To the average person, making coffee is simple. You open the can, measure some coffee out into the filter, pour the water in the reservoir, press the ON button, and wait for that delicious brew to perk up your morning. For others, the process becomes much more complex, involving scales, thermometers, strange looking carafes and exotic beans until the process becomes as much science as it does art. Thankfully, there’s a middle ground, where we can venture and explore how varying things affect the taste of our morning brew. In general, there are four primary factors in determining how your coffee ends up: the bean, (both the roast and the grind), the water, and the ratio. This week, we’re going to discuss coffee beans, both the roasting and the grinding and how the differences make a distinct cup of java.
Roasting The Bean
Every cup of coffee begins with the coffee bean. Of course the country of origin can affect the flavor, but here, we’re going to discuss how the type of roast determines the end product. Roasts are broken down into light, medium, and dark roasts. Light roasts are farther broken down into Cinnamon and Light Roasts. Medium roasts are divided into American and City roasts, and dark roasts are divided into Full City and Vienna roasts.
We want to clear a common misconception up right now. The darkness of the roast has no effect on the caffeine level of the beans. However, it may have an effect on the caffeine level in your cup. This is because as the beans are roasted, they lose water weight and become smaller. So, if you measure your coffee grounds out by scoops, the light roasts will have more caffeine. On the other hand, if you weigh your coffee, the darker roasts will have more caffeine.
That being said, the lighter the roast, the higher the acidity your coffee will have. The longer the bean roasts, the more of the acids that give coffee its distinctive tang break down. In medium roasts, about 50 to 60 percent of the acid is lost, and in dark roasts, up to 100 percent is broken down.
Other aspects of flavor that change when coffee is roasted include sweetness, caramel notes, and origin flavors. The darker the roast, the sweeter the coffee as the sugars become caramelized, enhancing the flavor. Similarly, the longer a bean is roasted, the coffee becomes darker and fuller, losing the flavors that are typical for the area the bean has been grown in.
Grinding the Bean
To understand how the different ways of grinding your coffee can affect its flavor lies in understanding how the brew comes about. Coffee is made when water absorbs all of those delicious flavors from the coffee. This means the amount of contact between the water and the coffee is important. Too little interaction between the water and the coffee produces a weak and watery brew. Too much, and the brew is over-extracted and becomes bitter and murky.
This is where the size of the grind is important. When you use a brewing method where the water is only briefly in contact with the grounds, such as an espresso machine, you need the coffee granules to be very fine to maximize surface area and water contact. Conversely, when you use a method where the water is in contact with the grounds for longer, such as a French press or a percolator, you want your grounds to be chunkier, so the water isn’t in contact with as much coffee. Of course, if you like your coffee a little more bitter, you can go with a finer grind than is recommended for your brewing. The following chart shows the ideal size for your coffee grounds according to your coffee pot.
If you choose to grind your own beans at home, it’s well worth the splurge to get a good burr grinder as opposed to one that uses blades. Burr grinders will create a more consistently sized grind, which in turn makes for a better cup of coffee. Also, because the burr grinder is slower than a blade grinder, the coffee won’t get heated in the grinder. Additionally, a blade grinder usually won’t produce an espresso grind, while a burr grinder will handle that like a champ. Keep in mind that you should use all beans within a week of opening the pack. If you aren’t going to drink that much coffee, store the beans in a Ziploc baggie in the back of the freezer to preserve their flavor.
So now you have a basic understanding of how changing different aspects of the coffee bean can affect the flavor of your cup of coffee. Next time, we’re going to cover how different temperatures of water create different types of coffee and how to tweak the ratio of coffee to water to make your cup perfect for you. We’ll also cover some common complaints about coffee and how to fix them. Until then, we here at Crucial lift a hearty cup of joe and wish you a happy spring/Late Winter.