“I buy good coffee beans – why doesn’t my coffee taste as good as the coffee at the coffee shop?”
We get this question often – people use the same coffee beans as their favorite coffee shop, grind them at home, and use good, filtered water, but their coffee doesn’t compare to the coffee they can buy at the coffee shop.
The answer comes by process of elimination.
Coffee quality is affected by 3 variables:
- Brewing Process
Let’s take a look at each.
Coffee: Quality coffee starts with good beans from a reputable roaster. The beans must be fresh, which means the coffee has been roasted within the last 2 weeks, and the coffee has been ground right before brewing.
Water: Good water should have impurities filtered out, but some minerals must remain. Filtered spring water = good. Tap water = bad. Distilled or reverse osmosis water = bad.
Making sure the good coffee and water are being used is fairly easy. After those variables are taken care of, we must look at the brewing process.
Brewing Process: Coffee shop coffee is good because they brew coffee at the correct temperature, and because the coffee and water steep the correct amount of time. According to the Specialty Coffee Association of America and the National Coffee Association, the optimal temperature for brewing a great cup of coffee is 197.6 – 204.8F. If the temperature of the water is too low under extraction occurs. Since acids in the beans are the first substances to dissolve, the coffee will taste weak and have a sour flavor.
Can you replicate the brewing process at home?
There are basically 2 ways brew coffee correctly at home.
- Go the old school, minimalist route. Use a no-frills brewer such as a French Press or a Chemex – something where the variables can be controlled. With either of these brewers, you can make sure the water is heated to the correct temperature (195-205 F). You can also control how long the water is in contact with the coffee grounds – you basically want to get all of the flavor without the bitterness. The Chemex offers a nice, slow, drip process. On the French Press, let the coffee steep for 3-4 minutes. On either, it might take some experimenting with grind size and amount of coffee (use between 1.5 – 2 tablespoons per 6 ounces) to get things perfected.
- Use a really good home brewer. The vast majority of home brewers fail because they don’t heat the water hot enough. The water is quickly heated on its journey from when it is poured into the brewer until when it meets the coffee grounds. In this short amount of time, the water isn’t able to reach the proper temperature. Many home brewers brew coffee at about 180 F instead of the recommended recommended temperature. Some brew at the correct temperature when new, but the brewing temperature drops after a few months of use. The result is coffee that tastes a bit sour.
Which home brewers are good?
Technivorm – these Dutch coffee makers sell for about $300 are the only brewers certified by the Specialty Coffee Association to brew coffee at the optimal temperature. They also have a way to control steep time.
Bunn Velocity ST – this Bunn brewer uses a hot water reservoir for holding water at the correct temperature – just like their commercial brewer. That means that the brewing process takes place with preheated water that is in the 200 degree range. The sprayhead – also similar to their commercial models, sprays water evenly over the grounds for even coffee extraction.
So, to answer the question – you can brew coffee at home that’s as good as the coffee shop. The keys are to use good water, use good, fresh coffee, and brew coffee the correct way – either by using a minimalist method, or by using a quality coffee brewer.