Automatic, consistency, speed, and convenience. Automatic drip devices are one of the most common ways to brew coffee at home, but ridiculed for the lack of user adjustment. Every coffee is different, so how do you account for that with an automatic machine.
For starters, dialing (especially for a brewer that only allows very little alteration) simply means finding the ideal grind setting for your chosen coffee. One setting may not fit all, but there is a starting point that can help narrow it down. Your grind setting is choosing how close the burrs are in the grinder to achieve a consistent particle size that will either slow down the passing of water through the grinds or speed it up. This can change depending on the size of the bean, amount of moisture, and density. Adjusting to accommodate these differences allows there to be a sweet spot specially found for that specific coffee.
Once you have your fresh coffee, ground by the precision that is burr blades, you’re ready to start finding that sweet spot!
There are a few variables when brewing your coffee that come with some starting points to help with setting and forgetting if you are able to adjust accordingly, and if not, a few tips instead to get as close as you can to finding that baseline!
Water is ideal brewing temperature around that 195 to 205 degrees Fahrenheit or right off the boil according to the National Coffee association. This is where over or under extracting the coffee can begin. Under 195, and the water will have a harder time pulling the appropriate oil and flavour from the grounds, over 205 and you could end up with coffee that tastes dry or bitter, similar to over steeping or scalding green tea.
Depending on the machine, it may be able to bring the water up to temperature. If not, or if you find yourself using a smaller device like what you’d find in a hotel room or small office, you can run the water through as is to warm up the machine, and then use that heated water to brew your cup of coffee. (It’s never a bad idea to run some hot water through whatever your brew method may be, as a drastic change in temperature can effect flavour).
As down to the machine, leaving coffee on a hot plate of sorts will continue to bitter the coffee. Having a carafe or a separate cup for the coffee to be in will present your results better than if it were to essentially sit and simmer.
Quality of water, a pretty significant factor in a brewing methods. Calgary water is harsh, can cause build up, and leaves an unintentional taste in your coffee. Using filtered water will help with consistent taste!
Coffee to water ratio, a general foresight is that 1 to 2 table spoons of ground coffee per 6 ounces of water, this can be used in a pinch, but using direct weight will again, add to that consistency and something you won’t have to worry about changing for later cups. This is that golden 1:16 ratio, or 1 gram of coffee to 16 grams of coffee, and then adjusting to taste. I typically use more water to coffee as per preference, especially with bolder tasting coffee, so using 17 grams of coffee would call for around 270 grams of water and I’ll usually push that to 290. Either way, that starting point will allow just that! Somewhere to start.
Now for the star of the show, having your starting points, the grind setting will be your go to variable that may change per coffee.
Just as hotter or colder water slows/speeds up the process of extraction, so does the grind. If water passes through too quickly, there won’t be appropriate extraction of flavour, and too slow, it will pull unnecessary flavour compromising that balance.
The fineness of your grind can come down to the type of brewer used. If it has a flat bottom, a medium grind that resembles something like sand will be quite close. Cone shaped filters will be a bit closer to looking like sugar. The best place to start though is either where you last had your grind setting, or right in the middle if the grinder is new.
Less is more
When making adjustments, moving a ‘notch’, a step, or a number on the grinder finer/coarser goes a long way and will make queuing up a brew to taste much easier. The goal is to find the most balanced cup a coffee can offer with what you’re using and most importantly, it’s fully enjoyable to you.
I encourage experimentation and having these trials side by side because it’s like cooking. May take some time at the beginning, but it will make the end product not only super enjoyable, but you’ll be quicker to identify what your coffee might need for the next brew, or even where to start if it’s higher in fruity or citrusy tasting notes, or if it holds bolder spices and deep sweetness.
Feel the Know-How
Feeling the coffee, it sounds weird, but I’ll always ask where someone if feeling the coffee, because bitter and sour can often be confused and especially if your tolerance is higher for one or the other, it can be hard to decide that this is in-fact ‘bitter’.
Sour: under extracted coffee with grinds that are too coarse will typically hit the sides of the mouth, maybe even the top of your head or the bridge of your nose. Any sort of puckering is a good indicator that it might be on the sour side.
Bitter: over extracted coffee, where the grinds are too fine, will linger. That’s a big indicator if it’s hanging out at the back of your tongue and almost leaving a dry aftertaste.
What you’re looking for is a natural sweetness with developed acidity. This just means that it runs through your mouth from the tip of your tongue to the back, not too much lingering in any specific area.
A new skill, and great reflection. Might be a little deep for coffee and definitely no need to go through this process daily as baristas will. Just a great way to experiment and maybe pull a brand new taste from your morning brew!