Are you making coffe on autopilot?

13 Oct

Let’s face it. There is no shortage on opinions on the internet about how to make the best coffee. And quite a few has, in their own mind, come up with the perfect routine.

In this post I’m not after finding my own perfect way, nor am I particularly experimental, but what sparked me to write this was a first hand experience on how a seemingly perfect routine can be deceiving. As the parameters surrounding the brewing process changes, such as new coffees, different roasts and so on, this will affect the brewing.

We realized that we hadn’t checked for a while about what brew time and grinder setting was optimal for the current freshness of our coffee when making french press coffee. We’ve also been switching back and forth between two different grinders (same make but different models) but keeping the same grinder setting. We then decided that we had to check if what we were doing were correct.

To make a long story short: We kept the grinder setting, but varied the brew time.

We brewed several french presses at once, but let them brew for different lengths (4, 4.5, 5 and 5.5 minutes) and cupped the coffees blind. We used a Kenyan coffee (Eeagads Estate) with a very distinct blackcurrant flavour.

We ended up deciding to let the coffee brew for 5 minutes as opposed to the 4 minute brew we have been using up until now. Originally we had decided that 4 minutes of brewtime were perfect for this coffee, but since then some parameters have changed without us adjusting our routine accordingly.

This discovery led me to think of how many other coffee bars and roasters must be doing the same thing without realizing that things maybe should change.

Have you tested your own routine recently? Be it roasting a certain coffee to a certain colorette or agtron degree or brewing an espresso on one temperature setting with the coffee coming in almost certainly being roasted to slightly different degrees.

Personally I feel comfortable that we check our own routine and coffees regularly but this was still an eye opener. We roast our own coffee and know when we need to adjust the brew temeperature slightly to accommodate slight variations in the roast degree. But what about coffee bars that don’t roast their own coffee. Do they test to see if their new batch of coffee needs an adjustment of their routines?

Is it perhaps time to see if you’re making the most out of your coffee or if you’re just making coffee on autopilot?

Just a thought.


5 Responses to “Are you making coffe on autopilot?”

  1. James Hoffmann Saturday, October 13, 2007 at 21:46 #

    Very good point – I’d say that there is a general lack of tasting throughout the wider industry. People in most coffeeshops not tasting their own coffee enough and then it is very easy for roasters and the like to stop tasting other people’s coffees which I think is very important. (I am not accusing you guys of being the chef that never eats out though!)

    I live in fear of hitting autopilot once our roastery starts up so we want to get as many systems in place before we begin to make sure that doesn’t happen!

  2. Klaus Thomsen Sunday, October 14, 2007 at 9:27 #

    Brilliant work. I doubt there is more than two or three coffee shops in Denmark that would do this kind of testing with their coffee.
    I think for us at the collective, we kind of work the other way around the french press method – finding the grind size that works best with 4 minutes steep time. I know from my experience with the Clover how extremely important the grinder is for the steep time and I think it’s almost as important with the french press. We have a couple of the Mahlkönig “R2D2” grinders, and it struck me the other day that I don’t think many coffee shops remember that their grinders have to be adjusted. They just go with the setting they are used to, regardless of the age of the burrs or the calibration of the settings.

  3. emily Sunday, October 14, 2007 at 11:46 #

    nice post… only 2 weeks ago I adjusted one of our roast profiles and target agtron after not getting from a coffee what I thought we could… the result was awesome, one of the best SO coffee’s i’ve had in ages, and well outside what is generally ‘accepted’ as a good roast colour for espresso in Australia. I think it is very important to keep on trying, experimenting and thinking outside the square.

  4. Ben Kaminsky Sunday, October 14, 2007 at 22:08 #

    I have to say, I’m not really so worried about the wider industry on this one (no offense James!). I think if most shops/roasters in the specialty industry were doing this kind of thing it would be a big step. To drink is not to taste and that is problem. I would definitely say that many I’ve come across hardly ever taste their coffees and roast with the mindset that you guys are taking here. Coffees age, roasts can vary, profiles need to be changed for roasting and brewing constantly; my palate tells me that a lot of people don’t understand that. James, I am right with you when it comes to constantly tasting other peoples stuff. It’s so crucial for perspective and education, and its something that we plan on continuing to do once our bar/roastery is open. Great point you guys.


  1. Does a Body Good « Tamp This! - Wednesday, October 24, 2007

    […] Kilimanjaro from our friend Aida Battle in Santa Ana, El Salvador. I had just read a blog post on that other coffee blog about how we don’t really taste our coffee anymore, so I thought that also French pressing […]

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