I recently had a friend approach me about using whole bean coffee in his automatic drip coffee maker. Like many, he always purchases pre-ground coffee and uses an auto drip brewer. He told me that he recently tried some light roast specialty beans and ground them fine using an electric grinder. He used the same ratio that he uses for his pre-ground to brew a pot of coffee. I asked him “how did it taste?” He replied, “I didn’t like it, it tasted weak to me.” This got me thinking about his situation, the factors involved, and that others may have experienced a similar first go with whole bean coffee using an auto drip and hence this “pain point” would make for a great blog article.
There are benefits to using an auto-drip brewer. It's simple to use, delivers caffeine, and a decent tasting cup of coffee can be achieved with minimal prep time.
Part of why Brewtoria exists is to help people make great coffee at home, so our biggest auto-drip detraction is the taste that home or office auto drip brewers deliver. Addressing the following four factors will help you brew better coffee using an auto drip brewer.
1. Choose a fresh whole bean medium roast coffee:
Obtain some whole beans that have been roasted ideally in last 30 days to prevent staleness. There is some flexibility here especially if you've committed to using whole bean and the bags have the one-way degassing valve. Most grocery store pre-ground coffee will violate two offenses here, pre-ground and beyond 30 days. Artisan roasters will have fresh whole bean coffee so this is always a great choice. Choose a medium roast for your auto drip as light roasts will likely be too weak and dark too strong.
2. Get the grind right and at the right time:
The flavor and aroma we experience is not only tied to the roast but also the technical process of the hot water passing over the grounds. This process called "extraction" is an often overlooked step. Grounds that are too coarse will cause the water to pass over the coffee too quickly and produce weak tasting coffee. On the opposite end, too fine grounds will result in a slower extraction and a bitter coffee. For most auto-drip coffee makers a medium grind will work. If you have a cone shaped filter you might go medium/fine as the water will pass quicker due to the geometry of the cone. Medium should be like table salt and medium fine slightly finer.
Last step here with the grind is to resist the temptation to grind days or the night before brewing. You've committed to whole bean, take a little extra time to grind right before brewing to fully maximize the flavor you can get. Here's a previous Brewtoria post on using a manual grinder.
3. Water quality, ratio and temperature:
Without water we have no coffee, period. Now's the time to address water quality, ratios, and temperature. If your tap water is poor quality you might strongly consider using filtered water for your coffee. Some people think that coffee will smooth over the rough edges of bad water; this simply isn't true. Your coffee will be affected by bad water. Next you will want to experiment with your ratio of ground coffee to water. Generally speaking you will want 1 to 2 tablespoons of ground coffee to 6 ounces of water. Once you have this dialed in you can reference the cup lines on your auto-drip brewer to replicate with each pot. Lastly and most importantly is temperature. Some auto-drip brewers simply don't get hot enough. According to the National Coffee Association, the desired temperature to perfect extraction is between 195 to 205 degrees Fahrenheit. Temperatures either colder or hotter than this range will affect the extraction and your taste will suffer.
4. Auto-Drip Final Thoughts
You've got the basics down, it's time to finish strong. Don't leave the pot on the heating element for extended periods of time as this can burn your coffee again compromising taste. Once brewed set aside on a trivet or heat resistant surface / pad, or pour into a thermal carafe to keep warm. Lastly, keep your system clean. You should rinse out your pot daily and clean your system at minimum once a month with a 50/50 vinegar-water solution. Simply run the solution through your system, then run again with a straight water flush to remove any vinegar residue.
At Brewtoria, we realize that many people (like my above mentioned friend) haven't yet made the jump to more advanced brewing equipment such as pourovers, French press, Aeropress, or Chemex systems. However we understand the simplicity and ease of use of the auto-drip brewer has it's advantages and hopefully by following these tips you can improve your coffee taste and experience using an auto-drip brewer.
Grind photos credited to this article from wwwineedcoffee.com