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Please help me make good coffee at home


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#61 abooja

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Posted 03 July 2012 - 08:39 AM

I can't seem to make a decent cup of coffee to save my life.

Some background: I am by no means a connoisseur. In the past, I drank a lot of Starbucks mocha, primarily to disguise the flavor of their coffee. When I couldn't brew a decent cup at home, I bought a Technivorm Moccamaster. When that still didn't work, I resorted to Folger's Singles with hot cocoa mixed in. I then switched to tea. :blush:

Recently, I had what I thought to be a great cup of coffee at my brother's house. He grinds his own, but brews a blend of Eight O'Clock and Kona style coffee from Costco.

So, I dedicated the old blade grinder to grinding nuts (there's another for spices), and purchased a Capresso Infinity burr grinder. I ordered some green beans from Sweet Maria's, and a recommended popcorn popper from Amazon. While waiting for the beans to arrive, I'm experimenting with different supermarket coffees, coffee-to-water ratios, and methods of optimizing the Technivorm. I'm grinding immediately prior to brewing. I bought what I believed to be the most recently roasted beans from Wegmans, their "Single Origin Organic Guatemalan", which claims to be a medium roast, with medium body and full flavor. No matter how much or how little coffee I use, I hate it. It's either too strong/bitter, or strong and insipid at the same time. I haven't even used the popcorn popper yet, and I'm already looking to buy a heat gun and try that method of roasting instead.

All this for a decent cup of coffee, that my culinarily challenged sister-in-law can crank out in her Mr. Coffee without a second thought. What am I doing wrong?

#62 Chris Hennes

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Posted 03 July 2012 - 08:44 AM

How many different varieties of coffee have you tried? Do you know whether you prefer a darker or lighter roast (in general)? If you liked the eight o'clock/Kona blend at your brother's, have you tried making the exact same thing at home?

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#63 abooja

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Posted 03 July 2012 - 08:54 AM

How many different varieties of coffee have you tried? Do you know whether you prefer a darker or lighter roast (in general)? If you liked the eight o'clock/Kona blend at your brother's, have you tried making the exact same thing at home?

I'm honestly not sure what I like. I have tried straight-up Eight O'Clock, original roast, that was not very good. (It was a month away from its use-by date, so I guess that meant it was eleven months past the roasting date.) Besides the Wegmans stuff (the aforementioned, plus one of their city roasts -- weak stuff, and their breakfast blend, which I don't recall at all), I have only ever brewed Dunkin' Donuts and Luzianne ground coffee with chicory. (I remembered once liking Community coffee, and thought it would be the same. It wasn't.) I realize that's not a wide variety, but I'm reluctant to buy any supermarket coffee ever again, and I don't know of any decent shops in the area that are roasting their own.

#64 Chris Hennes

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Posted 03 July 2012 - 09:23 AM

Well, my concern is that it may be that you don't like most coffee, and that it doesn't have anything to do with freshness, etc. If I was you'd I'd try replicating the blend of your brother's that you liked to make sure you get your brewing technique down first, since you know for a fact that you liked that one. If you start right off into roasting your own there are going to be too many variables.

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#65 abooja

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Posted 03 July 2012 - 09:39 AM

I thought, perhaps, that I'm just not a coffee person, but I have had many good cups of coffee over the years, just none that I have brewed myself. No one else seems to like it either, my brother included. It drives me nuts that I have to serve my tasty, homemade baked goods with bad coffee. I will eventually break down and ask my brother exactly what he does (blend, amounts, etc.), but my competitive nature would prefer to figure it out on my own, then wow him one day with my home roasted brew. Absurd, I know.

I'm going to try brewing some of the Wegmans Guatemalan coffee in a French press and see if that makes a difference. If I still don't like it, then I can at least assume that the Technivorm isn't the problem, and that it's likely that particular bean that I dislike.

#66 Chris Hennes

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Posted 03 July 2012 - 09:41 AM

Are you following the brewing instructions at Sweet Maria's?

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#67 abooja

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Posted 03 July 2012 - 09:47 AM

Are you following the brewing instructions at Sweet Maria's?


Absolutely. I use a paper filter in the Technivorm, so I pre-wet it, close the drip stop switch to allow the coffee to bloom, weigh my coffee, etc. I will now test drive their French press instructions.

#68 Chris Hennes

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Posted 03 July 2012 - 09:53 AM

You might also try using the filter and carafe from the Technivorm but doing a simple pour-over brew, so you can control the water temperature. French press coffee is quite different from drip.

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#69 weinoo

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Posted 04 July 2012 - 04:34 AM

I just think you're using crappy, stale coffee.

Also, what's your water like?
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#70 MikeHartnett

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Posted 04 July 2012 - 06:27 AM

Maybe I missed it, but have you experimented with changing the coarseness of your grind? It seems like you've changed most other variables, but that one is of crucial importance. If it's too bitter, it's probably overextracted, meaning you need to make your grind more coarse. If it's insipid, you should grind finer.

I am a bit curious about what you mean by "strong and insipid at the same time" though. Could you elaborate on how you're using "strong?" I find that many people use that descriptor to describe many different attributes of coffee, from caffeine content to amount of flavor.

#71 abooja

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Posted 04 July 2012 - 09:01 PM

By strong, I meant leaning towards bitter. I tend to prefer coffee on the mellow (i.e. weak) side, always with sugar and milk or half and half. The cup that I described as both strong and insipid was more aptly described by my brother as bitter, yet completely lacking in body.

Since getting the burr grinder, I have primarily used the middle range of the medium coarseness setting, because I'm brewing drip, and in an effort to be consistent while other variables change.

By the way, I agree that I'm using crappy coffee. (I use bottled spring water.) Still waiting on those Sweet Maria green beans, I bought a bag of Eight O'Clock Colombian beans, which were actually a bit better than their red bag "Original", but far from fantastic. I still think it tastes way too strong. I've been using 50 grams of beans for every liter of water. I'm sure most of you would prefer to bathe in an infusion that weak.

Oh, and I never got around to my French press experiment. It cost significantly less than the Technivorm, so I'm inclined to try to make that work first.

#72 weinoo

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Posted 05 July 2012 - 03:54 AM

I think your perceptions of weak/strong/bitter/insipid might be off, as MikeHartnett points out.

No matter what you do to that crappy coffee, be it French press, Technivorm or having the infusion made by hand maidens, it is never going to be good.

I like Chris' suggestion that you brew some coffee with the pour over method, by using the filter and carafe from the Technivorm - having absolute control over the water temperature. No need to make a liter all at once - make a 1/2 pint - use the right amount of coffee, and go from there...fwiw, I think your grind is probably too coarse for pourover - I go the just the upside of an espresso grind for my pourover coffee.

And buy some good roasted beans - Sweet Maria's is great - but you really have to understand the roasting process before you can be absolutely certain that the beans you produce are any better than, say, 8 o'clock's. You could buy some roasted beans from them, or Intellegentsia, or...
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#73 abooja

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Posted 05 July 2012 - 06:33 AM

I appreciate all of your detailed advice. I am taking every bit of it into consideration. As I struggle to find the language to describe what I'm tasting, I feel a bit like a blind man trying to describe a painting. Thank you for bearing with me.

Regarding the pour over suggestion: I wondered how that would be an advantage over the Technivorm, since the major selling point of that machine is precise temperature control. I measured the temperature of the water with a Thermapen as it dripped into the filter basket and, depending on where along the probe the water hit, it fluctuated between 195 and 205, which is supposed to be spot on. I'll give this suggestion a shot anyway, for curiosity's sake, grinding more finely this time.

As for simply purchasing a bag of Intelligentsia, I'm just being cheap. From all I've read about it, I'm sure it's fantastic, but I didn't want to fall in love with $25 per pound (once shipping is factored in) coffee, and only be able to have it every once in a while. The home roasting idea is my attempt at having good coffee at a more reasonable price. Should I try Intelligentsia once to set a gold standard for my home roast, or is that just madness? I was thinking their El Gallo breakfast blend might be a good option for me.

#74 weinoo

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Posted 05 July 2012 - 06:49 AM

Should I try Intelligentsia once to set a gold standard for my home roast, or is that just madness? I was thinking their El Gallo breakfast blend might be a good option for me.


Yes - I think that would be a good idea. If you have a food saver or similar, you can vacuum 1/4 lbs. and keep them in the freezer till the night before you're ready to use.

I think you should aso try one or two of their single origins (they sell 1/2 pounds), maybe a Central or South American and an African?

That's a good water temperature from the Tech...
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#75 abooja

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Posted 05 July 2012 - 08:52 AM

I just tried the pour over method using the filter basket from the Technivorm, the finest of the medium grind options on the Infinity, and 199 degree spring water. I closed the stopper, poured in a bit of water, stirred, let it steep for thirty seconds, then opened the stopper to half while pouring in the rest. The result? Exactly the same as before.

I'm sure I'm just accustomed to weak coffee, but what has been consistent about all of my experimentation is that I require far more cream and sugar -- just to make it drinkable -- than I typically do for a cup of coffee of equal volume.

Perhaps that's because I'm now measuring more precisely. In the past, I would buy a bag of ground coffee -- invariably Dunkin' Donuts -- and measure out a scoop for every cup of water, plus one for good measure, as my parents used to do. Who knows what size scoop? Over the years, it may have been the one accompanying the coffee machine, or the coffee can, or just a measuring spoon. I never weighed coffee before two weeks ago. From what I can gather, my 50 grams of coffee-to-1 liter of water ratio -- by most standards, a weak to average strength cup -- is somewhat stronger than the the higher end of Technivorm's suggestion of 5 to 6 scoops (theirs) per 1.25 liters of water. That's about 40 to 48 grams of coffee per liter.

What's even more maddening is that, even if I work out a good ratio for one type of coffee, it will likely change when I change to another type of coffee. This is like relearning how to bake. Each flour has a different weight per volume, different properties, and is better suited to one task or another. Silly me. I thought making coffee would be easy.

#76 mkayahara

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Posted 05 July 2012 - 09:11 AM

When you say you're using "spring water," what's the mineral composition like? Ideally you want somewhere above 20 ppm of hardness, but below 80 ppm, based on my readings. What kind of water did your brother use?

Edit: typo

Edited by mkayahara, 05 July 2012 - 09:13 AM.

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#77 MikeHartnett

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Posted 05 July 2012 - 09:51 AM

I'm sure I'm just accustomed to weak coffee, but what has been consistent about all of my experimentation is that I require far more cream and sugar -- just to make it drinkable -- than I typically do for a cup of coffee of equal volume.

Perhaps that's because I'm now measuring more precisely. In the past, I would buy a bag of ground coffee -- invariably Dunkin' Donuts -- and measure out a scoop for every cup of water, plus one for good measure, as my parents used to do. Who knows what size scoop? Over the years, it may have been the one accompanying the coffee machine, or the coffee can, or just a measuring spoon. I never weighed coffee before two weeks ago. From what I can gather, my 50 grams of coffee-to-1 liter of water ratio -- by most standards, a weak to average strength cup -- is somewhat stronger than the the higher end of Technivorm's suggestion of 5 to 6 scoops (theirs) per 1.25 liters of water. That's about 40 to 48 grams of coffee per liter.


This is a great demonstration of why it's important to note the difference between "strong" and "bitter." The "strength" of your cup of coffee, i.e., how "watery" it is, is very different from how bitter it is. As I noted above, if your coffee is too bitter, the first variable you should address is grind coarseness. If your coffee is consistently too bitter, a coarser grind will lead to a less overextracted brew, and will remove some bitterness. This is, of course, dependent on other variables, but I believe using the grind as a control, as it seems you have done, is a mistake. The issue with an automatic brewer like a Technivorm is that it doesn't (to my knowledge) allow tinkering with the brew time. As a result, a coarser grind, while removing some bitterness, will also be less fully extracted due to your inability to extend the brew time to compensate for less exposed surface area with the coarser grind.

Also, it might just be that the coffee is roasted darker than you prefer. I roast my own coffee, and I generally try to avoid "roast taste" as much as is reasonably possible. Maybe you just need a coffee that's roasted very lightly, in which case I'd recommend a roaster like Ritual in San Francisco, which is well known for very light roasts.

#78 onocoffee

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Posted 10 July 2012 - 05:20 AM

If you don't mind me saying, I think that some of the steps you're taking are just clouding the issue for you. One doesn't need to go very far for great coffee - especially in Zionsville. Not too far away is a place called Souderton and a roaster called One Village Coffee Roasters. Go there. Talk to them. Ask them for ideas, brewing techniques and suggestions on coffees to try.

Honestly, buying grocery store coffee is generally asking to be disappointed. Get fresh coffee from people who care. Already you've got the temperature issue solved with the Technivorm. How about coffee quantity? Do you have a scale? Scales make consistent brewing much easier to achieve. I recommend 2 grams of ground coffee per finished ounce. Meaning: if you are brewing a 12 ounce cup you use 24 grams of coffee.

As someone else said, grind size is also incredibly important. If you go to One Village for a visit, maybe they can help you with a visual reference? When guests ask me about grind size, I try to give them a sample of the grind we use to help them match at home. Ideally, with 200F water, 2g ratio coffee, you want to have a total brew time of four minutes. Try to achieve those parameters and I think you'll find a nice cup of coffee waiting for you. The next problem will be finding the actual beans you will rave about.

#79 weinoo

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Posted 10 July 2012 - 05:29 AM

Great points, all.
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#80 abooja

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Posted 10 July 2012 - 09:24 AM

If you don't mind me saying, I think that some of the steps you're taking are just clouding the issue for you. One doesn't need to go very far for great coffee - especially in Zionsville. Not too far away is a place called Souderton and a roaster called One Village Coffee Roasters. Go there. Talk to them. Ask them for ideas, brewing techniques and suggestions on coffees to try.

Honestly, buying grocery store coffee is generally asking to be disappointed. Get fresh coffee from people who care. Already you've got the temperature issue solved with the Technivorm. How about coffee quantity? Do you have a scale? Scales make consistent brewing much easier to achieve. I recommend 2 grams of ground coffee per finished ounce. Meaning: if you are brewing a 12 ounce cup you use 24 grams of coffee.

As someone else said, grind size is also incredibly important. If you go to One Village for a visit, maybe they can help you with a visual reference? When guests ask me about grind size, I try to give them a sample of the grind we use to help them match at home. Ideally, with 200F water, 2g ratio coffee, you want to have a total brew time of four minutes. Try to achieve those parameters and I think you'll find a nice cup of coffee waiting for you. The next problem will be finding the actual beans you will rave about.


Thanks for the One Village recommendation. There's a shop a lot closer -- Creamery on Main, in Emmaus -- that also sells and brews One Village coffee. I hope that means it's about as fresh as the stuff in Souderton. :unsure: My Google search yielded a place in Bethlehem, but I didn't want to travel that far.

I do have a good scale (My Weigh KD-8000) and have been weighing my coffee before and after grinding. I've been varying the amount used, depending on the coffee, in order to determine a ratio that pleases me. Since I still haven't tried a great coffee, that ratio has yet to be determined.

As for grind size, I've been using a mid-range grind on the medium scale of the Capresso Infinity, which some people recommend for the Technivorm. I've tried grinding it more finely, which seems to clog up the filter, and less finely, which results in a too-weak brew.

#81 abooja

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Posted 10 July 2012 - 09:29 AM

When you say you're using "spring water," what's the mineral composition like? Ideally you want somewhere above 20 ppm of hardness, but below 80 ppm, based on my readings. What kind of water did your brother use?


I use $.79 / gallon Wegmans spring water, which is to say, I have no clue about its mineral composition. I tried searching, but got as far as determining its origin.

I'm fairly certain that my brother uses filtered tap water. (He's in the filter business.)

#82 abooja

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Posted 10 July 2012 - 09:43 AM

This is a great demonstration of why it's important to note the difference between "strong" and "bitter." The "strength" of your cup of coffee, i.e., how "watery" it is, is very different from how bitter it is. As I noted above, if your coffee is too bitter, the first variable you should address is grind coarseness. If your coffee is consistently too bitter, a coarser grind will lead to a less overextracted brew, and will remove some bitterness. This is, of course, dependent on other variables, but I believe using the grind as a control, as it seems you have done, is a mistake. The issue with an automatic brewer like a Technivorm is that it doesn't (to my knowledge) allow tinkering with the brew time. As a result, a coarser grind, while removing some bitterness, will also be less fully extracted due to your inability to extend the brew time to compensate for less exposed surface area with the coarser grind.

Also, it might just be that the coffee is roasted darker than you prefer. I roast my own coffee, and I generally try to avoid "roast taste" as much as is reasonably possible. Maybe you just need a coffee that's roasted very lightly, in which case I'd recommend a roaster like Ritual in San Francisco, which is well known for very light roasts.


I've been reading as much as I can (online) about coffee and its various qualities, but think I need a hands on class in order to speak more fluently on the subject. As Fat Guy once said, I'm pretty much still at the "I like it" or "I don't like it" stage. I did just discover the following article on Sweet Maria's website, and plan on following its recommendations:

http://www.sweetmari...brary/node/2931

I think that I do prefer a lighter roast. From what I understand, "roast taste" is a more caramelized, homogeneous flavor that will mask the origin taste of a particular bean. Also, if a bean is over roasted, it is likely to taste funky, for lack of a better word. If I'm seeing lots of oil in a particular bag of roasted beans, doesn't that mean that it is a very dark roast? The Eight O'Clock coffee, besides being old and from a supermarket, certainly was oily.

#83 weinoo

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Posted 10 July 2012 - 10:37 AM

I think that I do prefer a lighter roast. From what I understand, "roast taste" is a more caramelized, homogeneous flavor that will mask the origin taste of a particular bean. Also, if a bean is over roasted, it is likely to taste funky, for lack of a better word. If I'm seeing lots of oil in a particular bag of roasted beans, doesn't that mean that it is a very dark roast? The Eight O'Clock coffee, besides being old and from a supermarket, certainly was oily.

Yes. Until a certain point, when the bean will be carbonized.
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#84 Chris Hennes

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Posted 10 July 2012 - 05:02 PM

If I'm seeing lots of oil in a particular bag of roasted beans, doesn't that mean that it is a very dark roast? The Eight O'Clock coffee, besides being old and from a supermarket, certainly was oily.

There are two things that affect how the oil to rises to the surface of a coffee bean: roast level and age. If you roast up past FC+ and into the extremely dark roasts (those that I suspect everyone here agree are over-roasted for your purposes) your beans will be oily coming straight out of the roaster. On the other hand, if you roast to, say, Full City, it may take a few weeks before any oils rise up to the surface. But give them a few months in the cupboard and you'll find they're coated with oil. The higher you roasted, the sooner the oil will rise to the surface, but if the beans are old enough then the amount of sheen isn't an indicator of roast level, it just means they're old.

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#85 MikeHartnett

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Posted 10 July 2012 - 06:02 PM

If I'm seeing lots of oil in a particular bag of roasted beans, doesn't that mean that it is a very dark roast? The Eight O'Clock coffee, besides being old and from a supermarket, certainly was oily.

There are two things that affect how the oil to rises to the surface of a coffee bean: roast level and age. If you roast up past FC+ and into the extremely dark roasts (those that I suspect everyone here agree are over-roasted for your purposes) your beans will be oily coming straight out of the roaster. On the other hand, if you roast to, say, Full City, it may take a few weeks before any oils rise up to the surface. But give them a few months in the cupboard and you'll find they're coated with oil. The higher you roasted, the sooner the oil will rise to the surface, but if the beans are old enough then the amount of sheen isn't an indicator of roast level, it just means they're old.


What he said.

#86 abooja

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Posted 14 July 2012 - 08:51 AM

I took onocoffee's advice, and picked up a pound of One Village coffee beans from the Creamery in Emmaus. I'm sure I got a great deal -- $8 for the pound -- considering the One Village website charges $12. They had no idea how much to charge, since they don't typically sell coffee beans, just brewed coffee. Their "Artist's Blend", which is all they carry at this location, is a combination of Central American beans roasted to both French and Full City. I didn't have high hopes, since the beans were quite oily, but it made for a really good cup of coffee. Since I've been drinking my coffee with half and half lately, I did notice a bit of fat buildup where the oils from the beans and the cream congealed into an unsightly fat layer on the surface of the cup. I just skimmed it right off and kept drinking.

#87 rotuts

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Posted 14 July 2012 - 09:25 AM

Wow! next time stir it a little and drink it!

#88 weinoo

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Posted 14 July 2012 - 07:40 PM

This might prove the freshness point.
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#89 mkayahara

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Posted 20 July 2012 - 05:06 AM

I recommend 2 grams of ground coffee per finished ounce. Meaning: if you are brewing a 12 ounce cup you use 24 grams of coffee.


Where does this number come from? This isn't the first place I've heard it, but it's about twice the strength I've been making my coffee at. When I tried a cup the other day at this ratio (20 grams of ground coffee for a 10-ounce cup), I found it to be unpleasantly intense. (Not bitter, just very strong.) Not to mention how expensive it is! Even the Specialty Coffee Association of America recommends only 1.6 grams per ounce in the cupping guidelines. So what gives?
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#90 weinoo

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Posted 20 July 2012 - 03:29 PM

I'm kinda in the middle - I use 1.5 gms per oz. of water. Maybe it comes from the same people who enjoy triple ristrettos using about 21 grams of coffee - I've never really enjoyed that intensity.
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