Do you feel like no matter what you do the coffee you make at home isn’t as good as the coffee you get at your favorite café? There’s no reason why you shouldn’t be able to make coffee that’s every bit as good as a five dollar pour-over. In fact, there’s no reason why it shouldn’t be better. Most home brewers make at least one of these five mistakes that can be easily corrected.
You’re Brewing With Tap Water
Unless you live in Melbourne, Australia or one of the other privileged few places with tap water that’s the right specs for brewing coffee, the water coming out of your facet probably isn’t ideal for coffee brewing. Your filter coffee is more than 98% water, and it turns out the chemical composition of that water has a tremendous impact on flavor. If you’re water is too hard (like America’s entire Midwest), your coffee is likely to taste bitter and flat as high levels of bicarbonate obscure any perception of acidity. In places with overly soft water (less than 100 ppm), your coffee is likely to taste weak and sour. The most consistent solution is to buy distilled water and Third Wave Water packets, though filtered spring water will do the trick too.
You’re Using the Wrong Grind Size
We often see home brewers grinding too fine. Unless you’re making Turkish coffee, your leftover grounds shouldn’t look like a muddy sludge. Most filter brew methods are going to need a medium grind size about the consistency of kosher salt. Another test is to check your draw times. If it’s taking more than a minute and a half for your brew to finish draining after you’ve finished pouring water, you likely have too many fines clogging your brew.
If you’re using a cheap blade grinder (or even one of the many fake burr grinders out there), your coffee is just going to taste bad regardless. Stop everything you’re doing and get a decent a grinder.
Your Water Isn’t Hot Enough
One exercise I love to do when training baristas is to brew two cups of coffee side by side. Both cups are identical except one is brewed with water that’s ten degrees Fahrenheit lower than the other. In a blind taste test the barista almost always identifies the coffee brewed with hotter water as sweeter, more balanced, and full bodied. If you’re pouring almost boiling hot water into a room temperature kettle, by the time it’s hitting your coffee grounds it’s probably too cool to get an optimum extraction. To make sure your water is hot enough, bring your kettle to a rolling boiling. A good thermometer or a variable temperature kettle makes it a lot easier to stay on target.
You’re Eyeballing Your Ingredients
One day your coffee is too strong, the next it’s thin and bitter like an over-steeped tea. That was my experience until I started using a kitchen scale to weigh my ingredients. Even a minor difference in dose, as little as one gram, can have a tremendous impact on the final product. With most coffees we recommend sticking close to gold cup standards: one part coffee to 16.6 parts water. In other words, to make a 330 ml. cup of coffee, you should use about 20 grams of coffee. Many scales have a built in timer to help you keep track of your brew time as well.
You’re Using Bad Coffee
It doesn’t matter if you have the fanciest equipment on the market. Garbage in gets you garbage out. With the specialty coffee boom, there’s a lot of young upstart roasters out there that have yet to master their craft. Likewise, many larger companies are marketing commodity coffee with a third wave aesthetic. In the very least, look for roasters with clear information about the traceability of their coffee that roasts to a flavor profile that you enjoy.