This one simple step can make your morning cup so much better.

By Michelle Preli
September 04, 2020
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two cups of black coffee and a Chemex
Credit: Courtesy of ChefSteps

What if you could improve your morning cup of coffee? According to coffee experts, there's one thing you may have overlooked in your quest to produce that perfect cup: a kitchen scale. Those in the know say using a kitchen scale to measure the amount of whole beans or ground coffee needed per cup will give you greater control over your brew. Here's why using one will help to get the coffee-to-water ratio just right.

Why Measure

"Getting people to use scales for home coffee brewing happens to be one of my personal missions," says Selina Ullrich, director of coffee at East One Coffee Roasters in New York. And Ullrich knows coffee. She's spent 10 years working in the coffee business, roasting for almost three, and spends a lot of time thinking about how to make specialty coffee more approachable and enjoyable for more people. What's she's learned is that it's all a matter of finding the perfect ratio of water to coffee to suit your taste. Being precise with ingredients produces a consistent flavor you can count on each time. Using a scale to measure the coffee is extremely useful to do just that, she says. "The biggest reason for this is that having knowledge of what recipe (or ratio) it is you are following will allow you to adjust this recipe/ratio to your individual preferences and also gives you the capacity to consistently recreate the coffee you find most enjoyable."

You can start by following the guidance of the "The Golden Ratio," which is generally 15:1, water to coffee, depending on the method of brewing and the type of coffee. There is some disagreement on that, notes Ullrich, but this is what is commonly referred to when people talk about it for coffee brewing. "I find this useful as a recommended starting point for people new to either making coffee at home or new to thinking about how they make coffee at home."

In a hurry or still fighting sleep, you might have opted for scooping coffee beans or grounds with a spoon—or even eye-balled it—to measure what's needed. To Ullrich, that means you won't be able to capture any data about how you brewed your coffee so you won't be able to repeat it if it was enjoyable, or modify your recipe to better suit your tastes if not. "Knowing what it is that you did will allow you to find a method and recipe that you like and reproduce it consistently," she says.

Measuring on a scale also allows you to see when—or if—the particular coffee you are brewing might respond better to a different ratio from the coffee you had previously purchased, she says. It encourages you to "learn to notice differences in how different coffees respond to your home brewing techniques so that you can optimize each and every coffee you try out." Think of it this way. "Imagine if you made a batch of muffins that you absolutely loved but had no idea how much flour or sugar you used," says Ullrich. "It would be impossible to recreate those fantastic muffins and you might drive yourself crazy trying to."

When to Measure

For home coffee brewing, it doesn't particularly matter whether you weigh your coffee before or after grinding, she says, but before will make more sense if you purchase whole beans and only intend to grind what you are using at a given time. If you buy your coffee ground or have it ground for you in the place where you purchase it, go ahead and weigh the ground coffee.

Think Grams Instead of Ounces

Measuring by weight instead of volume is more accurate, she advises, due to variable bean size and, more importantly, density. "Lighter roasted coffees are considerably more dense than darker roasted coffees due to water weight lost during the roasting process," says Ullrich. "Coffees from high growing altitudes also tend to be considerably denser and generally sweeter than lower grown beans." 

Ullrich recommends using grams, not ounces, to measure coffee. "The amounts you will need to measure will be small and the higher specificity of this unit of measure will help to assure you are getting the accuracy and consistency you desire," she says.

Pro-tip: Once you find your ideal ratio, measure a batch in advance so you're ready to go. "You can 'pre dose' your batches of coffee at the start of the week in small storage containers so that the work of measuring is already done and you don't have to pull out your scale and measure each and every morning," says Ullrich. "Simply weigh a dose for each day into a different container and you are all set to brew consistent coffee all week."

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