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The Impact of Weighing Your Coffee / Over and Under Extraction

Toll Coffee Roasting

When you’re making coffee at home, it can be as equally cathartic as it can be daunting at first.

There is a variety of ways to prepare that delicious, aromatic cup of coffee that you’ve been craving, but there are equally as many seemingly small variables that go into extracting the most out of your coffee.

Each of these deserves their own time to explore in detail, so for now, we’ll be going into one of the most important – and often overlooked – factors in any method of brewing, at home or at the bar: weighing your coffee.

  As often as it may be overlooked, the significance of weighing your coffee out using a scale each time is just as often a fact that is simply not known. Many people are used to eyeballing or using a volume-based measuring device such as a tablespoon or small scoop. While this does do the job, if you want to bring out the most from your coffee, and also have a good baseline to work from when you are dialing in your own recipes, weighing your coffee using a scale is an essential part to any recipe.

While the ratio of coffee to water is a very big factor in the taste and balance of the end-product, it is also important to note that a big reason for exact measurement with a scale is that the coffee beans themselves will always be inconsistent in weight. During the roasting process, lots of oils that are trapped within the bean are brought out at the high temperatures; this results in the density or mass of the beans themselves being affected too. This means that while each individual bean will different in weight in any given bag, the same coffee bean may be lighter or heavier depending on the roast level. An exactly two pound bag of dark roast coffee will have more individual beans than the same weighted mass of a light roast. In short, measuring your coffee by eye before grinding it will result in an inconsistent ratio at best, so using a scale will ensure the most consistent and best taste.

Regardless of your method of preparation, whether it be for espresso, pour over, aeropress, french press or cold brew, the amount of coffee that you put in (relative to the amount of water) largely influences the taste and balancing of the acidity and bitterness of the end product. Putting more coffee in will result in an under-extracted coffee, while putting less in will result in it being over-extracted. There are many different variables that can result in an over or under extracted coffee, such as brew time, coffee grind setting, water temperature, and more; however for now, we will be focusing solely on how lowering or increasing the amount of coffee itself impacts your end product.

While over and under extracting your coffee may sound like a bad thing, they’re not (inherently)! Finding the sweet spot between acidity and bitterness is a key part of making a balanced cup of coffee. Understanding how both over and under extracting your coffee affects your coffee will help you in any case where you may find the coffee too bland, too bright, or anywhere in between.

Over-extracting your coffee means that you have added less coffee relative to the amount of water. By putting the same amount of water through a lower amount of coffee, you have less actual coffee for the water to pass through. This means that while the end product will be the same amount, the water will be pushing through less coffee, which generally results in it becoming more acidic or brighter.
This is a great way to balance out a coffee that you may be finding to be a little too ashy or bitter, as it will bring out some of the more pronounced and interested flavors of a coffee at the same time.
Acidity isn’t a bad thing! When balanced properly, it is often a key aspect in bringing out some of the more bright tasting notes, such as floral or fruity notes in your coffee.

Under-extracting your coffee is the opposite: in this case, you’re now adding more coffee relative to the amount of water. The same principle still applies, although this time by putting the same amount of water through more coffee, the water is now going to be more saturated by the grounds as it passes through, resulting in a more bitter, or dense and full-bodied taste. If your coffee is lacking something “behind” the more pronounced flavors of the coffee itself, or in other words the body, adding more of the grounds can result in more richness and boldness. Under-extraction often brings out more of the woody, chocolate and nutty flavors as well.

Many people are often unaware of this small yet significant part in coffee preparation, as it is something that can be confusing when trying to find a consistent recipe to use for whatever your method may be. After all, how do you know if you’re under-extracting your coffee, even if you have your scale? Part of the fun and never-ending learning experience that is making coffee is that you get to play around with any recipe, and even make your own by paying attention to how things like the amount of coffee affect the taste as you continue to make coffee and gain experience. Keeping notes on the ratios of coffee to water that you use, and the resulting end product is a very helpful way of tracking and also visually seeing the difference in how each variable changed the outcome.

If you’d like a good starting point for each type of home-brew preparation, from espresso to chemexs and everything in between, you can learn more about what recipes and ratios we use at the sensory lab here!

Thank you for reading, and from everyone at Chronicle Coffee Roasters, happy brewing!

Seth Undseth

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