Five Important Factors to Brewing High Quality Drip Coffee
Today, we’ll be taking a look at what are considered the 5 most important factors when it comes to brewing the best drip coffee. The most important thing to remember when brewing any type of coffee is that you’ll have to experiment to find exactly what you’re looking for. You may have to brew three of four different test batches to really dial in your machine. Luckily, a few groups like the Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA) and America’s Test Kitchen have done a lot of testing on these different variables with many different brewers and their results will help you hit the ground running!
First and foremost, you’ll want to select a high quality coffee to brew in your drip machine. It is important to purchase your coffee as soon after it has been roasted as possible. Fresh roasted coffee is extremely essential to a great cup of drip brewed coffee. You should only purchase specialty coffee in small amounts – generally only as much as you’ll use in a given period of time, say 1 to 2 weeks. After you’ve selected the type of coffee that you’ll be brewing, keep these important factors in mind during the brew:
1. Water Quality
We’ll start off with the water that you use to make your coffee. Water constitutes a large portion of the finished product when you drip brew coffee, so using the highest quality water available to you is paramount to making an excellent brew. Generally, using filtered water or bottled water will give you the best water quality for drip brewed coffee, but feel free to experiment; you may find that you enjoy the taste of your tap water over bottled or filtered water! The SCAA recommends certain standards for the water used to brew specialty coffee, just in case you want to know what the absolute best is when it comes to water:
- Odor – The water should have a clean and fresh scent without any chemical odors or other unusual smells.
- Color – The water should have a crystal clear color and should not be cloudy.
- Total Chlorine Content – 0 mg/L
- Total Dissolved Solids (TDS) Content– 150 mg/L (target), 75-250 mg/L (acceptable range)
- Calcium Hardness – 68 mg/L (target), 17-85 mg/L (acceptable range)
- Total Alkalinity – 40 mg/L (target), at or near 40 mg/L (acceptable range)
- pH Level – 7.0 (target), 6.5 to 7.5 (acceptable range)
- Sodium Content – 10 mg/L (target), at or near 10 mg/L (acceptable range)
2. Water Temperature
3. Ratio of Water to Coffee GroundsThis is the hallowed battleground for coffee nerds world round (seriously, Google search for “coffee to water ratio” and select images). There are many differing opinions as to what the correct coffee to water ratio is. This never-ending argument is for a good reason though as your decision here will have the greatest impact on the quality and taste of the finished coffee. A good rule of thumb: ABOUT 2 TABLESPOONS OF COFFEE FOR EVERY 6 OUNCES OF WATER (1 GRAM OF COFFEE FOR EVERY 16 MILILITERS OF WATER). Again, this is something that you will have to adjust a few times before you get it exactly right.
4. Size of the GrindAlong with the timing of the brew cycle, this component of the process will have a noticeable impact on the taste of your finished coffee. If you prefer to purchase coffee in whole bean form you should always take care to grind your beans as close as possible to the start of your brew in order to maintain the integrity of the coffee and keep it as fresh as possible.
5. Brew Cycle Timing
- Pre-Wetting (or Wetting) – As the brew cycle begins, the ground coffee starts to absorb the water as it is released from the machine. The coffee begins to release gases as it brews. For a consistent extraction, the entire bed of coffee must be evenly pre-wetted within the first 10% of the brewing cycle time.
- Extraction– After the grounds release their gases and are thoroughly wet the actual process of extraction begins. During this phase, the water-soluble materials dissolve and move out of the coffee grounds and into the water. The best and most desirable flavors are extracted near the beginning of the cycle and the most bitter are extracted near the end of the cycle.
- Hydrolysis –Through chemical reaction with the water, the materials that were created during the extraction process are broken down further into water-soluble proteins and sugars that truly define the taste of a cup of coffee.