Delicious Coffee at Home: How to Adjust To Taste
Story time. This morning, I broke open a new bag of freshly roasted Ethiopia Yrgacheffe from River Rock Roasting Company. I followed my standard morning ritual: start heating the water, weigh out my beans, and jot down my notes for my standard V60 recipe. I'd hardly consider it a botched cup, I still thoroughly enjoyed all of it, but it did leave me wanting a little more of the juicy fruit notes I love so much. Since today was a two cup day, I got a chance to adjust and try again. I opted for a coarser grind for a faster extraction, and voila, juicy fruit notes!
Preference and Flavor
Not all coffees brew the same, there are so many variables from the density of the bean to roasting to it's origin country and growing method that one brew recipe isn't likely to cut it. So, logically, we need to make adjustments to our brew methods to maximize the output of each coffee. Don't let that scare you though, remember, we're only dealing in the last 20% of quality range. (If you have no idea what I'm talking about, go check out this post about the Quality Gap) To be honest, I rarely stray from my staple recipes. But when that cup just isn't hitting the spot like you'd like it to, it's time to make some adjustments.
If you feel like your coffee has too much body, maybe it feels a little heavy on your palate. Perhaps you would describe it as bitter. This means you extracted too many solvents, so you need to adjust a little. Generally speaking, you could start by using a coarser grind size or decrease your water temperature a couple degrees (stay above 195°F). If you're using an Aeropress, you could also reduce your steep time or if you're using a pour over you could try pouring faster.
Weak or Sour Coffee
Alternatively, maybe you thought your coffee tasted a little weak. Maybe it had a certain astringent sourness to it. These qualities indicate you didn't extract enough solvents and again your recipe needs some adjustment. You could first look into using a finer grind size or increasing your water temperature (don't go past 205°F). If you're using an Aeropress, you could also increase your steep time or if you're using a pour over, pour slower.
Learning to Taste
The first step toward learning to adjust your recipes is learning to describe what you're tasting. Start with broad terms like sour or bitter, you don't need to identify specific tasting notes to be able to adjust accordingly. How does the coffee feel? Is it light on your palate like skim milk or does it have a little more weight to it like whole milk? Is your coffee more sour like an underripe banana or more bitter like kale? Try to take note of general things you like or dislike about the coffee.
Keep in mind, as you make your adjustments, only adjust one variable at a time. Unless you need a drastic change one way or the other, make those adjustments in small increments. This allows you to start to identify how each variable alters the final cup. Dial it in!
The more you write down what you did, the easier it will be to adjust your variable and dial in that delicious cup. I keep a notebook and pen by my coffee station now and all my notes live in that notebook.
I write down something to this effect each time I brew:
Coffee, Roaster, Brew Method
Weight of coffee | Weight of water @ Water temp (Desired Ratio)
Grind Size – Grinder
Brew Recipe Weights
Final Brew Time
Here’s a specific example from my notebook (written out though, I use a lot of abbreviations):
Ethiopia, River Rock, Pour Over
16g | 256g @ 200°F (1:16)
30g | 105 | 180 | 256 (Bloom followed by my 3 pours)
– More fruity notes, lighter body and a brighter mouthfeel
I get plenty of weird looks and comments to the effect of "you write all of that down?" whenever I bust out the ole coffee notebook in public. It's not exactly a normal thing to do as far as society is concerned. However, if you want to develop you palate, progress into that 20% of quality coffee, and dial in your brewing I highly suggest you start here. The pay off is worth it.
As always, if you have any questions, comments or ideas for future content drop them in the comments below and shoot me an email on the Contact Form!
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