May 2, 2011 Nathan

Seven steps to even better coffee at home…

A while back I shared my Five Steps to Better Coffee at Home as a series. I’ve been thinking about those tips, and how I’ve applied and developed them at home – and I’ve got seven further tweaks that I’ve made to my coffee routine that I think have made a pretty big difference to the quality of my daily brews. So here we go. Some of these were alluded to in that series, but I’d say they’re essential to moving from the basic, through the intermediate, to the advanced (and I’ve got five stupid tips to share with those who want to be like me coming soon…).

Here we go.

Step 1. Storage

I used to be a little lackadaisical about bean storage. Sure. I’d tell other people that it was really important, but then I’d just leave 500gm of coffee in my grinder’s hopper until I’d been through it. It was slack. Lazy. And the difference is noticeable – especially from about 4 days post roast.

Step 2. Weigh everything.

This one has probably been the biggest revolution for me. If the aim of the game is consistency – the best way to achieve that is to use the same amount of coffee every time. A gram either side of your standard dose will throw everything out, and if you’re not paying attention to how many times you’re whacking your portafilter against the bench to settle the grounds it’s easy to lose track of how much coffee is in the basket. Weighing your dose solves this. Weighing the shot afterwards will take us through to point 3. But also helps measuring brew time and brew volume (30 mL in 30 second being the golden yardstick).

Step 3. Understand brew ratio (or take note of it) and flavour profiles

Brew ratio is the weight of the coffee in your cup divided by the weight of your dose. So 30mL from 20gm of coffee is a 1.5. Understanding and measuring this will help you build a profile of the beans you’re using, and help you to deliver the same result day after day (once you’ve found one you like). Here’s my 1.2 brew.

Step 4. Go bottomless.

The bottomless portafilter. The coffee photographer’s favourite tool. Because watching coffee gloop out of the basket is such an amazing and visceral experience.

But going “naked” also removes all the crud that builds up at the bottom of the portafilter (try pulling out the basket and cleaning that sucker from time to time – have you ever done that?). And keeps you accountable when it comes to your dosing – dose wrong and your naked portafilter will let you know by shooting streaming jets of hot ‘spro all over your kitchen.

Step 5. Keep your empty milk jug in the freezer.

This has revolutionised my milk texturing. Using a commercial machine at home (that’ll be in the next series of tips) is great, but it means you’ve got about 7 seconds to steam the milk before it gets too hot. Chilling the jug gives you a little more time, and seems to positively affect the make up of the milk.

Step 6. Clean everything.
Backflush. Yeah. Do it. Not necessarily with the expensive machine cleaning stuff. Looking after your machine will make it last longer. Coffee is oily. Oils build up. Fine coffee particles build up. Keep your stuff clean. Including your portafilters if you don’t have a naked one… This will give you a cleaner taste in the cup. And you’ll be thankful for it.

Step 7. Toss your first shot of the day. And sometimes your second.

I’m not sold on this one yet, and it probably pushes a bit closer towards the “stupid rules for good coffee” – but doing this helps you iron out any issues with the beans you’re using, the temperature of your machine (you should always purge all the hot water in the machine, especially if you’ve got a heat exchange (expensive) machine). The second shot always tastes better – why drink the first just to save a few cents on the 20 gms of coffee you’re tossing.

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About the Author

Nathan Nathan is a coffee lover, home roaster, amateur barista and coffee tinkerer. He's married, has two kids, one turtle, and for a day job works for Creek Road Presbyterian Church. He previously worked in PR. This blog is his attempt to make coffee tax deductible.