How to Brew the Perfect Cup of Coffee
In spirit of the sweet, mighty nectar that fuels Meathead Mullan, MASSthetics, and in the spirit of decidedly not being your average meathead, an article on how to brew the perfect cup of coffee is long past due.
From being tagged in countless memes about coffee, being asked questions such as why do pastries taste SO much better when paired with coffee, and even being sent the occasional bag in the mail, great coffee has more or less become synonymous with Meathead Mullan.
It would seem that spending a majority of my time in cafes, choosing quality over all else, and an orgasmic reaction to imbibing a perfectly pulled shot of espresso has painted the clear picture that I have a passionate, undying love for coffee.
Following on the heels of how can I get bigger legs, one of the questions that I’m most often asked is:
“How can I brew the perfect cup of coffee?”
It’s come time to settle this once and for all.
So let’s go.
There’s brewing methods galore.
When it comes to brewing methods, there are numerous options, and I’ve tried all except for the syphon (I’ve only been to one or two cafes that even have one).
Chemex: If you want something with a little more volume than a shot of espresso or the cafe you’re at doesn’t offer the Aeropress, this is what I suggest you go for to.
V60: I still don’t know what the difference between the V60 and Chemex is. My best guess is that instead of the coffee pouring into the bottom of the Chemex chamber, it drips straight into your mug.
Espresso: This is default for whenever I’m at a cafe that I believe can pull a great shot, and has high quality beans, or when I stop on the way to train for a quick hit.
Drip: In my meatheaded opinion, this is a last resort. I’m willing to be proven wrong, but I’m yet to have a solid cup of coffee that’s come from a batch brew.
French Press: Great for when you don’t give a fuck and want to drink about a litre of coffee at once, or serve multiple people.
Stovetop Espresso: While an effective and quick method for getting your caffeine fix, I’ve always found that it overheats the grinds, burns the coffee, and gives off a flavour I don’t enjoy.
Syphon: Alas, I haven’t yet experienced the supposed magic of a coffee made via syphon.
Aeropress: For the sake of simplicity, it’s incredible ease of use, and because I have the most practice with this method, the remainder of this guide is going to focus on brewing the perfect cup of coffee with the Aeropress.
Let me tell you:
- For starters, you’re only able to make a single cup at a time, and this allows you to easily control all the variables that go into brewing the perfect cup of coffee.
- It’s cheap ($35-40), portable (every time I travel it fits neatly into my carry on), and it requires no power. You can quite literally make a cup of coffee anywhere, so long as you have access to hot water.
- From grind to press to the perfect cup in your hands, the time elapsed is about 5 minutes once you get the rhythm down.
In my experience, the taste is simply superior to all other brewing methods.
The perfect cup of coffee begins with the fresh, quality beans.
The perfect cup of coffee begins by using fresh, high-quality beans.
If you fuck up this step, your cup of coffee will be doomed, even if you do everything else perfectly. For this reason, I suggest spending a little bit more on high-quality, freshly roasted beans. Trust me; the taste will be worth it.
When it comes to choosing your beans themselves, it’s a bit of a guessing game at first as there are so many different origins, roast profiles, and flavour notes to dig through.
To figure out what you like most, I suggest deploying the following strategy:
Start by testing each region in the coffee belt. All coffee beans are grown between the same lines of latitude around the globe. WHat’s known as the coffee belts spans from Costa Rica through Colombia, Kenya, Ethiopia, and into the Southeast Asian countries of Sumatra and Papa New Guinea. Beans grown in each region will have inherently different tasting notes and flavour profiles.
For example: beans grown in Southeast Asia are typically much more “earthy,” rich in their flavours, and sit heavy on the tongue. On the other hand, Costa Rican beans are almost the exact opposite. Light, “bright,” vibrant flavours, and often fall into the “exotic” category of tasting notes.
To figure out which region you like best, get a bag of beans grown in each region, and try them all.
Once you’ve settled on your favourite region (or regions), it’s time to branch out and see which notes you like most. You’ll typically be able to find beans that lean towards notes of chocolate, nuts, and caramel as well as the more exotic beans of champagne, raspberry, and almond roca (this was the profile of a coffee I had from Panama back in the spring, and it’s still on my mind.
After one bag of each you should have a clear idea of which side of the fence you fall on.
Flavour aside, here are some keys to the perfect beans:
- Ensure that they’ve been freshly roasted. I try to only buy beans roasted within 7-10 days of purchase (the roasting date will be stamped somewhere on the bag).
- Do not get them pre-ground (unless you absolutely must). More on this below, but as soon as you grind a bean, the flavours start to diminish immediately, and they lose their “pop.”
- Store your beans in a dark cupboard, ideally in an airtight glass jar.
- Try to go through the bag within a month of opening (I prefer two weeks, but that’s me).
Today's #nowbrewing post comes with a story. # A few weeks ago, @hunterfitness and I had a conversation about our favourite coffees, brewing methods and our go-to roasters. I'd mentioned that Ethiopian coffees are one of, if not my favourite variety of beans. # Yesterday, I checked the mail to find that Hunter had sent me a bag of @caravan_coffee, and man, this is right up there with @timbertrain. # It's gestures like this, that are part of what make social media such a unique place. Much love for the beans, and I appreciate the reminder to make gestures like this more often. # Great timing as well, seeing as I ran dry yesterday morning. #caffeine #coffeegains #caravancoffee
Fine-tuning your grind.
The grind you use will quite literally dictate how your cup of coffee tastes.
Within each bean there are roughly 1000 different aromas and flavours, and the way you grind each bean has a direct impact upon the final product.
Where things get tricky is the fact that each brewing method has a different ideal grind.
The image below provides a great visual explanation of what grinds for different brewing methods should look like:
Since we’re talking about the AeroPress, I use a Porlex hand grinder to grind all my beans, and have it adjusted to 6 clicks from the fully-closed position. This gives me a perfect grind each time — which in turn will result in the glory that you see below.
The myriad of other factors that play into the perfect cup of coffee.
Much of this segment comes down to preference and playing around with different variables to affect the flavour of your coffee.
Below is what I pay attention to and ensure I do each time I whip out my Aeropress:
Scale – weighing your beans to ensure the proper ratio of beans to water is crucial for brewing the perfect cup. I use a food scale because I’m a meathead and just happen to have one. Below you’ll find my recommendation for which scale to use.
Kettle – yes, while this definitely majoring in the minor, even the kettle you use can impact your coffee. While I would prefer to use this one, it hasn’t seemed like a reasonable purchase with the travelling I’ve been doing of late. Once I do decide to stay in one spot for a bit, you can be damn sure I’m picking up this baby.
Water temperature – if the water you use is too hot, it will scald the grinds and add a burnt tinge to the flavour. Some don’t mind burnt undertones, I fucking hate it. While I should use a thermometer to keep an eye on water temperature, the travel I’ve been doing of late hasn’t seen room for such in my suitcase. Instead, I simply turn the kettle off just before it reaches a full boil. It’s not perfect, but it’s been doing the trick.
“Cracking the crust” – as you pour water over the beans, you’ll notice a crust begin to form the top. Once about half the water has been poured, I’ll stop, let the crust solidify for 10 seconds or so, then crack it by giving it a few stirs. Then finish pouring in the rest of the water, repeating the same sit, crack, stir process.
Steep time – this is something every article on the internet and barista behind the counter seems to have a different opinion on, and something I’m still playing with. So far I’ve tested 30 seconds of steep time, 2 minutes, and 4 minutes. While not yet conclusive, I believe the perfect steep time is somewhere around the 90 second mark. Too long and you oversaturate the flavours, too short and you don’t allow the notes to fully “bloom.”
Drinking vessel – Yes, what you drink your coffee out of can impact the flavour. There’s a reason that a quality cup of coffee sipped from a paper to-go cup never tastes quite the same. When time permits, always ask for your coffee “for here” if you’re out and about. If you’re at home, your favourite mug should suffice (so long as it’s clean).
How to brew the perfect cup of coffee using an Aeropress – a visual guide.
Resources for brewing your perfect cup.
No coffee brewing guide would be complete without a resources list. Below you’ll find everything mentioned in this article that goes into creating the perfect cup of coffee.
- Porlex hand grinder
- Aeropress filters
- Hario scale (I dig this scale in particular because it has a built-in timer, and can double as a food scale).
Beans & Roasters
- Timbertrain Coffee Roasters
- Pig Iron Coffee Roasters
- Heart Roasters
- Caravan Coffee
- Sightglass Coffee
- Phil & Sebastian
And that, my dear meathead, is that.
Every step you need to know, every piece of equipment required, and where to find everything is in the 1650 words above.
Now go forth and masterfully craft your first perfect cup of coffee. Should you have any questions along the way, feel free to reach out to me via email, social media, or what have you.
And so it is.
PS. 4 out of 5 lifters will let their rationalization hamster run wild. Convincing themselves they’re making progress…yet you build no muscle, and burn no fat. The 5th lifter joined the MASSthetics Clan and put the information within the (free) Hypertrophy Handbook to good use. He no longer has to rationalize his progress. It simply happens. Click here to become the 5th lifter, and let me know where to send the prestigious Hypertrophy Handbook.