Coffee: How to Brew the Best at Home

Here at Cord we make coffee tables, as well as side tables, kitchen tables and desks that will inevitably have a coffee cup placed on them at some point.  Before doing this though, Dave and Phil used to work together in the specialty coffee industry (Phil still does), making them uniquely qualified to advise on both your table and the coffee that you're putting on it.  Here, Dave shares his knowledge to help you brew the best coffee, at home on your coffee table.

It’d be fair to say that coffee culture blossomed in the UK before truly good coffee and the knowledge of how to best prepare it did.  Fashionable notions of marching down the street, late for a meeting and cradling a take-out cup containing a caffeinated hot drink with an Italian name was probably to many people more important than how their drink tasted.  And we pride ourselves on being a nation of tea drinkers, so what was all the fuss about? What does good coffee taste like?

Fast-forward a few years and coffee is firmly embedded in British society.  Chain coffee shops are on most high streets and there are more and more independents opening their doors, and you know what?  Most are serving really good coffee.

But here’s the kicker; fantastic as independent coffee shops are, they’re not downstairs on a Sunday morning.  You have to get dressed and leave the house to get good coffee.

Or do you? 


You can buy bags of fantastic coffee in good delis, speciality stores and now, increasingly, online (our friends at Yallah offer a great subscription service that delivers bags of beans to your door).  Many coffee aficionados claim that it’s just not the same, but perhaps this is due to our understanding in this country not being quite there yet

There is absolutely no reason why people can’t enjoy incredible coffee at home, in their dressing gown on a Sunday morning.  All they need is a few key pieces of information.  It’s not as simply as pouring boiling water over a tea bag, but it’s a lot less involved than most food recipes.
— Dave Jones

Coffee from supermarkets or chain stores is invariably roasted quite dark to give the the flavour enough weight to punch through lots of milk (sometimes up to a pint in the US!). But, the darker the roast the more the idiosyncrasies related to the origin and processing of each coffee a roasted away. Great if you're your global brand that buys cheap commodity coffee and just needs each cup to taste the same. Not so good if want to set sail on a major flavour adventure!  For coffee connoisseurs such as Phil and Rich at Yallah, brewing their 11am coffee rather than using a big espresso machine is often preferable.

If you want in on the secret to getting a good coffee before stepping out the door in the morning, then here’s a run through of the three best methods out of the multitude available:

Before you even put the kettle on though, there are two basic rules to live by:  grind your own and grind ‘em well.  Buying whole beans, preferably single origin (not a mix of coffee from different farms or countries)  allows you to taste the character of each producer in much the same way as wine.  Those flavours and aromas will start to fade very quickly once ground which is why both you, and the barista in your favourite coffee shop, should be grinding immediately before brewing.  An even grind size is important too, otherwise the coffee grinds that are so small that they’re basically dust will over brew really quickly whilst the big lumps of coffee will take much longer.  We’re looking for an even brew, also referred to as 'extraction' for the best flavour, so you need an even grind size and the best way to achieve this at home is to invest in a burr-grinder. Hand ones are OK but electric ones are better and steer clear of blade grinders.  These things may make you think twice at upwards of twenty pounds, but without one rest assured that you'll just be wasting good beans.  So, coffee beans selected and ground, you can put the kettle on.  But then let it cool down for a moment, otherwise you’ll burn the coffee when you pour boiling water over it and it’ll be wrecked.  With beans selected and ground, kettle boiled and left for 10-20 seconds. You’re ready to go.  Before getting stuck in though there are a few key points to go over, and we can use music as an interesting analogy to brewing coffee at home:

Brewing by the Numbers

Measuring your coffee as you brew it makes it much easier to quantify and replicate how you like your cup o’ Joe.  Always work in grams, even for your water, and time it…

The Coffee

The coffee that you choose to drink is like choosing what music to listen to. There are almost as many options as there are bands out there, and it is simply a matter of taste. Usually the lighter the roast, the better quality the coffee used.

Brew Ratio

The brew ratio is the ratio of coffee to water, usually expressed as a percentage of dry coffee to brewed coffee. To keep with the music analogy, the brew ratio is your volume control - it determines the strength of the drink, i.e. the intensity of the flavor and the body (mouthfeel) of the coffee. Light roasted speciality filter coffees are usually brewed between 6-10%, Go weaker if you like dark roasts. The brew ratio you choose is very much a matter of personal taste depending on how strong you like your coffee. Weigh how much water your favourite cup holds and divide the figure by 100. Times that number by the % you want (7,8,9 etc) and that will tell you how much coffee to weigh out.

Extraction

The level of extraction that you choose is like your tone control, and you set it somewhere between bass and treble.  Different flavours dissolve into the water at different rates so you can use this to ‘tune’ the flavor of your coffee. Fruit acids are very soluble, caramels less so and the bitter flavours dissolve even slower still. Choose a light extraction to keep your coffee tasting bright and clean (risking ‘under-extraction’ = lacking sweetness). Going for a higher level of extraction will give you more sweetness and body but you risk ‘over-extraction’ or bitterness beginning to dominate. The key of course is balanced and clean. It’s ‘contact time’ (brew time) and grind size that have the biggest influence on extraction.

We’re going to look at three of the best options for brewing coffee at home: a common-or-garden cafetiere (or “French press”), a filter cone that looks like a conical white cup and saucer, and an aeropress which is a like a giant clear plastic syringe. 

French Press

Using a cafetiere is easily the best way to understand extraction level. Pick a brew ratio and add the required amount of coffee to the pot.  Take your kettle that’s boiled and been allowed to rest, and pour your water aggressively onto the coffee to ensure that you saturate the grounds evenly.  Leave it to steep for four minutes, giving it a helpful stir at the two-minute mark.  Press down the plunger and pour.  If you want a lighter extraction plunge it sooner or use a coarser grind, for a fuller extraction simply leave it longer or use a finer grind. Try and taste little samples of the coffee with a spoon every minute as it brews you will notice the flavour change from really acidic to much fuller, sweeter and more balanced. This is level of extraction increasing. The coarse metal filter of a French press makes for a really full bodied style of coffee.

Filter Cone

A filter cone is an inexpensive plastic or ceramic piece of equipment that looks like a cup and saucer and is designed to sit over the top of your coffee cup.  Take a filter paper, and wash it under some fresh water before placing it into the filter cone.  Use your brew ratio to decide how much coffee you need and add it to the filter. Put the cone onto you cup then put whole lot onto your scales and zero it off.  Pour over a very small amount of water, just enough to wet out the grounds, and allow them to “bloom”.  This basically means that the coffee grounds will start to bubble and expand a bit as the carbon dioxide locked in it is released.  Add the remaining amount of water, little by little (10-15g at a time).  To keep the flow rate even, your coffee should drip through in approximately 3.5-4.0 minutes.  If the water passes through the coffee grounds in significantly less than two minutes then it will be under-extracted, whereas if after the 4 1/2 minutes you still have water dripping through then it will be over-extracted and bitter.  Adjust your grinder (finer if your coffee is under-extracting or coarser if it is over-extracting) and try again.  It might take a little bit of experimenting but will be worth it. Paper filter methods like this always yield a very delicate, clean and clear style of coffee. 

Aeropress

An aeropress is a clear plastic tube with a filter cap screwed onto one end, and a plunger with a rubber seal that pushes into the other end, all of which sits on top of your cup or mug ready to dispense coffee straight to where it needs to be.  Think of it like an upside down cafetiere, but instead of plunging the coffee out of the water you push the water out of the coffee.  Place the piston upside down on the worktop (rubber end up) and push the cylinder about 7 or 8cm into the tube.  Then add the coffee followed by the water and leave it to brew. Fix the washed filter and cap onto the cylinder, flip it onto your cup and push.  There will be an air lock trapped between the rubber seal of the plunger and the coffee as you push down, so it’s all a pretty clean operation, after which you can unscrew the filter cap and expel the coffee grinds straight into the bin before rinsing off your filter paper to reuse. The very fine paper filter means far less undissolved material is allowed to pass into your drink than the cafetiere (less of that muddy sediment) which uses a coarser metal filter, but you also lose the oils and therefore some mouthfeel. Use a finer grind and shorter contact time than you would for a cafetiere.

So, it’s nice to know that making a really good cup of coffee on a Sunday morning is as easy as buying a set of scales to sit next to the good old french press. All you need is good beans, ground fresh and mixed with hot (but not boiling!) water at the right ratio and for the right amount of time.  No doubt you’ll still be stopping off to treat yourself to a shop coffee from time to time or marvelling at just how the barista made the pattern in the top of your latte, but at least now you have the option of staying home and drinking good coffee in your dressing gown should you so choose. 

Featured Products:  

  • Hairpin Leg Coffee Table in oak and raw lacquered steel.
  • Hairpin Leg Side Table in birch plywood with legs in colour code RAL6027.