Jean Teng gets a lesson on the best ways to make top quality coffee from the comfort of her bubble.
During lockdown, with more of us isolated from our local cafes and fancy work espresso machines, making coffee at home became a necessity – a fundamental matter of funnelling caffeine into our bodies. But I soon found it could be more than just a necessity; that it was possible to elevate the experience beyond good old Moccona instant by recreating cafe-like soft brews at home. The meditative act of weighing grounds and pouring water in slow circles into my little V60 has become my everyday morning routine, and, God, the coffee has been good.
There are a million and one different ways of making coffee, even with one piece of kit. The amount of coffee, amount of water, timing… adjusting little things can sometimes make all the difference. Really, you can get as nerdy and experimental as you like, buy all the tools and have a play with it, or stick with your trusty plunger.
“That’s what’s fun about coffee, right? There aren’t really any rules. You can kind of just do what you want, and, if it’s tasting good to you, then happy days,” JD Coulter, an account manager at Coffee Supreme, tells me.
Coulter loves the stuff, having previously set up a cafe back in his home country of Ireland. He now spends a lot of time immersed in the world of coffee – drinking it, talking about it and making it – as part of his sales role with Supreme. “It’s a wicked little hobby to have. And when you brew coffee for yourself at home, you suddenly realise the level of skill that’s required to do it. There’s a lot of moving parts, so it does take a bit of understanding.”
And with our staying at home culture truly refined after seven weeks in lockdown, Coulter gave me a guided tour to how to make the best coffee at home.
Invest in a grinder – if you can. Apart from being fresher, the size of your grounds can have a massive impact on the final flavour, too, and a home grinder will give you greater control over that. If you can’t get one, that’s A-OK; buying pre-ground, high-quality coffee from your local roastery is also a good bet.
Yes, weighing and measuring does make a difference. It’s really about the coffee-to-water ratio – generally, the starting point is 1:17, but it all depends on how strong you like it. You can buy coffee scales that provide more accuracy, but normal kitchen scales work for me.
But don’t stress. “If you brew in any of these methods with delicious coffee, it’s still going to taste great,” Coulter says.
V60 and Chemex are both pour-over methods using filter papers. People who make coffee this way usually already have a foot in the door of “coffee culture” – you know, can’t start a meal without taking a photo first, have a designated coffee-only ceramic mug, and say things like, “Yeah, I only really drink long blacks.” It’s a slower, more intricate way of making a brew, and is my pick for if you want to start getting serious about coffee – or appear that way on Instagram, because it also looks really cool.
The best way to decide between V60 and Chemex, Coulter tells me, is to consider how many people you’re making coffee for. If it’s just for yourself, V60 might be the best choice. It produces a much brighter cup than the plunger does, all light and tea-like, and I like how you can drip it straight into your favourite mug.
Here’s all you need to do.
- Get your V60 dripper and place it on top of a vessel – mug or carafe – and place both on top of some scales. Place your filter paper into the dripper.
- Put the kettle on and wait for it to boil. Thirty seconds after it’s boiled, use some of the water to wet the paper, to get rid of that papery taste.
- After chucking that water out, and with your scales on zero, add coffee using your choice of ratio. Start with about 1:17 – so if you have a two-cup V60, you’d put about 20-30g in there, then multiply that out by 17 for the total amount of water.
- Tare (set to zero) your scales and put your timer on. For the initial pour, add double the weight of coffee in water and cover all the grounds over 30 seconds. So, 30g of coffee means pouring in 60g of water initially, and 510g in total.
- Leave it for 30 seconds. Then, following the spiral pattern of your V60, start pouring the rest of your water in concentric circles working from inside out but not touching the outside. Try to get it all in before two minutes is up.
- Wait for all the coffee to drip down, and enjoy immediately.
That’s how Coulter does it, anyway. But keep in mind, people do get a bit funny (ie wanky) about filter coffee techniques. “It’s all open for interpretation,” Coulter laughs. (He says this many times during our chat.) The important thing is to make sure you have that spinning motion, as it incorporates all the coffee and ensures even extraction.
Coulter’s method of choice is the Chemex, mostly because he’s “a bit vain, to be honest with you”. The Chemex is a beautiful vessel, all elegant curved glass and adorned with a wooden collar; it uses filter paper that’s a bit thicker than the V60, so the brew is cleaner. “I like putting on a bit of a show when using my Chemex. It’s the drama.” I can tell that Coulter is more than a bit enamoured. “It’s perfect,” he says, definitively. You can also get a higher-capacity Chemex, meaning it can serve the group of people you’re showing off to.
With these pour-over methods, using a special long-necked drip kettle to pour gives you greater control over the flow of water. Again, it depends how far you want to take your coffee-making journey – I just use an old teapot instead, or Coulter recommends pouring straight out of the kettle, with a metal spoon to help achieve the circles.
The immersion brew: plunger (or “French press”)
Those who call it a plunger: practical, corporate, “you wouldn’t like me before my first coffee” types. Parents, maybe. Those who call it a French press: owns a collection of vinyl records and talks about taking the weekend to catch up on “long reads”. It’s duality, baby.
Plunger coffee is known as an immersion brew, which is as it sounds: coffee is always immersed under the water. It results in a punchier cup that has a bit more body, because of those fats and acids that would normally be caught with a filter.
Again, it’s all about the ratios, and you can generally use which you prefer. I use 1:15 when making plunger, which means in my small three-cup press, I put in 20g of coffee and 300g of water. “You should weigh it, but it’s also like an extra step in the morning, isn’t it?” Coulter has one trick for if you get caught out without a scale: “A teaspoon is about 5g of coffee.”
There are some fancy tricks you could try out, like preheating the chamber with hot water, or pouring in a little water first, waiting 30 seconds for the bloom, then pouring the rest. “I would usually pour it all in and give it a stir, to be honest with you,” Coulter admits.
Wait about six minutes (less for a weaker brew), press down, and then you’re good to go. And if you’re not drinking it all right away decant the brewed coffee off into another vessel so it doesn’t keep stewing away.
The machine: Moccamaster
A Moccamaster is essentially a giant automated V60 machine. You might have seen one at your local cafe – it’s often used for batch brew – but it works well at home too. The beauty is you can put a pot on in the morning and be drinking from it through the day, which makes life a lot easier if you’re a multi-cup kind of consumer, or live in a house of coffee lovers. Plus, the Moccamaster comes complete with that portable American diner-looking glass carafe, perfect to fulfil all your weird Twin Peak server fantasies.
The waste-free filter: Gold Coffee Filter
The SwissGold is a very reusable alternative for a one-cup brew. I’d never heard of it before, so it’s ultra-good for those of you who think V60 has gone a little too mainstream. It still gives you a really nice filter coffee that also has more body compared to the V60 or Chemex, with an almost immersion brew feel. Excellent for camping, as it’s only itty-bitty.
The wildcard: Pyrex
After finding himself stuck in Matamata at his in-laws during lockdown, Coulter improvise an easy way for his morning fix using a kitchen mainstay: the Pyrex jug. This way to make coffee is easy as.
“This is another thing about coffee I love, because you can make coffee in a glass if you needed to,” Coulter says. “Once you get a grasp of that idea of ratio, suddenly the kitchen’s your oyster.”
And in that kitchen, he had a Pyrex jug, but you can use whatever large glass vessel you have lying around (that universal measuring jug comes to mind). All you need to do is add some coffee to the bottom, pour hot water to the top, give it a nice stir and leave for six minutes. Then use a tea strainer, or something similar, to catch some of that sludge. It’s a good idea to strain the entire jug out rather than leave the coffee extracting in the water, or your third cup’s going to degrade in flavour as the coffee-to-water ratio changes.