The question I get asked most by the people that buy our beans is… ‘Could you give me a recipe to help me brew this coffee?’
What usually follows is an exchange about why this is difficult for me to do. It’s even harder for me to explain that if I do provide a recipe for you, you may end up with less enjoyable coffee. So, I’m going to explain it all here instead and then maybe we can move the conversation onto something that will be more helpful instead.
So, what’s the big deal? Well, I want you to take our beans and make the most delicious coffee you can. If that happens, then you get all excited and happy and you tell all your friends about how amazing we are and then you and your friends buy our coffee for the next twenty years and we all live happily ever after.
Now, if I could help you achieve this just by imparting a few numbers, I’d do it — that would be easy, quick and painless after all. I could publish ‘the recipe’ along with all the other information we provide about the coffee and you wouldn’t even need to take time out to get in touch with us about this stuff at all. In fact, lots of other roasters do exactly this — but I think it’s wrong.
The problem is that I have no way of knowing what your coffee will taste like if you follow my recipe. That’s partly because I have a different grinder to you and you use different water to me. Yes, the coffee should be more or less the same but that’s about all we have in common at this stage, at least as far as brewing gear goes. Even if we have the same brand of grinder, the burrs will be aligned differently with different amounts of wear and we’ll be operating them in different ambient conditions. This stuff all matters, honestly it really does.
Let’s take water as an example. It will make up anywhere between 90–99% of your coffee based drink and both water quality and mineral content vary hugely, even from one town to the next. Again, these differences have a big impact on how your coffee ends up tasting.
In short, I can tell you how I brew my coffee but I can also tell you that yours won’t taste the same as mine even if you follow my instructions to the letter.
The next part of the conversation usually goes something like this.
‘Ok, I get that, but can you give me a starting point at least?’
Now this is something that I can definitely help with. That’s because I have almost the same starting point whenever I brew new coffee and I’m more than happy to share it with you. Of course it’s my starting point, so it takes account of my preferences but here it is.
These are my starting points and they don’t change much over time. It’s from this point onwards that I begin to figure out how to get this coffee to taste good. From now on, sadly, you and I are going to be heading in different directions. You might like your coffee stronger /weaker than I do, or more/less ‘extracted’. Although our preferences will be different, all we both need to know is how to taste the drink in front of us and steer it towards being tastier (I’ve written about this before here). We need to know how to brew and a recipe isn’t going to help us at all. In fact, it will almost certainly just hold us back.
So, recipes are completely useless right? Well, no. They’re really useful. They help you to recreate that one brew that put that huge smile on your face the other day. The thing is, you have to create recipes yourself, for yourself and you only get to know what your recipe is after you have finished brewing your coffee.