Why doesn’t my brew taste good?
I tried this coffee at this brew bar, and bought the same beans home to brew, but I just can’t get the same taste! What am I doing wrong?
Possibly one of the most frustrating things about brewing at home, is trying to achieve the same taste that you remembered at the coffee bar where you tried, enjoyed, and bought the coffee. If you are facing this situation, you are definitely not alone. Today, I will attempt to explain some of the key elements to look out for when brewing so that you may just achieve that good or even great cup of brew at home.
Firstly, we need to understand that coffee is ever changing in taste and flavor profile. Baristas usually spend an hour or so in the mornings before opening, just calibrating the coffees that they will serve for the day. Throughout the day, the barista keeps an eye on how the coffee brews and re-calibrates as needed.
Firstly, we need to understand that different brewing methods produce different flavors in the cup. A cup of, for example, Colombian Supremo, brewed using a Chemex,will taste different from the same Colombian Supremo brewed using a Kalita Wave, even though both are pourover methods of brewing. Is one better than the other? This really depends on what you like. Taste is very subjective, and our stand is – the one you prefer is the one that is better for you.
- Understanding your Brewing Equipment
So the first thing to understand is – how to brew on your brew equipment to get what you desire. Simple instructions are usually found on the packaging of the equipment or on the manufacturer’s website. Of course, if you desire, you may search for online reviews, forums, and even videos on the many ways to brew with your equipment. Alternatively you may learn to brew at coffee workshops that provide such modules.
- What Coffee are you Using?
The second thing to take note of is the coffee that you are using to brew.
Before purchasing the coffee, you may like to enquire with the barista on which coffees they would recommend for a certain brew apparatus. For example, if you would like to brew a filter coffee, you may like to check with the barista on which coffee would be suitable for filter methods of brewing. We would usually recommend a coffee that has been roasted anywhere from light to medium, for a filter coffee, and a dark roasted coffee for espresso methods (see Brew VS Espresso).
Such information is usually available on the bag of coffee.
- What is your Coffee’s Roast Date?
Every coffee has an optimal time –for –taste range from the date of roast, and the optimal time range of use for a certain coffee tends to differ for each brew method.
For example, we have found this light roasted Natural Processed Ethiopia Yirgacheffe Koke to taste the best on the Kalita Wave from day 6 to day 10 (after roasting) but only from day 12 to day 16 on the Aeropress, each method, of course, producing a slightly different taste profile in the brewed cup.
Summary: Know the best time frame to brew your coffee using your brew apparatus.
- What is the Coffee to Water Ratio?
This is how much coffee you are using for a given amount of water. This differs from method to method so you may like to play around with this ratio to achieve that cup you desire. We suggest you start with 14g of coffee to 250g of water, and adjust the ratio to your liking.
Summary: Once you have discovered your optimal coffee to water ratio, you should aim to keep this as a constant, while changing other variables to brew your cup.
- What Water Temperature should you be Brewing at?
Temperature: An often overlooked element – this, is one of the most important things to take note of when brewing. There are certain guidelines that call for brewing at a temperature of above 90 degrees celcius. At our brew bar, we brew at a range of temperatures- a different temperature range for each coffee, usually ranging between 78.5C to 82C for different coffees roasted at different levels.
This is one of the things you may like to experiment with.
Summary: Temperature is a variable that is calibrated based on that particular coffee and roast level.
- Grinding & Grind Size to Use
At our coffee bar, we grind out the coffees fresh for each cup of brew or espresso. The coffee extracted from freshly ground coffee beans will always taste more flavorful than the same coffee extracted from coffee beans that were not freshly ground.
As such, if you are particular about your coffee – and we are assuming you are since you are reading this – we would recommend either getting a hand grinder or a home electric grinder for your home coffee setup. Another reason – possibly the best reason to get that grinder, is that the same coffee needs calibration all through its lifespan, and what a barista is mostly doing when calibrating, is really, changing the grind size of the coffee to extract its optimal flavor.
If you purchase a bag of beans from a coffee roaster or coffee store, and ask the barista to grind the bag of beans for you, the barista can only best gauge the grind size to use based on the information you have provided – for the day the coffee is being ground. In other words, the grind size may be best used for brewing on that day itself, but not for the days that follow.
Having your own grinder allows you the flexibility to control how coarse or fine you want to calibrate to extract that coffee. Furthermore, coffee is best kept in its whole bean form. Once ground, the coffee has to be used within seconds – every second that the coffee is ground and exposed to its surrounding air diminishes its freshness and flavor.
Grind Size is a variable that is calibrated constantly.
- Timing - Timing, or Brewing Time and Extraction time, is a factor that we like to keep constant. Knowing how much time is needed to extract that coffee using that brew method, you are able to adjust the grind size accordingly.
Check manufacturer’s website for brewing instructions.
All these being said, there really isn’t a right or wrong way when brewing for yourself. As long as you are enjoying the cup, it is the best cup for you. One of the best things about home brewing, is the fun of changing things up and experimenting with different parameters, different brewing methods, and different types of coffees to achieve different results.
I hope you have fun experimenting and brewing your coffees.
If you would like to try out some equipment before deciding which one suits you best, you may like to join us in our Learn to Brew at Home (Basic Techniques) and Learn to Brew at Home (Advanced Techniques) Coffee Sessions.
FAQ about GRINDING: An Important Read if you buy our Roasted Coffees
- Why don’t you offer grinding services/grinding options of your online beans?
Our online beans, especially Roast-to-Order coffees are all dispatched within 3-5 working days, and usually within 3 days of roasting. This is the period where the coffees are still ‘too fresh to be brewed’. Coffees start to brew well after at least 3 days, and usually peak from the 5th day after the roast date(depending on the method of brewing). Eg. A Pourover method may peak with coffees at 5-16 days, while a Clever Dripper infusion method may peak with coffees at 4 to 8 weeks (provided the bag has been unopened).
How does this relate to grind size? Well, the grind size is the crucial contributing factor to how well the coffee brews and tastes, and is what the barista spends his day calibrating. Optimal Grind Size varies from cup to cup, day to day, method to method. While an indication of which method you use may give the barista an idea of which grind size to use, it will rarely give you the optimal grind size. If the grind size is too coarse, your coffee will be underextracted (thin, sour, lacking in flavour); if the grind size is too fine, your coffee will be overextracted (bitter, overpowering). The most important reason, though, is that whole beans, once ground, is vulnerable to oxidization due to the increased amount of surface exposure, which causes the ground coffees to lose flavour and freshness substantially from 20 secs. As such, for a decent cup of brew, you should always grind your coffees immediately before brewing. Even a $50 shopping mall bought blade grinder will make all the difference!
While our coffees are being dispatched to you, they are still undergoing the degassing to flavour-locking period. Any grinding that happens before that period will result in a much less flavourful coffee. Any coffee that ships to you ground, is bound to be not as fresh. As we promise to only dispatch fresh coffees, we can only dispatch whole coffee beans to you.
- What grind size should I use to brew with?
Every method (Hario, Kalita, Siphon, Aeropress, Moka Pot, Espresso..etc) will require a different grind size. Grind size also varies from day to day. The best way would be to check the manufacturer’s website for instructions and using a fixed parameter eg. total brew/extraction time, and taste, make your adjustments accordingly. Once you have obtained a good grind size, mark it down on your grinder as a gauge for your next brew.
- Why does my coffee taste sour after a few weeks?
As we have seen from 1. & 2. the grind size changes from cup to cup, day to day, method to method. Technically, the grind size should be finer and finer as the day(s) go by (using the same coffee & method). A grind size that is too coarse for that particular cup or day and method, would result in an underextracted (sour, thin) coffee. This is when you will need to dial it in finer to get a proper extraction and taste.
This is why calibration is needed and why a home grinder(hand grinder/blade/burr), is the best investment if you want that good cup of brew. And really, there isn’t much of a point paying this much for specialty grade coffees if you can’t enjoy it.
- How long can I keep or use my coffee for?
A well stored bag of coffee can be good for up to 3 months. We recommend portioning out what you need for 2 weeks, and storing the rest away in a sealed bag, away from heat, moisture and sunlight. And definitely not in the fridge. Our coffee bags are made with foil lining with a one way degassing valve and zipper and are good for long term storage. Ensure that excess air is squeezed out of the bag before sealing.