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5 Key Elements for Coffee Quality

Specialty coffee is a matter of choice, not a beverage of chance

By Spencer Turer, Vice President at Coffee Analysts

Great care must be taken to ensure the intrinsic quality of the coffee, from farm to cup, is not destroyed by the process or the person preparing the beverage.

1. Cleanliness

The simplest way to improve coffee quality is to clean the brewing equipment. Natural coffee oils and fine coffee particles coat the equipment and will cause burnt, bitter and sour tastes to transfer from dirty equipment into a new brew. You don’t cook food in dirty pots – don’t make coffee in dirty brewers!

different quality coffee blends

Photo: Spencer Turer

2. Water

Comprising 98%-99% of the finished brew, it is critical for the water to be neutral, at the proper temperature, and the right volume.

Optimum water for brewing coffee is free from any flavours or aromas that are unpleasant: The Specialty Coffee Association of AmericaThe Specialty Coffee Association of America recommends water purity at 50-100 ppm total dissolved solids, no iron and free of any taste, odour and particulates, with a pH of 6.5 – 7.5.

Temperature plays a key role in extraction. Heated to between 195-205 F (90.5 – 96.1 C) all the intoxicating aromas and delicious taste will be extracted from the coffee. Cool water will not allow enough flavour and to extract, while water too hot will burn the grounds and produce a flat, bitter brew.  [Ed. note: Please use common sense and allow your beverage to reach a comfortable temperature before drinking!]

Volume is critical in controlling the coffee to water ratio, for drip brewers the ratio is 64 ounces of water to between 3.25 – 4.25 ounces of freshly ground fine grind coffee as directed for  Gold Cup Standard brewed coffee, according to the standards set by the SCAA. (This ratio, water temperature, and purity will allow  extraction of 18% – 22% of the soluble material from the coffee, yielding a brewed coffee concentration [brew solids] at 1.15% – 1.35% solubles concentration.)

3. Freshness

Roasted coffee is highly perishable and must be treated with care and stored correctly.  Whole bean coffee can stay at optimum freshness for up to 2 weeks, while ground coffee will only stay at optimal freshness for less than 1 hour in an ambient environment.

Increased surface area of ground coffee facilitates the rate of staling. Store coffee in a cool, dry place away from light, heat, moisture and strong odors to maintain quality.  Grind in a burr grinder immediately before brewing to retain flavor and aromatics; stale coffee will lose aromatics, sweetness, and taste malty, papery and mild.

4. Grind

Grinding coffee reduces the particle size, increasing the surface area and plays a primary role in developing aromatics and taste in the brew.

The level of grind must match the brewing method and is predicated on the length of the brewing cycle.  Short brewing times, as in espresso and column brewers require super-fine grind coffee for immediate and instant extraction, while longer brew times in the French press and immersion brewers require courser ground coffee due to the longer steeping extraction.  Burr grinders produce a more uniform particle size then spinning blade-type grinders, which will produce a richer more complexly flavored cup of coffee.

coffee on table


5. Service

Brewed coffee is highly perishable; coffee specialists recommend serving coffee immediately after preparation.  Holding brewed coffee should be for only 30 minutes in glass carafes or 60 minutes in thermal sealed carafes. Long holding times allow the aromatics to dissipate, reducing the sweetness and acidity of the coffee. Also the solubles continue to cook in the brew, creating a flat, heavy, sour and bitter brew.

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This article taken from the National Coffee Blog

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