Outdoor coffee great again, vol 1 : Tricks and tips
Updated: Sep 16, 2021
Hi there !
I start a serie of few articles about trick and tips for a better coffee out there, or wherever you are. Then will follow few recipes, gear reviews and feedback.
But for now on, a few things to ameliorate your global coffee experience.
PS : Aeropress will be a main exemple here as it looks like it’s the most common thing used outside. And in a next post I’ll talk more about different brewing options.
- The brew ratio
I had to start with something, so here we are : the brew ratio.
A cup of coffee is literally just water and coffee ground. This ratio is the key to get the cup you target.
It's actually pretty simple. The brew ratio is the ratio of ground coffee to water, usually grams of coffee per liter of water.
Is no golden rule coming to coffee. Commercial context aside, the way your brew depends on your individual coffee expectations. You just need to understand what you expect from a cup of coffee, to try and understand how to manipulate factors in order to reach the suitable cup.
Brewing a coffee means following a recipe, as much as when cooking !
Is no perfect brew ratio. Is a few base ratio most people stick to, but it’s just a starting point. But the idea behind is being consistent when brewing.
Different brew method, different coffee drinkers, different grind, different beans. Endless combinations. By considering the ratio as a base, you can play with small changes to reach your perfect cuppa.
We could take for the aeropress 70 of coffee per litre of water (based on the Suprem coffee technic). Which means 14g for a 200ml cup of coffee, and you can read it 1/14 ratio.
And from there, if is anything to change, we could play with factors one by one, the grind at first for exemple.
A last thing, this ratio works with every coffee extraction system. Stove top as plunger. By digging a wee bit online you'll find quick and efficient guide to get a better coffee.
- Scale it ! Then I can hear you : why would you use a scall. And me thinking back : How could you brew a coffee without scale ?
Espresso as any other coffee are not miracles. Is science behind. So science we do need for slow brew as well.
At first, why scaling ?
Scaling for three things : coffee weight, water quantity, and those two combined lead to the brew ratio.
By extension, the timer is as useful as the rest. Could be done with a watch or phone but trust me, a bummer.
Long story short, by scaling, you repeat for every cup the same process : same amount of coffee and same amount of water.
Then, everything is about what are you expecting from your coffee.
With a scale, we can reproduce a coffee and a recipe almost systematically. With a solid recipe, we’re pretty sure to end up with a highly satisfying coffee. Without measurement system, it’s harder to sort out.
If you’re on a short ramble, you can work ahead and scale at home. Then pack a dose of coffee in an individual bag. A pouch = a coffee.
Still, doesn’t solve the water quantity problem.
We can have a pretty reliable way of dosing coffee, but hard to measure water without scale. Some cups, pots of brewing system have marks. We can also mark any gear ourselves by experiencing at home as well.
However, it’s just the amount of water you need for extraction, and this might not work regarding the technic you use.
In fact, you do need to boil up more in order to warm everything up, rincing cups and brewer, and filter. What’s easy with an aeropress or a plunger gets tricky with a filter process.
Back to coffee, a measuring spoon can be handy as well. Often sold with drippers and other brewers, those spoons have clear marks to quantify. Sounds pretty cool, if we not consider the fact that coffee has not a static weight. It will always remain a roughly precise method.
Coffees have a variable weight and volume. A spoon of beans will always have a different weight comparing to an other type of beans.
What affect weight and volume : roast, variety, bean size itself, process.
For exemple : I tried to fill up the aeropress measuring spoon with two types of beans : dark and light roast. Not gonna get into details, facts are clear : a full spoon of dark roast is about 11.7g while the light roast is about 14g. Almost 20% weight difference on a very basic test.
Coming to coffee, 20% is A LOT of changes for you brew.
In case I’d give up my scale, I would try to have a way to have a visual control over quantities. Marking, and using a brewing system which makes life easier as well like plunger, save top or aeropress.
- Coffee grinder
As for the scale, carrying a grinder can be a bummer for some, a must have for others.
Coffee beans, when roasted, fade away quite quickly. So the ground coffee does.
I wouldn't bother much for a couple of days out. Just grind it, and it will be fine. But buying a 250g of coffee bags, means you gonna need somewhere between one or two weeks to finish it. So basically between the first and the last cup of the bag, is a clear difference.
Carrying a few weeks of coffee is fine. Beans will handle it, ground not really.
Nothing wrong using pre-grounded coffee. You're just loosing aromas and flavours quite quickly.
For some pre ground coffee, it’s also sometimes impossible to know when the coffee has been grinded.
Regarding the coffee we consume as well. Way more intensity to lose when drinking micro roaster beans than random supermarket ones.
A good grinder is not necessarily light nor cheap. On top of that, the lighter the roast, the stronger the beans are. And a stronger grinder you do need then.
Had some ceramic burr grinders and they all broke at some point.
Coming to the actual point of carrying a grinder or not, better keep in mind that the grind is a major factor in the final cup. The cheapest grinders would not grind evenly, and you miss the actual point of carrying a grinder.
I would personally think twice about carrying a bad quality grinder. Brings us to this question : having a freshly but badly grinded coffee comparing to a professionally ground coffee, but done a few days before ?
- Fresh fresh fresh
So yeah, as fresh as possible. Not because you want to drink it straight after being roasted but because it gives you more room. And that's why on top of that, understanding coffee bags are important.
Even tho you don’t want to bother with all the informations, a roasting date is important, and for two reasons :
- Freshly roasted coffee is full of CO2 and needs to breath. At least for 5 days, roughly. So, fresh, but not too much. The darker the roast, the more CO2 and the longer it needs to breath.
- Coffee, ground or roasted beans, fade away quite quickly. The lighter the roast, the faster it fades.
I would not keep beans longer than 6 weeks, and ground more than 2 weeks.
On a long journey, and in some (most ?) countries, this is probably the trickiest part.
It needs a lot of research and organisation sometimes to get fresh and good coffee on a regular basis.
Even if I cannot access a good coffee roaster within few weeks, I try to catch an address on my way to make it ship there.
Little trick : If I have to store coffee for few weeks, I’ll make sure it’s in well sealed bags, and I’d try to split bags as well. Then when you open your bag everyday, you expose half of your beans and keep the other half intact. Never strong enough : In fact, in doubt, better extract a stronger coffee than a weaker one. If you are not sure of the dosage, better add a bit of coffee ground. If the brew is too strong, we can always dilute it by adding a bit of extra water to reach something drinkable. However, if the coffee is too weak, is not much you can do or add and you're good to drink a watery coffee.
- The two main factors
Water and grind.
- Water : Some might think that adding some coffee to a bad water will cover the water taste itself and solve the problem. But this water is what exctract the coffee from the ground and creates your cup.
The water you use is the cup you drink.
I don't want to push the concept too far, but here is a few exemple of why the water could taste bad : sitting water, plastic taste, metallic taste, salty water, chloric water. Or just very bad taste water, whatever it comes from.
If the water taste bad, don't brew at all. You're just wasting your coffee beans as the coffee will never taste good at all.
Lil’ trick : I always keep a bottle of water for my coffee only. In which I always store on it clean and plain water.
- Grind : Crazy how the grind affects your cup. Same brew ratio, same beans, but with a wee different grind setting give a distinctly different cup. Try to read what you’re drinking, and consider how you could change it by just adjusting the grind.
No matter how good the coffee is, grind is a major key.
That's also why I do love having a grinder by my side, to be able to change what I consider to be changed.
Bit more tricky if you have a bag of pre ground coffee.
To go even further
- Eat fruits !
If you like it light, you might be able to recognise some fruity notes. By exploring a fair range of food, you expend your aromas and flavor memory. It's true for fruits, but it can reminds you a drink, a candy...
- Everything but pipping Well, why not if you like it hot. Long story short, a piping hot cup of coffee has nothing for itself other than this cosy feeling of holding a warm cup. Otherwise, it's hardly arguable. Mostly if you read this and want to know more about coffee and end up with a more pleasant cup. Science and experience say that the higher the temperature, the more you hide sweetness and fruitiness of the coffee. When cooling down, acidiy, flavors and aromas are shaper, brighter. Give it a go. Take a sip evey 30s or minute. You end up sipping a completely different coffee that you had a the first sip. All of this to say temperature to brew and to drink a coffee are two different things. Give your cup a couple of minutes, you won't regret it.
- Take notes
If you want 1) to understand coffee and 2) be consistent I'd recommend to take notes. To compare origin, variety, process, altitude...
Try to close your eyes, sip, exhale. Focus on your taste buds, on those aromas going through your nose with some notes you know from the past. Dig into your memory to link it to something you experienced in the past. Note it down, then brew differently. Understand how you can affect your cup.
It is a meditating process who leads to a recipe book.
- Take your time
Brewing and drinking coffee it's not just slurping some caffein. It's a lot of science, people, love and knowledge behind. And for me, it's a ritual over all.
I do love my cuppa cause I take it as a meditation. Preparing everything, taking care of every details, brewing, tasting, smelling. A long journey. Then starts the second step, just sitting and reading a book holding my mug.
This time for yourself, it's something precious. It's you with yourself. A world apart. A step away from the material world.
- A vision of "fair trade" What comes from “fair trade” or “organic” labels attract eyes and attention for those who want to carefully consume.
Although, it doesn’t necessarily means that what’s not stamped with those logos are not.
They are mainly trademark who cost a lost to everybody, from farmer to consumer. Small roasters and produces can sometimes not have the shoulders to carry those costs.
Instead, choose a roaster who cares, who you can talk with. Some of them make the move, visit farms and make sure everybody has a decent way of life. Those are the one who flirt with the real haversting family and can talk for real, can share with us.
They often invest into training, coffee education and logistic. By raising the global coffee quality, they have a chance to get better price for a better product.
Some roasters offer you heaps of information, and show you names and faces behind the coffee you drink. It gives a human perspective.
We can often find photos and stories of behind the scene on their website or directly on the packaging. Tell me more than just a big company logo.
The best coffees, with the better notes, are particularily looked after, and productions are quite small as well, which makes the whole quality control process way easier.
On top of that, in some places pesticides and chemicals are either unknown or too expensive. And sometimes the wildlife regulate the coffee fields as well !
Cheap is hardly often good. Cheap means something. Cannot be cheap if it’s good and if money is fairly distributed.
Take time to choose beans and roasters. Understand where your money goes. Consuming is a political act.