I Now Pronounce You Coffee and Brewer
I get this question from customers a lot when they’re in our shop picking out a coffee to take home: Which one works best for ______?(insert your favorite home-brew method) I thought I’d take a minute to lay out my philosophy of coffee brewing to try and answer that question.
In short, every type of brew method should be just a slightly different means to achieve the same end. If I had an amazing cup of a particular coffee that was brewed on a Kalita Wave, I should be able to turn around and make the exact same cup on a Hario V60. There are a few obvious differences in brew methods, the biggest one in my opinion being the type of filter used (or lack thereof). But most differences are rather subtle and can be easily accounted for in a couple simple techniques.
I also get the feeling that a general lack of good technique has given rise to the notion that the different brew methods produce drastically different cups of the same particular coffee. Example: Regarding the Chemex brewer, I often hear something of the effect that it produces a “sweeter” or “less acidic” or you-name-it type of cup, and the reason given is “because of the filter”. This has never made sense to me conceptually, so the other day I set out to brew two side-by-side cups of the same coffee, one on a Chemex and the other on a Hario V60.
The similarities: Both methods are cone-shaped, use paper filters, and have large openings for the brew to drip.
The differences: The chemex is its own decanter, and its paper filter is WAY thicker than the V60. Why does that matter? Some of the most nuanced and unique flavors in great coffee are the first to brew out, and the Chemex filter acts like a giant sponge sucking up those flavors keeping them out of the cup.
The solution: Pre-wet the Chemex filter. Like a lot. Soak it. Then soak it some more. Just don’t forget to dump out that water before you start brewing! This is is the first bit of technique to keep in mind. It also matters with the V60 filter, but not nearly as much.
I used the most recent roast of our Las Lajas Red Honey from Costa Rica as the coffee for this experiment. I brewed using the exact same recipe and pouring technique for both methods with one very small difference, but I’ll talk about the actual brewing for the experiment in a follow-up post. For now, I’m going to skip to the results.
After a few test brews, I got both methods dialed-in to produce the exact same cup strength—to within a hundredth of a percent—and extraction percentage, which I checked with a VST refractometer. So, on paper the same cup of coffee. But how did they taste? I took them both to our roaster and resident Q-Grader, Jeremy to taste with me. The consensus between the two of us was that there was no discernible difference in the resulting cups. Clarity? Check. Taste notes? The same. Body and Mouthfeel? Surprisingly the same.
All of that to make this point: Any coffee, if it’s a great coffee, should be amazing on any brew method you have available. And if someone makes a claim about something—coffee brew methods or otherwise—make an effort to see for yourself! You just might be surprised at what you find.