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Measuring coffee used to be a simple thing. Just follow the directions on the side of the can. If there were no directions, there was the fail-safe measurement method every young lady learned in Home Ec classes – one heaping teaspoon per cup of coffee, plus one heaping teaspoon for the pot. That was fine as long as you were making percolator coffee with the standard coarse grind that you found in most canned coffee, especially if you liked your coffee the much-maligned “American” way – light and fairly weak.
Automatic drip brewers changed that slightly. Because the brew method was different, that “one heaping spoonful” made coffee that tasted different – richer, deeper and less bitter. Then along came little indie coffee shops and boutique coffee roasters and different methods of making coffee and all of a sudden, all the old rules went out the window. The one scoop of coffee you use in your automatic drip coffee maker makes icky espresso and latte (and there are more reasons than just the amount – but we’ll get to that in a minute), and muddy coffee in a French press. So what are the new rules for measuring coffee with all these new (and old) coffee brewing methods?
Before we get into measurements for different coffee brewers, though, let’s take a look at what actually happens when you brew coffee. Coffee is made with the roasted and ground up pits of coffee cherries – what most people know as “coffee beans.” Coffee beans contain dozens of different chemical compounds that combine to give brewed coffee its finished flavor. Those compounds change when the coffee beans are roasted, and different levels of roast produce different flavors in your coffee, even from the same beans.
When you soak coffee beans in a liquid, usually water, the chemical compounds are extracted into the water and give it color and flavor, turning it into coffee. The more compounds extracted during the brewing process, the stronger the flavor of the coffee. Many different factors affect the amount of coffee extracted – the temperature of the water, the size of the coffee grounds, the amount of time that the coffee grounds are in contact with the water, the amount of water, the amount of coffee – even the length of time between grinding the coffee beans and brewing the coffee.
Different methods of brewing coffee extract coffee flavors differently because they combine those factors in different ways. Espresso, for example, uses a pump to force hot water through tightly packed coffee grounds, extracting flavors more quickly. Automatic drip coffee makers shower loose coffee grounds with hot water. Since the coffee can only exit through a single small hole, the coffee grounds sit in the water for long enough to extract flavors before coffee drips out the bottom. In a coffee press, you stir coarsely ground coffee into hot water, then press the grinds to the bottom of the pot and pour off the coffee. In each case, you’ll get optimum flavor from your coffee if you use the right grind and the right proportion of coffee to water.
The standard rule for making coffee in any coffee maker is to follow the manufacturer instructions. Generally, though, you can expect good results with auto drip coffee makers when you use coffee that is ground to about the texture of granulated sugar, and measure one heaping teaspoon per cup of coffee. Your coffee maker should heat water to between 195 and 205 F for best results.
In a coffee press, the coffee grounds are exposed to hot water for a longer period of time. That means you want to use a coarser grind than you’d use in a drip coffee maker – about the texture of coarse corn meal or sand. Use one rounded tablespoon of coffee to every 4 ounces of water – and use water just off the boil.
A moka pot, also known as a stovetop espresso maker, forces hot water and steam through coffee grounds into an upper chamber. It makes rich, flavorful coffee that’s as close to espresso as you can get without a pump. To get the best results from your moka pot, use espresso grind coffee – about the texture of talcum powder. Use about 1 rounded tablespoon of coffee for every 2 ounces of water. After you put the coffee into the filter basket, level it off and wipe the rim to remove any coffee grounds from it. Do not pack the coffee down or tamp it as you would for an espresso pot.
There could be – and have been – entire books written about the precise measurements, grind and water temperature to get the best flavor espresso from your espresso machine. Despite all the expert advice you’ll find here, there and everywhere, the truth is that every coffee has its own preferences, and you’ll find what you like best by experimenting until you find your “sweet spot” with each coffee. In general, though, you can start with 15 grams of finely ground coffee to every 2 ounces of water. Place the ground coffee into the filter basket and tamp it down firmly to pack it. The tamping is important – it packs the coffee and slows the flow of water through the grounds. If you don’t pack it properly, the water will run through the coffee grounds unevenly, too slowly or too quickly and your coffee will be too weak or to strong.
The newest coffee fad – or rediscovered coffee fad – is hand dripped coffee made in a coffee cone one cup at a time. For hand-dripped coffee, the grind should be about the texture of granulated sugar. For each 4 ounces of water, add one rounded tablespoon of coffee to a filter-lined coffee cone. Tap the cone lightly to settle the coffee evenly and place it on top of your cup or pouring station. Use water just off the boil and pour it slowly over the coffee grounds using a circular motion to make sure you wet all of the grounds.
|Method||Water||Grind Type to Use||Coffee|
|Percolator||6 oz||medium||1 tablespoon|
|Auto Drip||4 oz||medium||1 tablespoon|
|Press Pot||4 oz||coarse||1 tablespoon|
|Moka pot||2 oz||fine||1 tablespoon|
|Espresso||2 oz||fine||15 grams|
|Hand Drip||4 oz||medium||1 tablespoon|