Coffee Brewing 101

Quills is not really into keeping secrets. In fact- it is our great joy to share what we know and love and assist our patrons, friends and visitors in brewing the best cup of coffee possible.  Below, our good friend Lee Sill gives a lesson on Coffee Brewing 101. Lee's full-time gig is at Prima Coffee Equipment here in Louisville. His wife-Emily- is the manager of our New Albany store and Lee has been behind our bars as a barista, a teacher, and the king of red beards.  

Read on and learn future coffee geniuses...

 (and be sure to check out the links at the bottom for even more information and resources on finding products to help you achieve that perfect cup) 

                                {The author and his beard}

As you know- we at Quills are serious about coffee quality. For us, coffee and espresso preparation is a culinary pursuit, and we consider each drink a craft. We sample roast quality micro-lot coffees and select the ones that impress us most in the cupping process.  Then we roast the coffees we select with the goal of highlighting the origin characteristics of the bean and letting the coffee speak for itself. But all that we try to do would be in vain if we failed to brew our coffee and espresso properly. That is why we daily “dial in” our coffees and our espresso in an effort to bring out the best that we can in the cup we serve to you.

Many of our customers buy our coffee for brewing at home during the week. We'd like to provide some tips for brewing your own at home, the office or wherever you choose to enjoy a cup.

Brewing Essentials

  • Dose: The coffee-to-water ratio is extremely important and even a slight variation by a few grams can have have a tremendous effect on the cup. Eyeballing your dose leads to inconsistency so we recommend a scale for weighing both coffee and water. We generally recommend a 1:15 coffee-to-water ratio. For instance (if you are using grams): 30g of coffee and 450g (grams = milliliters!) of water. Or if you prefer ounces, 1oz of coffee for 15oz of water. Some folks find it easier to determine what size drink they desire first and then multiplying by two to get the grams of coffee needed. For example, if you want to brew 12oz of water, use 24g of beans.
  • Grind: Choosing a correct grind is also crucial to proper extraction. Choosing a grind too fine may result in very bitter, over-extracted coffee while choosing a grind too coarse may result in sour, under-extracted coffee. Also- generally, with a finer grind, more surface area is exposed, and you will want a quicker brew time. (Think of espresso. A very fine grind plus pressure equals a very fast <30-second brew time.) The coarser the grind, the less surface area, therefore you will want a longer brew time for full extraction (think french press). If you'd like to know our recommended grind settings for various brew methods, just ask us in the shop and we’d be glad to show you! We also recommend purchasing a good burr grinder for grind consistency as blade grinders provide a very uneven cut causing over and under extraction of different sized coffee particles.
  • Time, Temperature, and Turbulence: We’ve touched on time already but generally speaking- 2 ½ to 4 minutes is a good brewing range, depending on method, dose, and grind. In regards to temperature-around 200 degrees is a good brewing temperature for most coffees. For coffees roasted by Quills, we generally recommend a bit hotter temp- around 206 degrees. A thermometer is helpful but if you don’t have one you can bring the water in your kettle to boil and then wait about 1-1 ½ minutes. Concerning turbulence, there will be some agitation in every brewing method: the speed of your pour in a pour-over, the amount of stirring in a french press. Just be aware that agitation adds to extraction, and when you find a recipe that works - Stick to it!

Brew Methods

  • Auto-drip: Unfortunately, most home coffee makers just don’t brew hot or consistently enough. Generally, coffees brew best at temperatures of at least 200 degrees. A typical home maker usually doesn’t get above 185-190 degrees and usually this fluctuates as low as 170 during the brewing process. If you are looking for a good automatic home brewer, we recommend the new Bonavita as it brews consistently over 200 degrees during the entirety of the brewing cycle and will provide a significantly better cup than other makers at its price.
  • Pour-over: A pour-over is a great way to have full control over the brewing of your coffee and promotes a sweet and clean cup, highlighting brighter notes. We use and sell both the Chemex and V60 brewing systems and we’d be glad to give you tips on great brewing at home. We recommend a good pouring kettle for a precise pour.
  • French press: The french press is a familiar classic and an easy brew method to master. This method delivers a cup with a heavier mouth feel and brings out some of the deeper notes in the coffee. A coarse grind and around 4 minutes steep is good for this method.

Other Essentials

  • Roast date: We recommend using coffee within 2-3 weeks from the roast date. After this time, the coffee suffers a loss in quality at a rapid pace. Keep the coffee sealed well in our one-way valve bags as oxygen is an enemy to the beans.
  • Water: Water makes up around 98% of the total percentage of a cup of coffee so it’s very important that you use good water- filtered when possible.

Helpful Resources:
- Prima Coffee Equipment has some helpful tips on pour-over and immersion brewing
- is a great resource for videos and recipes of various brew methods
- A comparison of the Skerton and Mini Mill manual burr grinders
- Our recommendation for an excellent electric burr grinder: the Baratza Encore
- Coffee grind chart