Coffee Talk: Brewing

Nick ChoBy Danny Pinnell, SCAA

Nicholas Cho, a former member of the Barista Guild of America Executive Council and SCAA Board of Directors, stopped by the office for our most recent staff meeting to lead our weekly coffee talk. Among Nick’s many contributions to SCAA, he led the development of the U.S. Brewers Cup, a competition that is now a part of the annual U.S. Coffee Championships and World Coffee Events programs. He currently serves as the brewing, barista training, and retail specialist at Wrecking Ball Coffee Roasters.

Nick ChoNick brewed coffee for us in two ways, using a Chemex and a Kalita wave dripper, and shared insights into coffee brewing.

When talking with people about the coffee-making process, Nick makes sure they understand it is not made the same way that, for example, instant lemonade is made (if you want it stronger, just put more powder in). Coffee doesn’t work that way – it is important to maintain certain ratios for proper brew strength.

With one of his favorite analogies, Nick compares brewing coffee to grilling a steak. Like a steak, a single coffee ground has an inside and an outside. You can’t just put the heat inside magically, it has to be radiated, conducted, transferred from the outside-in. If you think about a steak that’s cooked to a perfect medium or medium-rare and shave off the outside layers of the steak and eat just that, it would taste overcooked, because it is. The net result–juicy on the inside, a nice char on the outside–is comparable to what we should be looking for when brewing coffee.

Coffee that is ground very fine is going to over-extract or “overcook,” just like the outer layers of steak. Nick tells people to grind the coffee as coarse as you can get away with to achieve the ideal extraction.

Wrecking Ball“The smaller and smaller you grind the coffee, the more surface area you’re exposing,” said Nick. “So it’s like taking your steak and saying that you want it to cook faster so you cut it into little pieces and put it on the grill. Is it going to cook faster? Yes. But is it what you want? No.”

Nick observes the current trend of light-roasting in specialty coffee. “It’s a vicious cycle, the lighter you roast, the finer you grind because the coffee grounds themselves are less roasted and less permeable–the water can’t get in and out as efficiently. If you brew that light-roasted coffee to where you get the inside to your satisfaction, you would over-brew the outside layers.”

Check out our previous Coffee Talks and follow along to learn more about coffee each week.