For years I've recommended a 1:15 brew ratio for those diving into the world of home brewing, often referring to my old standby of 20 grams of coffee to 300 grams of water. At one point I actually favored this recipe myself as I felt like it added a certain amount of depth to my coffee. Over the past few years my tastes have changed, and lately I’ve been preferring something closer to a 1:17 ratio for most of my brewing.
(Sidebar: If you’ve stumbled across this blog and are unfamiliar with how we express coffee brewing ratios it goes like this: 1:15 ratio = for every gram of coffee used, you use 15 grams of water. Simple!)
This being the case, I still happily recommend a 1:15 brewing ratio for those getting started with home brewing.
When we’re brewing coffee, our magical matrix of particle size, brew time, and coffee to water ratio all need to work together for us to get the most out of any given coffee. In a cafe setting we have the tools that allow us to really push the limits of extraction - grinders to the tune of $3K, brewers with specifically tuned pre-wetting and pulse brewing phases, and water treated specifically for brewing coffee.
Sadly, the average home user doesn’t have total control over all these brewing variables. Maybe they have a whirly blade grinder. Maybe they’re brewing on a Mr. Coffee that their mom bought in 1982. I guarantee the water they’re using is in no way optimised for brewing coffee. Is this a problem? Well, it doesn’t have to be.
If you’re of the mindset of: “If you really wanna brew coffee at home you need to step the game up and spend $250 on a nice burr grinder to really let the coffee shine.” then I couldn’t disagree with you more. Making the decision to purchase and brew specialty coffee at home instead of the normal canned commodity grade coffee is a huge step and should be applauded! It’s all about progress, not perfection.
One of the biggest things we can do for specialty coffee is make the entry point to our industry more accessible.
By understanding the circumstances that 99% our customers brew their coffee in at home, and adjusting our thoughts and methodologies to suit their situation - Specialty Coffee leaps forward. If instead of worrying about what “perfect” is, we let our customers know that it’s ok that they don’t have all the bells and whistles, and that they can brew really great coffee on whatever device they already have - Specialty Coffee leaps forward. I can’t count how many times someone hasn’t bought nice specialty coffee because they didn’t want to shell out the cash to by the hand mill that went with it, and the barista said it would be better to just wait until they can get a nice grinder. This is insane. We live in a privileged world with our EK’s and tuned R.O. systems - it’s good for us to remember that not everyone else lives there with us.
Ok back to brewing ratios!
In reality what we get out of a 1:17 brew ratio in our cafe is worlds different than what people get out of a 1:17 at home. In my experience when people start brewing specialty coffee at home they often find it weak and lackluster compared to what they get at their favorite specialty cafe. It’s the same roasted coffee so they know what it should taste like, but they just can’t quite get enough flavor out of it at home. Enter the 1:15.
Using a bit more coffee in the form of a 1:15 ratio acts as a buffer for these limitations. When extraction isn’t optimised, if we use a bit more coffee we get something close to the strength of what the average Joe considers to be “coffee.” The finished beverage has more perceived “coffee flavor” and probably tastes more like what they’re used to getting in their specialty cafe. If the coffee is good and well roasted you’ll still get plenty of varietal characteristic and clarity of flavor at a 1:15 ratio. Once you’re comfortable with brewing, let taste be your guide, and adjust your brewing variables as you see fit.
So in a nutshell we can battle imperfect brewing conditions by just up-dosing a little bit and adjusting our technique to fit our situation. It might not be ideal, but it will certainly taste a whole lot better than the the Folgers you bought at Save Mart last week.