Brew Better Coffee Manually: The Chemex

Chemex1943

Originally posted on the Land of a Thousand Hills Coffee Co. blog.

This week we are featuring a true classic of manual brewing devices, the Chemex. The Chemex was invented in 1941 by German inventor Peter Schlumbohm. Its hourglass design is a perfect balance between beautiful form and functionality, and has not changed over the years. The Chemex has been featured in numerous pop-culture ads, television shows, and movies throughout each decade.

From the Chemex website:

The Chemex coffeemaker is an elegant, one-piece, hourglass shaped vessel made of high quality, heat-resistant glass. The traditional model comes to you with a polished wood collar and leather tie. The collar serves as an insulated handle around the middle of the coffeemaker.

Few products in this century can match the flawless blending of design and function of the Chemex. Its visual elegance has earned it a place in the permanent collection of New York’s Corning Museum of Glass. The Chemex coffeemaker was also selected by the Illinois Institute of Technology as one of the 100 best designed products of modern times.

This is probably one of my favorite brewing methods. It brews an amazing cup of coffee and looks cool, all in a singular piece. When using a Chemex, you will want use their own custom filters. These come in either square or round cut forms and are folded into a cone. The extra thickness of the filter creates a slower extraction process than one might expect, considering the size of the opening in which the filter extends.

e54b4026dbd611e1b8031231380702ee_6As I have said before, the best cup comes from the ideal ratio of total dissolved solubles. Experiment with your grind settings and pouring rates and find the best combination that produces the best cup for you. Here are some basic guidelines for brewing with a Chemex:

  • Open folded Chemex filter and insert into Chemex with the multiple layered side facing the front.
  • Gently rinse your filter with hot water to reduce any paper taste and warm your Chemex.
  • Discard the water while keeping the filter in place and add your coffee. Start with a medium-coarse grind setting and adjust from there.
  • Pour enough water to fully saturate the grounds and let them de-gas (bloom) for about 45 seconds.
  • As with a V60, you will want to pour in a circular pattern, covering all grounds during brewing.
  • Maintain a consistent level of grounds throughout brewing. Don’t pour too quickly and don’t pause too long when pouring.
  • If your water filters through too quickly, adjust to a finer grind. If it clogs, adjust to a coarser grind.

For an 8 cup Chemex, I use a starting ratio of 50 grams of coffee and 700 grams of water. You can use those parameters to scale up or down depending on much you are brewing and adjust to taste.

Experiment, have fun, and enjoy a great cup of coffee in classic style!

Bloom: Coffee Recipe & Timer App for iPhone

I’m quite the fanatic when it comes to cool and helpful apps for the iPhone. So when you have one that helps keep track of all my coffee brewing recipes, I’m all over it. There are several out there in the App store, but there is one in particular that has remained on my home screen since it launched late in 2011. It’s called Bloom.

photo 4Bloom is a fully customizable app that stores all the parameters needed to brew a great cup of coffee with virtually any manual brewing method. The app comes pre-loaded with base parameters for Chemex, Aeropress, Clever Dripper, Kalita Wave, French Press, Woodneck, Beehouse, Bonmac, Eva Solo, and Siphon brewer. You are free to customize any of the parameters within these recipes or even duplicate them and customize the copy for saving more than one recipe for any one device.

Each recipe shows you the timer at the top and your parameters for the amount of coffee and water needed. You can add notes to any item in the recipe, such as grind setting, water volume for bloom, etc. photo 1The timer can be broken up into various steps such as bloom, pour, infusion, drop, press, etc. that you can set according to the brewing method.

One of my favorite features of Bloom is the social sharing side of the app. You can share any recipe via email, message, or tweet. If the recipient or Twitter follower has the Bloom app installed on their iPhone, they can easily import the shared recipe into their own app for use. It’s fun to search Twitter for great recipes to import. Simply search #params.

The app is $2.99 and I think it is well worth it. I use it on almost a daily basis. It’s well designed and super functional for all you manual brewers out there. Go download the app here. And be sure to follow @bloomapp on Twitter.

Brew Better Coffee Manually: The V60

Originally posted on the Land of a Thousand Hills Coffee Co. blog.

This month, I am discussing several different ways to brew coffee manually. Manual brewing has really exploded in the past few years, as more and more people are falling in love with the craft behind it, as well as the amazing cup of coffee that comes as a result. In case you missed it, check out the introduction to the benefits of manual brewing here.

This week, we are looking at the Hario V60.

v60pour1About the V60

There are several different variations of pour-over cones and the V60 has become one of the most popular. The main difference between the V60 and most other pour-over cones is the large opening at the bottom of the cone. Most other cones have some sort of flattened bottom with one to three smaller drain holes. The V60, however, has one large hole. This cone difference can drastically affect the speed at which the water filters through the ground coffee. For this reason, it is highly beneficial to also use a gooseneck kettle that allows you to control your pour with precision when brewing with a V60. Hario makes their own Buono kettle and Bonavita has a lower cost kettle as well. You will also want to use the Hario V60 filters that are designed to fit the cone. Flat bottomed cone filters will affect the brewing process.

The Best Technique?

If you research brewing techniques for a V60, you will find many different variations. The best advice is to find the technique that creates the best cup of coffee for you. Remember, it’s all about the final ratio of dissolved solubles in your cup. Some say don’t hit the edges of the cone with your pour, some say do. Some say make a small dimple with your finger in the bed of grounds before pouring, and some don’t. Some say to stir the grounds after the bloom, some don’t. Fact is, pretty much every one of these techniques have been used by someone who has some sort of brewer’s competition trophy, so don’t let anyone tell you there’s only way to brew. Find the pouring method you like best and go with it. Experiment and have fun!

The Basic Fundamentals

The V60 is available in plastic, glass, or ceramic. I prefer using a ceramic cone because it retains heat the best during the brewing process. You can either brew directly into a mug or into a carafe if brewing larger volumes. Because of the larger opening of the V60, you will want to use a slightly finer grind than a standard drip grind. Once you get the hang of brewing with the V60, feel free to experiment with grind settings and pouring rates. Always pre-rinse your filter. This will warm up your cone and cup, as well as rinse any paper taste from the filter. Add the grounds to your filter and level them out. You will want to begin by pouring just enough water to fully saturate the bed of grounds. This is called the “bloom” cycle. Allow the coffee to absorb the water and release gases, aka bloom, for 30-45 seconds, then begin a slow pour in a circular pattern. You want to maintain the same height of the grounds throughout the brewing process; usually about half an inch to an inch from the top of the cone. You don’t want the grounds drying out and you also don’t want them floating around in a pool of water. If you find that the grounds are creating a clog and the final drain is taking too long (over extraction, try a courser grind setting. If it’s running through too quickly (under extraction), go a little finer on the grind. Once you get it right, it’s such a beautiful thing! I’ve included some parameters for different brew sizes. These are simply a starting point and can be tweaked to taste.

v60Parameters

8 oz
– Coffee: 15 grams
– Water: 250 grams
– Bloom: 30 grams of water

10 oz
– Coffee: 20 grams
– Water: 315 grams
– Bloom: 60 grams of water

12 oz
– Coffee: 24 grams
– Water: 375 grams
– Bloom: 60 grams of water

3 Cups
– Coffee: 55 grams
– Water: 800 grams
– Bloom: 100 grams of water

Now go get your brew on!

Brew Better Coffee Manually

Originally posted on the Land of a Thousand Hills Coffee Co. blog.

People often ask me about the difference between using a standard coffee maker and manually brewing your coffee with a french press or pour-over device. I’ve met many who also feel that manual brewing is just too tricky. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be providing some insights, tips, guidance, etc. for many different manual brewing methods.

So, let’s begin with the primary question revolving around this topic:

Does manual brewing actually produce better coffee?

The short answer to that question is, almost always.

To begin, let’s define a “better” cup of coffee. Obviously, a better cup of coffee begins with a better bean that comes from the farmer that is then roasted properly and delivered fresh for you to brew. But beyond that, a perfect cup of coffee is one in which you have the ideal ratio of water and dissolved solubles. You see, when you brew coffee, you are using very hot water that is then filtered through coffee that is ground to a certain particle size or coarseness. As the hot water filters through the coffee, it dissolves the various soluble flavor compounds that will make up your finished cup of deliciousness.

Now here’s where that gets tricky. That final cup of perfectly balanced water and dissolved solubles depends on three primary variables:

1. Water temperature

Different flavor compounds dissolve more at different temperatures. Water that is not hot enough will not extract all of the good flavor compounds properly. Water that is too hot will extract less-desirable flavor compounds such as bitter notes. The ideal temperature is between 195-205 degrees F. If you are using an automatic brewer, make sure you use one that has strict water temperature control. If you are using a kettle for manual brewing, make sure that you do not use boiling water. Most electric kettles shut off right at boiling point (212 degrees), so it’s best to let them rest for a minute before starting your pour.

2. Grind particle size (coarseness)

The particle size of your coffee grinds will determine how quickly the water filters through, as well as how easily the flavor compounds are dissolved. This is why a shot of espresso, which produces the finished coffee in about 22-28 seconds uses very finely ground coffee, because it is extracted very quickly. This is also why a french press uses very coarsely ground coffee, because the grounds are fully submerged in hot water for 4-5 minutes. A grind that is too fine would result in an over-extracted coffee, in addition to creating an incredibly muddy cup. Consistency of the particle size is also important. This is best achieved with a quality burr grinder. Each brew method has an ideal grind setting, and the ideal grind setting for most brew methods correlates with the third variable, water flow and distribution. A fun aspect of most manual brewing methods is that you can play around with different grind settings and water flow to create the right balance.

3. Water flow and distribution

This is the one variable that distinguishes manual and automatic brewing. With manual brewing, you have full control over the speed at which you distribute the water, as well as the surface area that you cover with your pour. Although, there have been some great advancements in the automatic brewer market, with machines that can mimic the water disbursement of manual pour-over brewing, such as a bloom cycle and incremental pauses during brewing.

When brewing, you usually start with the “bloom”, which is simply the beginning step of saturating the bed of grounds. The expansion or “bloom” of the grounds is created as they absorb the water and release gases. If your coffee does not react this way, that means it’s not fresh. The grounds are usually allowed to bloom for 30-60 seconds, depending on brew volume and freshness of the coffee. After the bloom, the remainder of the pour takes place. The rate of how fast the water is poured through the grounds and how it is distributed over the grounds will determine the amount of dissolved solubles in the final cup. Play with different grind settings and pouring variations to find the perfect balance.

So, I may have answered a question by creating 20 more, but to come back to original question, yes, manual brewing almost always produces a better cup of coffee than automatic. It takes some time and practice to get the above variables perfectly aligned, but when they do, it’s a beautiful thing! It may not be as convenient as pushing a button or setting a timer before you go to bed, but the finished cup is soo much better. And there’s something about the process of manually brewing coffee that brings a sense of admiration for the craftsmanship behind those beans. It’s also a cool way to impress your guests and show them that you take your coffee seriously.

Remember to have fun! Take your time. Practice. Brew an awesome cup.

Bad Coffee Drinkers Are Not Bad People

I remember 12 years ago drinking Starbucks coffee and loving it, thinking that it was the greatest thing on earth, and that I had some elite taste in the coffee I chose to drink. I didn’t drink that Folger’s crap, I drank Starbucks! I didn’t know any better, because I had never had anything better. Until I encountered what incredible coffee was meant to taste like; coffee that actually had depth and character! I didn’t start my love for coffee with amazing coffee. It started with french roasts and flavored syrups and plenty of dairy. It wasn’t until years later that I had my first specialty coffee experience. And maybe that’s just my story, but I doubt I’m alone.

I think it becomes easy for those of us in the specialty coffee world to forget the times when we were not drinking amazing coffee. And secondly, because coffee is such a large part of our life, we can also forget that coffee is a very small part of many other people’s lives. They like it, a lot, but it’s not their life, it’s just a part of their every day.

This is something that is helpful to remember before we start judging people because they like their coffee roasted really dark or bold, or because they like to add cream and sugar to it, or because they don’t know what cupping notes are, or that coffee should even have cupping notes in the first place, or that there’s no “x” in espresso, and so on.

These people are so quickly written off as idiots, and we totally move beyond that fact that these are PEOPLE that we are being so judgmental about. They are people; fellow human beings. They have personal tastes that differ from ours and we quickly shrink down the whole of their being to the fact that their taste in coffee has not yet been tuned to the beauty of specialty coffee, and we judge them. Forget about who they are. Forget about their names. Forget about what they do for a living. Forget about their family, or their interests, or their struggles and burdens. We just care about how they like their coffee, and whether or not they can speak our language and order correctly.

Why don’t we all move to love people regardless of what their knowledge or personal tastes in coffee are. Instead of arrogance, let’s move towards education, and doing it in kindness, without shoving it down their throats. If, God forbid, they walk into your shop and order a caramel macchiato, explain how you prepare your macchiatos. Offer them one to try for free and see where it goes. Educate them on the notes of the espresso and the balance with the milk. You may open their world up to a whole new paradigm. Telling them to go to the effing Starbucks down the street isn’t going to do anyone any good. Invite them in to the love that you have come to know in specialty coffee. No judgments. No pretensions. No arrogance. Just love.

Bad coffee drinkers are not bad people.

*Side note: As a Christian who used to work in full-time church ministry, it’s interesting to me how much my experience in the specialty coffee world parallels much of my experience in the church, as far as how people relate to and perceive the church, and how the church responds to those outside of their “circles”. It’s all about unconditional love and getting over ourselves, folks!