Sally got me this as a birthday present and through a combination of forgetfulness, bad planning and busy weekends I hadn’t been able to attend. Two weeks ago, I finally got around to going along. I would highly recommend to for anyone looking to up their home brew coffee game.
Here is the write up:
The session started with a coffee. Good start! This was made in the French press and didn’t require any input from me. Also, good as I had a late night the day before and hadn’t had a coffee yet (figured I would be off my tits on caffeine soon enough so wasn’t a good idea to add to the mix in advance). Thus, I was no use to anyone at this stage. Once I got my caffeine fix I perked up a bit.
The coffee was made with Workshops Marimira AA beans and tasted great. We used these beans for the rest of the workshop when making coffees with the French Press, V60 and Aeropress.
After getting a kick in the pants from some good coffee we moved on. The session began by giving some insight to some of the basic processes involved in taking a ripe coffee cherry growing in the Tropics, and turning it into the wonderful beverage so many of us enjoy each day. This was interesting and I learned a lot about the whole process.
They then went on to give some insider tips on how to buy better coffee. The importance of buying quality beans was emphasised. No surprise there. What was interesting was the tips on decoding coffee bag label information.
To give you an example the Workshop Marimira AA beans have all this info on the back…
- Process (in this case fully washed & dried on raised beds – I have to admit that this was not something I had considered before – coffee geek points minus 1000!)
- Roast date
- Tasting notes
That is a load of info. If you know what it means though it can give you a bunch of clues about how the coffee will taste and behave in brewing.
I must say with all the detail I was far better informed but, to some extent, none the wiser. Perhaps agreeing to meet some old school mates down the pub for a ‘few’ drinks the night before wasn’t the best idea after all! It certainly didn’t help my concentration. With that said I did learn a lot. Including…
The importance of water
A cup of coffee is 99% water so I suppose it is obvious that good water can really help. London water is very ‘hard’ and full of stuff (that’s a technical term!). This means it has a high mineral content (largely calcium and magnesium). This is what causes the lime scale in your kettle. Anyway, having hard water, full of stuff leaves little space for the coffee to infuse, blend and brew.
At workshop, they have fancy filter taps which you can set the water temperature on. For those of us without that luxury we do have options. For example, I have a filter tap in the kitchen so filling the kettle from this rather than the normal tap will help. Brita style filters are another option. In fact, Brita make a filter kettle. Could be worth considering.
The other alternative is to use bottled water. Extravagant! Don’t worry. This doesn’t have to be excessively expensive. The recommendations were for cheaper own brand bottles as these tend to have low mineral content unlike, the more expensive mineral waters (e.g. Evian).
After about 20 mins of ‘theory’ we cracked on with the stuff we were all there for…making great coffee.
First up was the French Press. To illustrate the difference in taste, texture and mouth feel based on brewing time we made three pots using the exact same quantity of coffee and water. The grind was also the same (I’ll go over the geeky detail on all this later). The only difference was the length of time it was left to brew. 10 mins, 4 mins and 1 minute.
Any guesses on which was best?
If you said 4 mins then you were correct.
In fairness, the difference from 4 mins to 10 mins was surprisingly subtle.
The 1 minute brew didn’t taste too bad but, was a bit weak and watery.
The 4-minute brew was great.
The 10-minute brew was pretty good. Perhaps that is just a sad indictment of my taste buds. The major difference was mouth feel and it was fractionally stronger and more bitter than its 4-minute counterpart.
How to make the perfect French Press coffee:
According to Workshops guidelines the following steps are required to get your French Press on point.
What You Need:
- Whole bean coffee
- French Press
- Decanter (optional – especially if impatient)
- After boiling the water use some to rinse/pre-warm the French Press
- Weigh out 46g of fresh, whole bean coffee
- Grind the beans to a “couscous-like” consistency & add to French Press
- Place the French Press on scales
- Using water just off the boil (approx. 95o) add 750g of water (start timer when you do this)
- Stir coffee in a north-south, east-west fashion and not a circular motion. This helps to keep the coffee evenly distributed rather than forming a mountain peak type shape.
- After 3-4mins give another stir. Skim off any foam form the surface
- At 4 mins gently push the plunger down until mesh reaches just above coffee bed.
- Wait a minute and then pour coffee. Now ordinarily I would eagerly pout this straight into my mug for drinking. It was, however, recommended that you pour all the coffee into a separate warmed decanter/pot. This stops any coffee still in the French Press form continuing to brew and allows the coffee to settle so that little to no sediment ends up I your cup. Let’s see if I have the patience for this!
The French Press provided a nice clean cup of coffee. It is quite a forgiving method and isn’t too involved. It gives a bit of room for error. Once the timer is on you can wander off and do something else. Make some breakfast for example. The major downside is that they are a pain in arse to clean afterwards.
Second on the list was the V60.
Quick random bit of info – The V60 gets its name because it is V shaped and the sides slope at a 60o angle. Must have taken ages to come up with that name!
Using the V60 is how I make coffee at home 90% of the time so I was keen to pick up a few nuggets of info to help improve my skills.
Here is the rundown of what’s involved to brew up a beauty in the V60:
What You Need:
- Whole bean coffee
- Filter Paper
- V60 (2 cup brewer)
- Mug (if being greedy and drinking all yourself – guilty!) or Decanter
- Boil kettle, then thoroughly rinse the paper filter (this helps to warm the V60 and your cup, it also helps the paper to ‘stick’ in place).
- Weigh out and grind 33g of beans – like the French Press a couscous like consistency is ideal.
- Add the grounds to the V60. Tap the sides to even out the spread of coffee – you don’t want a peak but a nice flat bed.
- Place this on top of scales
- Start timer and using just off boil water, pour water over to completely cover grounds and reach to top of V60 edge. This is also known as the ‘bloom’.
- After 30-40s add some more water. Keep pouring in the same direction in a circular fashion until water reaches top of V60 again.
- Whenever water level drops to 2/3 up the inside of the wall pour again.
- When scale reads 500g, stir to spin the slurry and help the bed to drain evenly.
- The water should have completely drained by 3 minutes. If it takes longer than this, then you should probably grind your beans a little coarser. In contrast if it done well before this then you might need to use a finer grind.
- Discard the paper and enjoy. If sharing, then add step 11 (sharing? Don’t be silly!)
- Swill coffee and decant and…enjoy!
The V60 provided a clean, crisp, smooth cup of coffee.
It is, however, an involved process. Also, there is a lot of room for error/variation even when following the detailed guidelines. Between the group we made three cups, all with the exact same quantity of water, coffee, and time to brew. All three, however, had their own distinct flavour. To my mind they all tasted good. I’m pleased to say that mine was voted best. In all honesty, I couldn’t claim it was better than the others. Just different. I think I was getting a sympathy vote for showing up on my own and having to work solo unlike the two couples also at the class. Just call me ‘Billy No-Mates’. Anyway, I’ll take a win even if it just a sympathy vote. 1-0. Have it!
Finally, we used the Aeropress.
I have heard a lot of good things about these but, had never tried one.
What I hadn’t realised was that it just makes one cup at a time. D’oh! Anyway, getting one of these could prove an easy way to make me very unpopular indeed with Sally.
Fun fact 2: The guy who invented the Aeropress also invented the Frisbee. His sole intention was to create something which reliably and consistently made a great cup of coffee. Not 2, or 3 cups. Just 1. Perhaps he spends a lot of time on his own. Would have made the Frisbee really shit, though wouldn’t it? Not really a solo endeavor!
So, it just remained to be seen which I would get the most pleasure from. Frisbee or V60?
What You Need:
- Whole bean coffee
- Boil kettle and assemble Aeropress and place filter paper in the black cap (a bit fiddly at first but, actually very simple).
- Weigh out and grind 17g of coffee beans
- Add grounds to Aeropress and tap sides of chamber to level it out
- Place the brewer on top of cup and then place both on the scales.
- Start timer and quickly fill the chamber with 250g of water.
- Give it a quick stir in a north-south, east-west fashion. Don’t stir too deep to avoid disturbing the filter paper.
- Set plunger on top of the brew chamber. Leave for 90s-2mins. Then quickly remove plunger and give a final N-S, E-W stir.
- Place plunger back on and apply gentle pressure to push coffee through the filter in about 30s.
- Remove Aeropress and enjoy!
Like the other two this provided a clean smooth cup of coffee. It was incredibly consistent. I tried all three of the groups and they were practically identical. To be honest, I didn’t enjoy it as much as the V60 brew though. Perhaps this was since I had now sampled 10 coffees and had hit a caffeine wall. I suppose I had better buy one and give it a fair crack of the whip. The great thing was how easy it was to clean. Both this and the V60 have a distinct advantage over the French Press in this respect.
Oh, and for those of you on the edge of your seat for the results of Coffee versus Frisbee…it’s a landslide win for coffee!
Some Extra Coffee Nerdishness…
The Importance of the Grind
If you buy whole bean coffee, always grind your beans as close to the brew time as possible for maximum freshness. A burr grinder is best because you have far more control and accuracy over the size of the grounds. This allows you to consistently make great coffee and removes the margin for error you find with blade grinders.
Another problem with the blade grinder is that some coffee will be ground more finely than the rest. Less accuracy and a more inconsistent grind sets you up for failure when it comes to consistently brewing your coffee just how you like it.
If you currently grind your coffee at home with a blade grinder, try ditching that and having it ground at the store with a burr grinder. I bet you will be surprised at the difference.
Ever heard people talking about fine or course ground coffee and wondered what all the fuss was about? Well, the size of the grind is extremely important to the end result. If your coffee tastes bitter, it may be ground too fine (over-extracted if you want to sound like a proper hipster coffee s(n)ob). On the other hand, if your coffee lacks taste or is a little salty then, it may be too coarsely ground (you guessed it ‘under-extracted’).
On the subject of over/under-extraction…the other variable is brew time. So, if your coffee is bitter then you probably brewed it too long. Weak, watery and salty? Then you probably brewed it too quickly.
Tips for buying good coffee:
Look for a coffee with as much information provided as possible. This will give you clues to how it will taste and whether you are likely to enjoy it.
To re-hash things Workshop list the following on their bags…
- Process (in this case fully washed & dried on raised beds – I must admit that this was not something I had considered before – coffee geek points minus 1000!)
- Roast date
- Tasting notes
Now most store bought coffee won’t list all that. There are, however, some good brands that are widely available at supermarkets which provide a good deal of that info. Two that spring to mind are Union and Grump Mule (both available at Waitrose).
Anyway, here is an abbreviated list of key factors to look for:
- The country and region of origin
- The variety of bean- Arabica, Robusta – or a blend
- The roast type
- The texture of your grind
I would class all the above as necessities when looking for decent coffee beans.
Another key factor is the roast date. Simple rule of thumb…the more recent the better. Fresh-roasted coffee is essential to a quality cup, so buy your coffee in small amounts (ideally every one to two weeks).
So, there you have it. My fairly comprehensive rundown of what you need to know to brew awesome coffee at home. I thoroughly enjoyed geeking out for 2 and a half hours at Workshop learning this stuff. If you are considering doing the masterclass then I would highly recommend it.