Coffee 101: Coffee Making Fundamentals

What is coffee?

At its most basic, the ingredients for coffee are simply:

ground coffee beans + water

The magic of coffee happens as the coffee flavour is extracted from the grinds into the water.

Choosing good quality, fresh roasted beans and clean, pure water are a given. Other variables you typically have some control over are the amount of time, the mix of coffee to water, the grind and the water temperature.

Thinking about the fundamentals of coffee, we’ve developed some RULES OF THUMB to help make every cup great. No matter what kind of coffeemaker you’re using.

Sparkplug Coffee Rules of Thumb

Get the mix right.

Use the amount of grinds to water recommended by your coffeemaker. Try 12 g or about 2 Tbsp of grinds per 8 oz / 225 ml of water. This works out to 55-60 grams per liter / quart of water. If you don’t have a kitchen scale, 55 grams is a heaping 1/2 cup of ground coffee.

Longer time needs coarser grind.

The longer the coffee grinds are in contact with the water, the coarser they should be. Too fine a grind can make bitter coffee.  For high temperatures and short brew times, a finer grind is needed to make sure the water can extract every bit of coffee goodness. That's why it is logical to choose:

  • a coarse grind for immersion methods like a french press or percolator where the water and beans are sitting together for a few minutes before being filtered apart.
  • a medium to fine grind for filter coffees where the water is slowly filtering through into a carafe or cup below.
  • a very fine grind for espresso where very hot water or steam is forced through the grinds very quickly.  

Here’s a link to the Sparkplug Coffee grind chart so you can look up the right grind for your coffeemaker.

Wait a minute.

The cooler the water, the more time is needed to extract all the flavour. Which is why cold brew, made with room temperature water, takes up to 24 hours. And espresso, made with steam, takes just a few seconds.

Our rule of thumb is to bring your kettle to a boil (100ºC or 212ºF) and then wait 30 - 60 seconds before starting to pour to allow it to cool down to the ideal temperature range (91-96ºC or 195-205ºF).

Another tip is to warm your mug or carafe before brewing into it. Pour some hot water in, swirl it around and pour it out again. This is a good practice for anything made of glass, ceramic or metal.

Keep it clean.

Finally, when was the last time you cleaned your grinder? Or gave a deep clean to your coffeemaker? Clean equipment is one of the coffee fundamentals. Coffee oils and dust will build up and affect the taste. 

That's why we recommend you give your equipment a quick clean every time you brew and a deep clean regularly. This means every month if you’re using your equipment multiple times a day and every season / quarter if you’re mainly a weekend or occasional coffee maker.

Next up, we’ll look at applying these coffee fundamentals to specific types of coffeemakers.