If you’re a super casual coffee drinker that’s happy with any old instant granules then this post probably isn’t for you. If, however, you like good coffee, want to understand it better and learn how to create true barista level coffee at home, I might be about to write your bible. Stick with me, try out what I’m about to discuss, it will be worth it.
Once upon a time, I was a ‘one sugar please’ kind of girl. Coffee was bitter, I wanted to sweeten it up and I just couldn’t enjoy it without. Black coffee was a no go to me. It tasted astringent to the point it was undrinkable. I used to find myself wondering how on earth someone could enjoy drinking it like that – each to their own. What I didn’t know then was it probably wasn’t about personal preference, it was about poor, bad and awful quality coffee.
Making coffee at home is a learning process like anything in the kitchen and some tools will teach you faster than others. For instance, if you have a capsule coffee maker that does it all for you, it may be convenient but it’s mindless button pressing won’t teach you jot about the process of making good coffee. Don’t get me wrong; I love my Lavazza Favola Plus if I’m in a rush, but I have no control over the elements that make or break a fantastic drink.
This is where manual/non electric coffee makers come in. They allow you to play with more variables, fine tune what ends up in your cup and ultimately, learn how to make a coffee that’s perfect for you. I’m thinking of cafetières (french press), moka pots, Japanese style siphons, and my latest squeeze; the ROK…
This espresso press is something else. I’ve never seen anything quite like this industrial inspired hunk of metal. Selfridges asked me to take a look at it to celebrate their #bethebarista campaign and I’m in love! It’s such a genius design and exactly the type of wonder I expect to stumble across in their stores. Watch me pull a shot:
Now, let’s get to the serious coffee talk. I’ve really enjoyed getting to know my ROK and learning how to tweak it’s variables so I thought I’d share a culmination of reading, practice and research whilst desperately seeking that perfect coffee. I’ll be using the ROK and a french press as the examples because I personally feel they’re the two gadgets that will teach you the most.
You only get out what you put in:
It seems to be a common misconception that roasted coffee beans are somehow preserved and will keep indefinitely. The truth however is that once the beans are roasted, they begin to release gasses, hence the one way valves on bags of coffee. Unless you pick up a freshly roasted bag and work through it at a decent pace, you’ll meet with stale, flat, lacklustre drinks. If you want amazing coffee, it has to be fresh.
Most bags will have a roast date on (check the base or the back) so start taking notice of the freshness and buy the freshest you can find. If the bag doesn’t have a roast date, that’s something they don’t want to tell you for good reason. Put it back, look elsewhere.
Buying straight from the manufacturer is the easiest way to get your hands on a fresh supply. My favourite place to pick coffee up locally is from Farrer’s, but there are hoards of subscription coffee services. I’ve been seriously impressed by Brown Bear in the past but I’m currently using Pact.
In an ideal world, you’d buy whole beans and grind them at home, right before you brew your coffee but that does mean having an extra bit of kit and extra time. Just bear in mind that pre-ground coffee, will degass quicker so try to buy just enough to last you a month.
As for the coarseness of the grind for a french press, to keep the bitterness away and the grinds out of your cup you’re looking for the coarsest grind you can get but for the ROK you want fine, soft, sandy coffee. One grind doesn’t suit all and you will notice the difference.
We want the water to make it’s way through the bed of coffee evenly. If it lingers in one area because it’s more compact than another, the extended contact will start to draw out flavours from the grounds that we don’t want, namely bitterness. For the ROK that just means using the tamp to press the coffee until it’s compact with a solid smooth surface,no cracks. There’s no tamping in a french press but you should still try to distribute the grounds evenly across the bottom for the same reasons.
Temperature of the water:
We all know about scalding coffee right? Too hot and the water will leave that burnt taste in your cup. The problem is, if you know that, you probably overcompensate and use water that’s too cool. It should be around 95 degrees celcius. My advice is to grab a thermometer, boil your kettle and count the minutes until the water is just right. That’s how long you need to wait. You’ll only have to do it once and you’ll get it right every time after that.
How much water?
17.42 units of water to 1 unit of coffee to be precise. Yes, no one expects you to measure it out quite to that degree but if you’re serious about this, learn to gauge where those levels are on your french press. Heck, sharpie them on.
Have you ever tried to mix a liquid in to powder and witnessed the powders resistance? We know that the powder will absorb the liquid, but in the first instance, it doesn’t happen. Well it’s a bit the same with coffee grounds. If we forced water straight through them, the result would be so weak you’d wonder if it had ever seen coffee. It has to sit a little first, pre-infuse and give the coffee time to saturate and release its gasses. Once that’s done, the flavour will follow.
With the ROK, this means drawing the handles up to allow the water to contact the coffee, then giving it a 3 second rest. If you’re brewing in a French Press, things are a little different but the basics still apply. Add water just to cover them at first and give a gentle stir. You should see the ‘bloom’, as the coffee releases the gasses held within the grounds. If you’re not seeing that, your coffee is stale or your water is too cool.
The final variable. How long is long enough? Too short and you’ll miss all those flavoursome oils that round out the flavour of the coffee. Too long and you’ll have a bitter, over extracted drink. The perfect espresso pull is between twenty and thirty seconds, you need to play around to find what’s right for you. The French Press is a different beast entirely and needs at least three minutes to get to where it needs to be.
Apart from cold brewed coffee, which I’ll talk about in a future post, this is the sweetest most well rounded coffee I’ve ever been able to make at home. My “drown it in milk” latte days are pretty much over. If I come in to your coffee shop and you see me add sugar, it simply wasn’t good enough.
Can I honestly imagine keeping the ROK for the duration of it’s 10 year guarantee? Certainly. Nothing has ever taught me more about coffee. Espresso isn’t the eye twitching, quick as you can, caffeine boost anymore, it’s smooth, enjoyable and I look for an extra sip at the end of each shot. At £129, I feel the ROK is a worthy investment given it’s decade guarantee, it’s much cheaper to stock than a capsule machine that’s for sure.