Matt Terwilliger

Brewing good coffee

In high school, every morning after 6am rowing practice, my friend and I would drive around the block to our neighborhood Starbucks for coffee. In college, I picked up a french press. The stuff I brewed never tasted great – I’m not sure why, maybe my ratio of coffee:water was off, or my beans were bad. One day, something clicked, though. I bought a hand burr grinder and a Hario V60 pour over. I found beans that I enjoyed. I iterated on, and became increasingly more methodical with my process. Today, I don’t change much; I’ve found what works for me.

Beans

I usually find my beans in local coffee shops/roasters. It’s nice to sit down for a minute and enjoy a cup of whatever they’re brewing. If I like it, I’ll buy a bag. If you’re just getting into coffee, trying a cup in a quality shop is cool because it tells you what the coffee can taste like when brewed properly.

If I’m out of beans and not in a coffee shop mood, Whole Foods usually has a nice selection, or Trade Coffee online.

Without good beans, you can’t brew good coffee. In a pinch, I look for a light or a medium roast, whole bean, with a roast date in the last few months.

Grind

I have an electric conical burr grinder at home. Previously, I had a hand burr grinder, which worked well. These are less expensive, and also portable. I found hand grinding to be rather cathartic at times, but it made brewing coffee for more than one person a chore. The hand burr grinder could be nice for travel, but I just pre-grind my beans before I leave. I haven’t tested how a coffee is impacted by the freshness of the grind.

There are many resources that talk in depth about which grinder to buy. Blade grinders are less preferred as their grind is inconsistent, but whatever gets the job done. I’ve found that if you shake a blade grinder as you grind the coffee, the result is more even. You can also just grind your coffee at the store.

Water

I set my kettle to 200° F at home, or about 30 seconds off a boil anywhere else that I can heat up water. I haven’t tested other temperatures but I think this is generally what people recommend and I’ve been happy with it.

Brew method

There are many different ways to brew coffee, and corresponding guides online for each. My favorite is the Chemex. I enjoy its design, ease of cleanup, and ability to brew/hold multiple cups at once in the carafe. I use a ratio of 14g water:1g coffee and aim for ~3min pours.

In the woods, a camp mug + tea infuser combo is compact and makes a satisfying cup. It’s essentially a french press: I measure out some coarsely ground coffee and steep for 4 minutes.

I’ve never owned a coffee machine but I think there are some decent ones out there.

Takeaways

Both how you brew coffee and what you’re brewing are important. Equipment can be expensive, but you don’t need to buy it all. In learning to brew coffee, it helps to control for as many variables as possible. Tweaking a single dimension of your process in isolation will make it easier to improve your daily brew over time.