Miscellaneous bits and bobs from the tech world

My Coffee Journey

11/27/2021, 1:58:56 PM

It recently dawned on me just how many variables go into a cup of coffee. The same could probably be said of tea, or audio equipment, or any other hobby that people pursue. After all, if it's worth doing, it's worth overdoing, no?

My coffee journey has only really just begun (as of writing, November 2021), mostly as a consequence of staying and working from home, and picking up new hobbies during the COVID-19 pandemic. I don't consider myself a coffee snob, despite what all of my friends and family say, but more like a coffee snob wannabe. I could certainly go whole-hog into getting all the best equipment and single-origin beans, but I am a firm believer that a little effort will get you 90% of the way there, and everything else is chasing after that elusive remaining 10%1.

The update (December 2021)

PXL_20211230_142801545 PORTRAIT

Since the original post, my Timemore Chestnut C2 and a gooseneck kettle arrived from China. The grinder is in all respects a notable upgrade to my coffee experience. I've distilled the essence of my thoughts in a blog post about whether or not to buy a better coffee grinder.

I've only had the opportunity to use the gooseneck kettle a handful of times. I was expecting it to only be marginally better than my wide-mouth kettle, but the increased level of control is surprisingly helpful, and seems to have led to a cup of coffee with more body. Why, I can't fathom, but additional research (aka more coffee consumption) is required.

The setup (November 2021)

November 2021 Coffee Setup

Nothing particularly fancy, except for the beans, which were a recent acquisition (as of writing, Nov 2021). Prior to this week, I was drinking Cliffhanger Espresso from Kicking Horse2. Short of going to picking and roasting the beans myself, the next best thing would be minimizing the "days since roast" (see below). I picked up a locally roasted blend from a coffee supplier in my city, which greatly increased the consistency of my daily brews.

There are already some changes that I can make to this setup. My grinder is of moderate quality, and could be upgraded to produce a more consistent grind size, and my kettle can be upgraded to give me a little more control over my water temperature and pour.

I really enjoy making a pourover coffee after grinding the beans myself. It provides some time for introspection amidst the daily hustle and bustle of my family's morning routine.

The Variables

In my (admittely embarrassingly exhaustive) research into optimizing my coffee, I've noted down the variables that one can adjust.

Do changing these variables up do anything to the resulting cup of coffee? Mostly yes, but not often in a way that one can immediately identify from cup-to-cup. Others do make a big difference. I'll leave it as an exercise to the reader as to which ones are worth optimizing for.

  • Coffee bean quality and origin – single origin or blend? Are they of good quality, or bug bitten, etc?
  • Roast quality – are they evenly roasted?
  • Bean storage – storing the beans in an air-tight container, etc.
  • Days since roast – are your beans stale, or even too fresh4?
  • Grind size – different brew methods require different grind sizes
  • Grind method – god forbid you use a spice grinder to grind your beans
  • Grind speed – grinding too fast or too slow... or just right?
  • Grind quality – maybe your grinder produces too many small particles, also known as "fines", thus leading to a bitter cup
  • Water temperature – often used as a function of extraction speed, in combination with your brew method of choice
  • Water quality – well, tap, filtered, bottled, distilled, reverse osmosis?
  • The pour – are you just splashing water willy-nilly all over your hastily ground, stale, low-quality beans? You heathen.
  • Coffee to water ratio – requiring a gram scale, one imagines this would really help you maintain consistency, cup-to-cup. Recipes abound online about just how much coffee you should use, relative to water.
  • Brew method – drip, pourover, french press, espresso... instant5...
  • Blooming of the grounds – fresh beans still contain quite a bit of CO2 that is released rather spectacularly when ground beans come into contact with hot water. Grounds releasing CO2 are not beans that are steeping, and affect the extraction rate, so they say.
  • Brew time – used in conjunction with the water temperature and grind size, allows you to alter your extraction to capture the flavours you do want, while leaving behind the flavours you don't want. Much easier with a French press, since the coffee is just sitting in the water.
  • Creamer – black, splash of milk, or a seemingly limitless permutation of all those fancy "not-milks" that are so popular

Wow! That's a lot of variables, did I miss any?


1 I also have a soft spot for greasy spoon breakfasts, and part of the appeal is that bitter-as-hell brown drink they like to call coffee.

2 This is a referral code. Clicking on it and buying the product helps me maintain this site, but it's perfectly okay if you don't, either :)

3 I was surprised to find that they don't even sell this anymore (or perhaps that just don't list it on their website.) This cheap $10 grinder, despite all its faults, was a great investment!

4 Yes, I was surprised this was even a thing, having purchased all my coffee off the grocery store shelf. By the time coffee is shipped and arrives at the grocery store, it has already aged past the "too fresh" stage, so that's not ever a concern.

5 For the longest time, I drank instant coffee whenever I wanted a change from my daily tea. I also used powdered creamer. You can get out your pitchforks now.