For anyone in Calgary, one of my favourite roasters is Phil & Sebastian. My wife and I took a Home Brewing class with them yesterday evening and I really really enjoyed it.
We showed up at 6pm and were greeted by two energetic guys who were going to teach us the science of brewing coffee. Jeremy Ho was the 2012 Canadian Barista Champion and is heading down to the World Barista Championship in Melbourne in a few weeks. You can tell he's passionate to the point of being obsessive about his coffee and, to be honest, its a bit infectious. Its easy to get him started on the real science behind brewing the perfect cup and he talks about Total Dissolved Solids (TDS), Particle Size Distributions of the perfect grind, etc. Jocko (sp?) is the manager at the Marda Loop location of P&S and is equally as passionate about coffee. He had no problem answering any questions the small group of 8 put forward and often it seemed like he had so much information that he had to restrain himself so he didn't overwhelm the group. It's immediately obvious these guys love what they do and love to teach others about it.
The class covers Home Brewing Methods so we went through using a French Press, a Pour-Over method (eg. Chemex), and the Aeropress coffee maker. There are other classes that cover Espresso and Espresso Art, but I think that this is a good beginners class to take and the others can build on that knowledge.
Fun fact: Did you know that the company that makes the Aerobie (frisbee) is the same company that makes the Aeropress coffee maker?
The class lasts for two hours and they really encourage questions throughout, of which we had plenty. They begin by picking one of the methods to go in depth on and, keeping the majority of the variables the same (brewing time, water temperature, amount of coffee, coffee:water ratio) they illustrate how little changes can have a big impact. For us, they showed us how grinding size impacts the coffee. With everything else the same, they had us try an underground coffee, an overground coffee and then one just right. The difference was astounding. The underground coffee didn't provide enough surface area for the grounds to contact the water so it was underbrewed, tasting weak. The overground coffee was very bitter and overpowering, providing too much surface area and, low and behold, the perfect grind was, well, relatively perfect. They explain that each person's tastes and preferences will require them to dial it in to exactly what they like each morning (or afternoon, evening or night) but they're good about explaining the process.
After going through the one method in detail, they go through the others and explain the differences and how to adjust to each method and why. Then they throw open the floor to questions and offer to have us try out the methods ourselves and they would coach us. To be honest, our group had too many questions and we ran out of time before we could try the methods ourselves, but I've tried both french press and pour-over so I didn't feel like I lost out on anything and came away with a wealth of information that I will try to bring home and incorporate into my morning routine.
The big items I learned:
- use a scale. always. weigh your coffee. weigh your water. that's the only way you'll get consistency and be able to adjust to get a better cup.
- the ideal water to coffee ratio is 17:1. doesn't matter what the type of coffee is or how dark the roast, you can adjust the ratio slightly but you're not going to go that far out of 16:1 or 17.5:1.
- don't use Calgary's water. the TDS are too high (~200ppm) and that causes buffering of the coffee and the acidity wont develop properly. dont use bottled water either. there's generally not enough TDS to buffer as much as it needs so it can turn too acidic. the ideal ppm is ~70. they achieve this by mixing reverse osmosis water with tap water, but at home, you can just use a brita filter as that will get you close enough.
- brew time for a french press is 4 minutes and is controlled by you (push down when your timer expires)
- brew time for a pour-over is 2.5 minutes and is controlled by the filter size and the grind. The finer the grind, the longer the water takes to drip through. experimentation is needed to find the desired grind.
- while your coffee is brewing in a french press, do not disturb the crust that forms at the top. this keeps the heat in and allows for a better brew. when your timer goes off, give it a quick, gentle stir and then press down and pour into a separate container to stop the brewing process.
- do not cover your french press with the lid while it is brewing. when coffee is roasted, carbon dioxide is introduced to the bean and does not fully escape when the beans are ground. if you cover the brewing coffee, you limit the amount of carbon dioxide that can escape and this can increase the bitter taste (carbon dioxide tastes bitter in liquid) to the coffee.
- if you're using a paper filter (for the pour-over or aeropress methods), make sure to thoroughly rinse the paper in hot water before use. if you skip this step, the paper filter can impart a papery taste to the coffee.
- water temperature is important. Calgary's boiling point is about 205*F due to our altitude so its actually relatively perfect for brewing coffee. if you're at sea level, after the kettle has finished boiling, wait about 30 seconds for the water to cool to the correct temperature. if you're in Calgary, wait about 10-15 seconds and you're good to go.
- cold brewing coffee is only to be used when you're making an iced coffee. this is because the process of brewing hot coffee and then allowing it to cool causes a loss of aromatics and the coffee loses flavour. you can get around this by flash cooling the coffee very quickly and that is what P&S use because they believe that hot brewing gives better flavour.
- the best way to taste your coffee is to use a spoon and slurp it off quickly. this imparts the maximum amount of aromatics to your taste buds all over your tongue and allows the vapours to reach your nose.
Phew. That was a long list. I am sure there is much much more and, as I remember it, I'll try to update the list. If you're interested in taking the class, and, if you're into coffee I highly recommend it, you can find the link here
. Classes cost $45 per person for the Home Brewing one and, again, I think its a great place to start.