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THECONVERSATION

Brewing a great cup of coffee depends on chemistry and physics

Brewing a great cup of coffee depends on chemistry and physics

theconversation.com

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Making Great Coffee

Coffee is unique among artisanal beverages in that the brewer plays a significant role in its quality at the point of consumption. In contrast, drinkers buy draft beer and wine as finished products; their only consumer-controlled variable is the temperature at which they ...

The Strongness Of The Beans

We humans seem to like drinks that contain coffee constituents (organic acids, Maillard products, esters and heterocycles, to name a few) at 1.2 to 1.5 percent by mass (as in filter coffee), and also favour drinks containing 8 to 10 percent by mass (as in espresso). 

The Brew Methods

There are many ways, though, to achieve a drink containing 1.2 to 1.5 percent coffee. A pour-over, Turkish, Arabic, Aeropress, French press, siphon or batch brew (that is, regular drip) apparatus – each produces coffee that tastes good around these concentrations. These brew methods also boast an...

When Coffee Meets Water

There are two families of brewing devices within the low-concentration methods – those that fully immerse the coffee in the brewing water and those that flow the water through the coffee bed.

From a physical perspective, the major difference is that the temperature of the coffee particulate...

Brewing Isn't A Simple Matter

Pour-overs and other flow-through systems are more complex. Unlike full immersion methods where time is controlled, flow-through brew times depend on the grind size since the grounds control the flow rate.

The water-to-coffee ratio matters, too, in the brew time. Simply grinding finer to in...

Other Variables To Control

Even if you can optimize your brew method and apparatus to precisely mimic your favourite barista, there is still a near-certain chance that your home brew will taste different from the cafe’s.

There are three subtleties that have a tremendous impact on the coffee quality: water che...

The Water Chemistry

Given coffee is an acidic beverage, the acidity of your brew water can have a big effect. Brew water containing low levels of both calcium ions and bicarbonate (HCO₃⁻) – that is, soft water – will result in a highly acidic cup, sometimes described as sour. Brew water containing high levels of HC...

Particle Size Distribution By The Grinder

Every coffee enthusiast will rightly tell you that blade grinders are disfavored because they produce a seemingly random particle size distribution; there can be both powder and essentially whole coffee beans coexisting. The alternative, a burr grinder, features two pieces of metal with teeth tha...

Coffee Freshness

Roasted coffee contains a significant amount of CO₂ and other volatiles trapped within the solid coffee matrix: Over time these gaseous organic molecules will escape the bean. Fewer volatiles means a less flavorful cup of coffee. Most...

The Last Sip

So don’t feel bad that your carefully brewed cup of coffee at home never stacks up to what you buy at the café. There are a lot of variables – scientific and otherwise – that must be wrangled to produce a single superlative cup. Take comfort that most of these variables are not optimized by some ...

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