) because it’s clear the water just goes in one direction–to the center and (only) exit. I used to agitate the slurry during the blooming process, but the beauty here: I honestly get a better tasting cup without the agitation. Credit goes to Toby’s Estate in proving that agitation doesn’t always have to be part of the process.
Setting: 6, low micro range. (7 for 2 cups)
Amount: 25g, 60g for 2 cups
Brew time: 45s bloom, time dependent on cups
While the Hario will always be my go to, the girlfriend loves coffee on the Chemex. I think it’s the thicker filter paper, which cuts a lot of what she considers “the crap” out of the coffee, and leaves a fruitier or nuttier taste, depending on the bean. We own the two-cup size, which is nice for mornings we wake up together. Chemex is also the first brewer where I noticed how important it is to “scale” the grind accordingly. An extra click up on the grinder when brewing for two opens up the rate at which the water will weave through the grounds, which helps prevent overextraction.
Frieling Steel Press Pot
Setting: 9 or 10, depends on bean darkness
Brew time: 45s bloom, 4min total
The Frieling is not my first french press. It’s just the first one I haven’t broken. The challenges I had with Bodum: The plastic “won’t shatter” version leaves a plastic taste, the glass “will shatter” I have broken several times, and the replacement is just as expensive as buying a new one. There is another recommended steel press, but Frieling’s works well for me. Press, to me, is a stay at home/stay at the office brew. Working remote I’d drink it in the early afternoon, or visiting San Francisco I’d make it for myself and some colleagues. The grind I use is coarser than what is recommended, but it promotes a larger surface area to brew from and makes a thicker brew. The cup also tends to have less sludge, which is a nice bonus.
I also will use the press pot for cold brew using a 1:4 - 1:6 ratio, brewing in the fridge. The next day, pour the concentrate through a Hario or chemex filter to remove the sediment. Then pour the remainder over a full cup of ice, add a smidge of milk (or don’t!) and enjoy.
What I can’t figure out
Setting: 3, low micro range
Brew time: 45s bloom, 2min total
The Aeropress was gifted by a friend around Christmas time. I experimented with it for a month and gave up, only using it if there’s not enough coffee beans to make a full cup from the Hario, but enough for the aeropress. My challenges:
- Every recommended recipe is different. I started with the recipe by Stumptown, but ended up testing the waters myself to add yet another recipe to the mix. Because of this…
- Every cup tastes different. Even after landing on a recipe I (kind of) like, I still can’t get my coffee to taste the same every morning.
I will consider myself an aeropress newb,as I’m sure others can brew it more consistently. Where I have found success:
- Using single origin beans prepped for espresso. The day I liked my aeropress was the day I brewed with Toby’s Ethiopian Suke Quto. The flavors fit and worked for the two weeks I drank it (And later purchased another bag).
- Making the recipe specific. Stumptown’s recipe refers to the numbers along the aeropress to brew; unless you set up the invert the same way every time and have a clear aeropress (mine is more opaque), this is difficult. My current recipe:
- Bloom the 18g coffee with 60g water, with some agitation
- Pour another 120g water
- Cap, push to mug
- Add water to taste (I generally will add another 60g)
Perhaps I will revisit the aeropress when I’m more comfortable with experimenting, but for now, I’ll save it for very specific coffee beans.
Cilio By Frieling Pour Over
Setting: 4, mid micro range
Brew time: 45s bloom, 3min total
Oddly my first pour over purchase also became my least favorite. Maybe it was due to the inexperience at the time, but it always felt like the coffee was “off,” especially after later picking up a Hario. I found it would never drip fast enough, even with a coarser grind. I’d love to try the Bonmac or Beehouse drippers in exchange. I’ve seen both used by many coffee shops in New York, so someone is brewing those correctly, somewhere.
Books (Battle of the James)
I’ve read one and been recommended (and will read) the other:
The Blue Bottle Craft of Coffee I like this book because James Freeman is very specific about how he likes to brew, and how, I assume, Blue Bottle trains its baristas. By now I’m sure they might have changed some recipes but it’s a good introduction to home brewing, the expense of espresso, and home of my favorite dessert recipes.
The World Atlas of Coffee I’m looking forward to this one after taking a cool brewing class at Toby’s recently. James Hoffman is a very talented and only hearing great things about his book.