We have all made or tasted that amazing cup of coffee and from that day on never understood why we can never duplicate that experience. We make excuses like, “must be a different barista!" “Coffee I am using must just be a bit old.” “My machine needs a service.”
When you dig a bit deeper, it's more the fact that the coffee your barista is making for you or the way that you are making coffee is really more a guessing game of how much coffee to how much water. Winging or eyeballing it.
As green coffee is being grown and produced at a better quality worldwide and roasting equipment with roasting techniques have developed, we need to up our own level of coffee making if we want to extract these pronounced flavours.
Now I don't mean going out and buying a whole new espresso machine and grinder or throwing out the old plunger. The problem is really not the equipment - It’s you!
Practically, If you don't have a recipe to bake a chocolate cake and you need to make 4 for an occasion, how do you expect them to all be the same taste and size?
Coffee works exactly the same in that we need recipes in our coffee making to maximise our flavour development and taste of the coffee we are brewing or extracting.
In coffee, we call these brew or extraction ratios. A ratio in this case is: Ground coffee to (:) water. This means that for every part of coffee I put into my recipe I need to add a certain amount of parts of water the unit of this measurement has to be the same for both.
Practical example 1g:2g or 30g:500g.
Now that you have a base recipe we can expand and tweak this for certain coffees and brewing equipment to maximise a specific flavour, texture, body or sweetness for our desired coffee.
A recipe over many brews and many coffees can be adjusted and tweaked to grow with your ever developing palate.
This ratio or recipe is really a reference point to your coffee. If you bring a new coffee into your tasting pool, the ratio is now your starting point - I am not saying that the ratio that you use will become the perfect ratio for that specific coffee. Playing with that ratio and trying to maintain total consistency through extraction will help you assess in no time and with minimal wastage what is the new recipe for your coffee.
The big question when adjusting any ratio or recipe is: What do I keep the same and what do I change? Where do I start?
With coffee, we know that there are many different variables we work with. Water, Coffee freshness, Grind calibration and type of extraction method just to name a few.
So where to start?
Keep as much as you can consistent.
When I say the above, what I mean by this is, resetting machines and grinders take time and there is really no way to comprehensively know if the change you have made is a step in the right or wrong direction. Your technique is another consistent one. When you tamp coffee for instance, tamp at a standard pressure and dont vary.
Right, now that we have all the consistencies in check, let's get cracking on what you can adjust. We know from the above that a ratio is part coffee to part water. In espresso this is represented as 1 part coffee to part yielded extracted coffee.
The simplest and easiest way to start is to change the coffee and or water / yield.
You will find that just a bit more added coffee or a slight bit more or less water will make all the difference changing your ratio from a 1:10 to a 1:16 brew ratio or 1:2 to a 1:2.2 extraction ratio. This will bring clarity and balance to the coffee and give you that added taste you were looking for from the origin / blend.
If this does not work and all else fails - change the grind setting and start all over again with your starting default ratio going through the same action plan.
Ratios are critical to brewing / extracting coffee to its full potential and it's of my opinion that everyone from the home coffee enthusiast to the professional commercial barista should constantly use them.