Extraction Strength

A major component of a recipe for coffee brewing is the coffee to water ratio. This proportion, along with other brewing parameters, ultimately determine the concentration of said extraction. When I started brewing coffee I was told that it “should always be brewed at 1:17.” That is 17 parts of water for every part of coffee, which applies to which ever unit of measurement you feel most at home with. To me these instructions rang like a golden rule of sorts.

I remember when I started as a Barista I would always marvel at people who asked for  “the strongest coffee.” I would invariably ponder what that meant: strongest in flavor, caffeine, strength? I quickly learned that those were all true. Some people like high concentration brews and refer to them as “strong,”  while others like the smokier notes of darker roasted coffees and also refer to that as “strong.” I cannot say either is right or wrong as they are referring to stimulations of different senses. However, this situation left me thinking about concentration strength in coffee.

Most hotels, gas stations, and restaurants brew at what I consider a very weak concentration (aprox. 1:20), but cross the pond to Europe and you’ll find that in a lot of countries a “regular strength” brew can be 1:15. It is clear then that there are definite regional preferences in the concentration strength of coffee. I, personally, used to firmly believe in brewing all coffees at a 1:15 ratio.

I used to always order beef rare. Be it a burger, a steak, or marinated flank, my choice was always rare. My argument was that the rare degree was the only way to actually taste the meat. I realized that not all cuts, or preparations, pair well with rare beef. The wrong cut of beef ordered rare can leave you chewing endlessly or with an unpleasant taste. Now I know that depending on what I’ve ordered, or am cooking, the degree of doneness should match my expected final result to achieve an optimum balance between texture and flavor.

I think the same is true for coffees. Doing some experimentation I’ve come to learn that a coffee tastes radically different at distinct concentrations, and to dismiss a certain throw ratio, or preach only one, is limiting to the sensorial experience any given coffee has to offer.

Ideally, a coffee  should be experimentally brewed at a varying degree of concentrations, and depending on what you want to showcase, you can decide what throw is best for how you envision that coffee.

Just a thought.


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