by Tara Pederson

If you didn’t just hear Mike Meyers in your head, imitating an overly dramatic New York lady in a blouse and giant glasses, I’m sorry you missed out.  But you may at least be happy to know I bring new things to think about today.

Just ground coffee beans and water, it remains America’s favorite beverage.  What determines its quality and taste are 2 major things – The quality of the ingredients and how we choose to combine them.  Simple, right?  Well – not exactly.  We have many things to consider, from grind size to water temperature, brewing devices and brew time.  It all affects the final product.

There has been conversation among coffee experts (of which I am certainly not one) lately regarding how we westerners have spent the last 80 years or so doing coffee, and particularly espresso, all wrong.

We tend to use an ultra fine grind, very little (and very HOT) water and a short brew time. And it works.  But it seems this approach constricts the full capacity for flavor and leaves us with a much more bitter product than necessary. A superior formula might include the tiny adjustments of  slightly more water and a slightly more coarse grind in order to allow the coffee to fully circulate and become better saturated. 

For French press, much coarser grind and longer steeping time are called for, while drip and pour over, which require more water, need something more medium ground, but less of it.    While there are no exact or “right” answers to the question of the perfect ratio, 1 part coffee to 20 parts water is always too weak, and 1:10 is just too strong.  From there, personal preference, type of roast, brew method…they all play in to the final product.  You may find any ratio from 1:12 to 1:18 your cup of – coffee. 

In thinking about this, here’s what I did.  In a highly sensitive, lab goggles laden experiment, with extremely accurate measuring apparatus and a scientific calculator to check my formulae, I tested my own preferences. 

Ok, not really.  It was more an end of the day, messier than I expected slapdash ordeal, in which I ground 3 different types of beans (Mexican, Nicaraguan and Guatamalan) to different coarseness and steeped them in different amounts and of hot water before straining them and tasting the results.  For the record, I did actually use the same volume of grounds and/or water for each type of bean and brew. We aren’t so inaccurate as all that around here.

What I found, generally, was for coarse and medium grinds, I tend to prefer less water per volume of grounds.  I like stronger coffee, and therefore prefer a more concentrated result.  However, with fine grinds, I prefer more water , and less results in too harsh, bitter and powdery a product for me – despite my love of bitter and acrid things. We all have our limits –

 My suggestion to you is, play around. Test out beans of different origins and roasts until you find some you truly love. And if you are so inclined, different brewing equipment doesn’t have to be expensive.  A $10 grinder and $12 French press from Walmart will do the trick. 

 My favorite cup:    Grind 1 to 1.5 cups coffee beans of your choice to medium-coarse and place in the bottom of a French press. Boil 3-4 cups water.  Once at a rolling boil, remove water from heat for 10-15 seconds before pouring over grounds.  Place lid on press and allow to steep 4-8 minutes before pressing the screen down. Pour and enjoy.