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Use the Force

Jedi tips for brewing without a targeting computer.

Making coffee isn’t quite taking on the Death Star, and my beard isn’t grey enough yet to fancy myself a Ben Kenobi, but sometimes it’s important to turn off the targeting computers and just use the Force.

I have a coffee producer friend from Brazil who always liked to show off how he could eyeball 50 grams of green coffee in his hand with impressive precision. A lifetime of working with coffee, analyzing beans, and preparing samples for export made it second nature. Over the years, I’ve tried to develop that same skill with roasted coffee. I’ve gotten very good at eyeballing a handful of beans that works out to roughly 15 grams – about the right amount for 8 ounces of water.

Using a scoop or scale in your regular brewing is a great way to be consistent, but letting your eyes and hands do the work periodically can pay off when you find yourself trying to brew an impressive cup in an ill-equipped kitchen. Having a confident, tool-independent go-to reference for your coffee-to-water ratio is what separates the padawans from the Jedi knights.

On the water side of the equation, things can get trickier. Eyeballing water in an unfamiliar brewer is dicey. The measuring lines on many drip machines don’t often match reality, and stovetop tea kettles don’t usually have affordances for showing volume.

All that confidence I had about my properly-measured handful of beans is shaken by the prospect of using too much or too little water. Next thing I know I’m rooting through someone else’s cupboards like a Wookie in a trash compactor with the walls closing in, desperately looking for measuring cups or some kind of Pyrex thingy.

To avoid this spectacle, the one elegant move I’ve learned is to use mugs as measures. Years of working as a barista have given me a good skill at guessing the volume of most mugs. I tend to favor mugs in the 6-10 ounce range, but most kitchens will have mugs in a 12-16 ounce range. Since each of my handfuls of beans corresponds to 8 ounces of water, I’ve become handy at eyeballing a 1-cup pour into most any mug, rendering it a suitable measuring cup. When in doubt, I err on the side of brewing a bit too strong, since I can always add hot water after the brew is done.

Your grinders and gizmos may still present some challenges, but if you’ve got great beans and a decent coffee-to-water ratio, you are already close to making the jump to lightspeed. And if you really get stuck, a well-timed tweet to @tonxcoffee can often make for a quick save. We’ll be your Rebel Alliance.


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By Tony Konecny

Tonx Cofounder & Bean Kenobi

Published Oct. 1, 2013

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