This is a guest post by Scott Piro. Learn more about how you can guest post for Daily Shot Of Coffee.
Brew methods are always hotly debated on coffee blogs and sites. French press: great body and mouthfeel, but a little too much sediment. Cold brew methods: less acidity and caffeine…if you don’t mind 10-12 hours of steep time. But among all methods, it does seem like the Slow Pour Over has been “the new black” for more than a year now. A coffee lover can only hear so much hype before he has to check it out for himself, right?
One problem: I tend to be a little lazy in the kitchen. I mean, stirring my French press after pouring the hot water in feels like work to me, and after brewing it never gets cleaned without a minimum of two hours “prep time” sitting in the sink. Realistically, how was I ever going to stick with a method that required five or more minutes of grinding, measuring, heating and pouring for every cup? What if I want two cups? What if I’m having company over? What if I’m, like, hosting a whole Super Bowl party of coffee drinkers? Uh-uh! Too. Much. Work.
That’s why I was stoked to find this article from former New York Times restaurant critic Frank Bruni last month. A wayward coffee lover like me, Bruni endorsed the classic coffee instrument – Chemex – as a way to have the best of both worlds – bright flavor notes….and convenience. Chemex is a slow pour over device capable of brewing multiple cups at once. Sounded good to me. Even though there wasn’t a programmable version or one with a built-in clapper, I decided to go for it.
That sucker is hard to find, though! Even in Manhattan – Macy’s, Bed Bath & Beyond, Williams-Sonoma – no one seemed to have it. It was mid holiday-rush, and I didn’t know about specialty coffee boutiques like Dora or have time to schlep to Brooklyn to get to Blue Bottle Coffee or Stumptown. Fortunately, I acted on a tip that Zabar’s carried Chemex and proper filters, so I headed uptown. Score. Never mind that I couldn’t find a Hario Skerton hand grinder to go with it, I just grabbed an electric burr grinder and called it a day.
At home, once I was ready to brew my first batch, I felt a bit like a kid whose assembly instructions were missing from his latest toy. The Chemex filters had some directions printed on the box, but not much. So I turned to the web and found this video tutorial on CoffeeCupNews.
Waitaminute – you mean I had to get a digital scale and measure out grams of coffee and water into pre-defined ratios ?!? Please, I’m just a simple coffee lover. It was, like, my understanding there was to be no math in this coffee cup….oh, forget it. So, I waited a day and bought the damn scale.
I already had some ground coffee at home (stored in an air-tight container), so I skipped the grinding part, put on my white labcoat and got to work. Beginner’s Luck was with me. The same beans I’d been using in my French press suddenly popped with lively flavor notes. The coffee geeks weren’t kidding. Slow pour over produces a superior cup – if layered taste notes are what you seek. The coffee/water ratio I used only netted me one oversized mug’s worth, and I know it’s called the slow pour over method and all, but the process seemed to take a reaaaaally long time. But I didn’t think too much about it, and instead just felt self-satisfied with what I’d accomplished. [cue ominous foreshadowing music]
I decided to bring my coffee, Chemex and scale to a small holiday party I’d been invited to and make coffee for all the guests. I wouldn’t call it a disaster exactly, but it was clear something was very wrong. It just took so looooong! Doubling the proportions didn’t net me nearly enough coffee for guests, so I went back and brewed another batch with tripled proportions. No exaggerations – almost everyone had left the party by the time it was finally ready. Even with stirring the cone, the stuff was just trickling. And when I poured cups for the remaining guests, everyone agreed: the stuff was bitter. I had over-extracted. WTH?
I turned to some online coffee forums to get help. And the answer was so simple! The pre-grinded coffee I’d been using was finely ground !! (But the coffee geeks reading this post knew that already.) It was supposed to be coarse coffee for my French press, but the clerk I bought it from didn’t know he was doing and grinded it to near-espresso size. For my press, this only meant some extra sediment, but for Chemexing, it damn near put the brakes on the whole process. The coffee was just too small to let hardly any water pass through. It was literally a grain wreck.
Enter grinder. You know what? Any coffee lovers who have felt intimidated to try grinding their own beans, let me reassure you: there is nothing to it. Buy a good model, follow the directions, and you’ll see how simple it is (and takes almost no time at all). I videoed my first time. Look:
I do recommend you buy a burr grinder rather than a model with a single blade. A burr will give you more control grinding to the exact size you need for your coffee brewing equipment.
What a difference the right grind size makes! I followed the instructions given me by the excellent people at Joe Bean Coffee Roasters and the coffeelicious fans on ROASTe’s Facebook page and chose a grind size in between medium and coarse. It was soooo much faster; I mean, it worked just like the experts all said it should. Have you ever watched specialty coffee truly “bloom” before your eyes? It’s enough to make a coffee lover farklempt. And what an excellent tasting cup it produced!
From there, I set upon more subtle experimentation. For example I found when I shifted the grind setting one tiny click towards the medium size, I began to run into that ‘bottleneck’ problem in the cone again, where the water didn’t flow as easily through the coffee, adding brew time and bitterness from over-extraction.
I’m ready to enjoy a lifetime of experimentation with various grind sizes, water/coffee ratio tweaks, water sources – you name it. As coffee Yoda might say: No matter how far a coffee lover has come on his journey into the world of specialty coffee, the journey is infinite.
Scott Piro is a blogger and social media consultant for ROASTe – the world’s largest coffee marketplace with over 1,000 specialty coffees from fifty micro roasters across the country. Find better coffees on ROASTe – shipped to you directly from the roasters so you can enjoy the at-home gourmet coffee experience.