Scales, Timers, and Brew Ratios
One of the most magical things about coffee is that it’s almost always willing to meet you where you are: You can find a fantastic and approachable coffee that fits your everyday budget, or you can seek out a super special bag of beans that feels more like a splurge. You can brew great coffee with almost no equipment at all, or you can have every new gadget available. You can eyeball your recipe, or you can use precise units of measurement.
In this post, we’ll explore the three aspects of coffee making that can take your brewing to the next level, no matter where you are in your own coffee journey: your coffee recipe, the ideal brew time, and how to control both.
Recipe or Ratio
The first (and arguably most important) element of designing a brew is to understand and establish the recipe, the ratio of coffee to water, that will yield the tastiest possible cup. That said, there’s no one “right” ratio, even though many folks will argue that there is: Ultimately, what tastes good to you is more important than following some “expert” advice. (After all, the experts in question don’t have to drink your coffee, you do!)
A good rule of thumb, though, is to start with a base ratio and adjust to taste. While “adjust to taste” might seem intimidatingly vague, I would recommend starting small by adding or subtracting just a few grams of coffee at a time, even 10–15 beans more or less should be a good start. We’ll speak more about the specific recipe in the next section, but let’s talk about why this ratio is important.
Most people think about “strength” when they think about coffee flavor, but professionals know that it’s a combination of strength and extraction that makes coffee taste the way it does. While strength is a measure of how much coffee flavor is contained in the finished beverage, extraction measures how much of that coffee flavor is pulled out of the coffee grounds.
Think of extraction as the amount of liquid of juice you squeeze out of a lemon, and strength as the pungency of zingy lemon flavor in your lemonade. If you want more lemon flavor, you may need not only to use more lemons, but to make sure you squeeze out every last drop.
Coffee’s kind of the same way: You want to make sure that you have enough coffee to start with, but also that you extract the right amount from what you have. Your grinder is a helpful tool here, too—especially if you set it up for success with your recipe.
Exact or Estimate?
Finding (and tweaking) the right recipe isn’t as hard as you might think, regardless of the tools you have available in your kitchen. Most coffee professionals will recommend a starting recipe of 1 gram of coffee for every 16 grams of water, which is easy to attain if you have a kitchen scale. Here are some of my favorite scales:
- American Weigh 2kg Pocket Scale – I have used these scales for everything from brewing French Press coffee to making espresso to baking bread.
- Brewista Scale – This advanced, barista-centric scale has several modes to toggle among depending on your brew method and style, as well as a built-in timer.
- Hario V60 Scale – Another option with a built-in timer and a sleek design that would look great on the counter.
- Acaia Pearl Scale – If you want to go top-of-the-line, Acaia makes professionals’ favorites models, including the elegant and efficient Pearl.
If you’re not interested in scales, don’t worry: As a rule of thumb, a heaped tablespoon holds just about 7 grams of whole bean coffee. (Ground coffee will have some variation based on the size of the particles and how tightly packed they are into the bowl of the measuring spoon.)
Interested in adjusting your dose? Take small steps by adding or subtracting 10 beans, half a tablespoon, or 3 to 5 grams. Make notes for yourself when you experiment, so you have a record of what tastes better or worse to you.
Remember, too, that as your Ebb filter gets broken in and used over time, you may want to alter your dose and grind a bit: You will find that after several weeks of use, your brew will start to take a bit longer as the fibers in the filter become seasoned. You will want to grind a little coarser—and maybe compensate by adding a few grams more coffee—in order to maximize your brew. No need to worry: If you’re keeping notes about your recipe, ratios, and brew times (that’s up next) you should easily be able to change and improve your cup.
Time and Timers
Brew time is one final element of a great coffee, and the amount of time that your batch takes will be determined by the intersection of brew ratio (how much coffee the water has to pass through), grind size (how fine the coffee is as the water tries to make its way) and brewer/filter design and shape.
Different types of coffee makers will typically recommend a range of brew times: Most French presses, for example, call for about 4 minutes, while the majority of pour-over devices recommend 3–4 minutes. You can use any kind of timer that counts up: a plain old kitchen timer, an online timer, or even your smart phone’s timer app. Heck, you can even count: “One one-thousand, two one-thousand.”
In order to accurately time your coffee brew, you’ll want to start it counting up the moment the first drops of water touch the ground coffee, and stop it the moment the last few drops drip through the filter or the moment that you press your plunger. This is called the total brew time (the other TBT), and you can very easily track it with a simple timer.
To get just a little bit geekier, let’s compare TBT to “contact time,” which refers to the duration that water and coffee are touching and will vary based on your brewer and technique. For example, as you pour brewing water into a pour-over dripper cone, the water flows through and exits the coffee bed: All of the water is not in contact with coffee for the duration of the total brew time. It’s important to remember that you can manipulate this contact time by changing your coffee-to-water ratio as well as your grind size, and it can be helpful to notice the relationship between contact time and total brew time as you brew. (But it’s also not totally necessary.)
Remember, too, that your Ebb filter will need a grind adjustment as you use it: Watch your clock, and when your brew time is 30 seconds longer than when you first started using your Ebb, make sure you dial your coffee grounds a little coarser.
At the end of the day, however, we really want you to know that you can make fantastic coffee with as few or as many tools as you like to use, especially now that you’re armed with information about your recipe, how to control and change it, and what time to look for.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Ever Meister is a coffee professional, journalist, and educator who has worked in the specialty coffee industry for 20 years, doing everything from making and serving espresso to selling green coffee to conducting training sessions and writing marketing strategies. Meister is also the author of New York City Coffee: A Caffeinated History (The History Press, 2017).