Coffee seems like a simple beverage, something you wouldn't need a recipe for. How hard can it be to combine two ingredients—ground coffee and water—to create something delicious?
But it's because of coffee's simple ingredient list that nuance, technique, and preparation methods become vital factors in determining how your final brew tastes. Changing one seemingly small thing, like grind size or water temperature, can drastically affect how your coffee tastes.
There's no one perfect recipe for coffee. If you asked 100 baristas for their preferred brewing technique, you'd get 100 different answers. Luckily, it's easy to develop the perfect brewing recipe for you. Here are a few tips for brewing your perfect cup of coffee.
What's A Brewing Recipe?
Again, this might sound silly: coffee only has two ingredients. But think of a brewing recipe like you would a recipe in a cookbook, which includes what goes in a dish and how the ingredients are cooked and prepared.
When thinking about developing a brewing recipe, here are a few parameters to consider:
• How much coffee and water should you use (you'll often see recipes express this relationship as a ratio, which can help you easily scale up or scale down your recipe based on how much coffee you want to brew)
• What brewer you'll use (coffees will taste different based on what device you use to brew them)
• What temperature water you'll use (most recipes recommend using water between 195-205 degrees Fahrenheit)
• Pouring technique: if you're making a pour-over, how will you pour your water? In concentric circles? Straight in the middle?
These are just some of the parameters to consider when brewing (although you can fall down the rabbit hole and look at other parameters, these are good ones to stick with). Once you know which variables influence your brewing recipe, you can begin experimenting and fleshing out the details of your recipe.
One: Try A Recipe—Any Recipe—And See What You Think
Every roaster, coffee shop, or coffee pro can recommend a coffee brewing recipe to help you get started. If you're scratching your head trying to decipher which formula is best, try picking any recipe you see online and using that recipe to establish a baseline for your taste preferences. Once you understand how certain factors affect your coffee, you'll be better empowered to make decisions and tweak your recipe as you go.
Many websites recommend that you start brewing coffee at a ratio of one ounce of coffee to sixteen ounces of water (for easy math, try 21 grams of coffee for 340 grams of water, roughly the size of a 12-ounce cup). Try this ratio out and see what happens. Take notes as you brew: if you're doing a manual pour-over, how long does it take to finish brewing? What temperature water are you using? Take as much data as possible, and you can begin to tie back data points to the flavors and sensations you're experiencing. Does your coffee taste sour? Bitter? Watery? Intense? Write that all down so you can begin to make inferences and connections between brewing variables and the flavors you're experiencing.
Two: Play With Variables
Just because you read about a particular coffee pro's preferred brewing recipe doesn't mean it'll yield a cup you enjoy. As mentioned above, many websites recommend a 1:16 ratio of coffee to water, but if you want something more (or less) intense, feel free to change the ratio (try 1:15 for a more intense, concentrated drink and 1:17 if you think your brew is too strong). We also have a page with quick tips for anyone wishing to improve their at-home brewing game.
Finding an ideal brewing recipe will require some experimentation. Feel free to brew a few cups of coffee back-to-back (try not to get too overcaffeinated!), changing a variable as you go along, and trying to figure out if the flavor of your brew changes. We recommend changing one variable at a time as you experiment. If you change both the brewing ratio and water temperature, you won't be able to isolate which variable affected the flavor of your coffee. Once you understand that these brewing variables control your coffee's final flavor profile, you can begin to develop a recipe that works for you.
Of course, having a general guideline for how certain variables can affect brewing is helpful. Still, nothing should supersede your palate and preferences—the perfect cup of coffee is the one you enjoy best!
Three: Know Some Common Brewing Tells
Tasting coffee can be challenging—how do you describe its flavor beyond "it tastes like coffee?"
You don't need to nail down specific flavors to understand your brew. Try using broad descriptors and concentrate on the sensations: does a coffee feel watery? That might be a ratio issue, so maybe try upping your coffee dose or using less water as you brew. Does it taste hollow? Your grind size might be too coarse. Does your brew have a strange aftertaste? Your water might be too hot.
Every parameter of your brewing recipe is subject to change. Still, things like temperature and ratio usually stay fixed, while parameters like grind size can shift depending on the type of coffee you're brewing and how fresh the beans are. Once you're locked in on a brewing recipe, the grind setting will likely be the variable you change most often: a finer grind will extract more from a coffee but can sometimes get bitter if the grind is too fine. Likewise, if the grind is too coarse, you won't extract as much from the ground beans, and if your brew tastes sour or thin, you might be grinding too coarsely.
Like the cooking analogy we used above, tasting coffee and drawing conclusions about what the flavor or sensations tell you takes time—you don't know how to perfect a recipe just by doing it once. As you brew, taste, and adjust, you'll better understand what each flavor signals.
Four: Once You Develop A Baseline Recipe, Expand Outward And Learn More
Here at Urnex, when we receive a new coffee, we use the following brewing recipe:
30 grams of coffee to 500 grams of water
Brewed on a Kalita Wave
Pour between 50-60 grams of water to bloom the coffee for 45 seconds (or release some of the gases trapped in the beans)
Pulse pour about 110 grams of coffee every 20-30 seconds
Aim to finish brewing around 3:30-4:00 minutes
This recipe is subject to change, but it's what we use as a baseline and helps us decipher what we like about a coffee, what we want to minimize, and how to extract the best flavors out of beans. If the flavor of the coffee we're brewing tastes sour, we might grind a little finer. If our brew finishes at the 5:00 minute mark—but we still enjoy the flavor—we might not make any changes.
There's so much that goes into developing a brewing recipe, and you can watch hundreds of YouTube videos to learn about the minutiae of blooming your coffee or in what direction you should pour your water stream. None of these techniques, however, replace your taste buds and judgment, and the best way to make excellent coffee is to practice brewing and find what makes sense for you. We hope this guide empowers you to brew and experiment—your next best cup of coffee might be just around the corner.