How to get the most from your home-brewed coffee: tips from Hong Kong baristas and roasters
If you like making your own coffee at home, but want a higher quality brew, we have everything you need to know about pour-overs, Vietnamese drippers, how to choose and store your beans and when to grind them
Picking up a morning cup of coffee from a neighbourhood cafe on the way to work is a habit that many of us have developed. But there’s also growing interest in brewing the best coffee possible at home.
Home (coffee) brewers don’t have to be specially trained, nor do they necessarily need expensive equipment. Katie Ho, who sources coffee for Olympia Graeco Egyptian Coffee, one of Hong Kong’s oldest roasters, says, “The easiest way is to put a couple of spoons of ground coffee in a cup, add hot water, cover it, and after the grounds are immersed in water, they’ll sink to the bottom so you can drink the top.”
“You can also filter it with a sieve or pour it into another cup. If you’re happy to spend a bit of money, you can try the Vietnamese dripper, a Clever dripper [a filter cone that has a valve to control how long to keep the grounds immersed], or a French press.”
Carole Ho [not related to Katie Ho], founder of Sinbad Coffee Roasters, is a fan of the AeroPress, a simple, tight fitting plastic plunger invented in the US. “The AeroPress is quite versatile. There are a number of ways you can brew with it, so it’s a good place to start,” she says.
Sophie Chan, who judges in barista competitions, says that if you want to get more technical, a manual pour-over kit with a basic cone filter such as the Hario V60, a kettle with a small spout to control water flow, scales to weigh the beans, and a hand grinder, shouldn’t cost more than HK$1,000, but one of the easiest ways to brew is to buy premade drip bags – individually wrapped and filled with ground coffee, similar to tea bags.
The storage of beans is pretty simple, say the experts – but avoid putting them in the fridge or freezer. “Keep the beans in a place that is cool, dry and dark,” says Katie Ho.
Chan adds that a lot of coffee comes in custom-designed bags that have a valve. that lets out carbon dioxide without letting any air in. Those bags also protect the beans from sunlight.
“Alternatively you can use a ceramic vessel. Roasted coffee beans continuously give off carbon dioxide, and glass traps it all.”
All three professionals recommend grinding your beans just before you use them, as exposure to oxygen causes the ground beans to lose their aromas.
“Apart from how good the beans are themselves, and how well they were roasted, the grind is probably the most important thing, because it loses its freshness very quickly,” says Carole Ho. If you don’t have a grinder, buy ground coffee in the smallest quantity possible (usually 100 grams) and use it within a week. The other alternative is to use vacuum-packed drip bags.
When buying coffee, look for the roasting date. “Drinking within a month of the roasting date should be fine,” says Chan, but that doesn’t mean that super fresh is best. “There’s a process called ‘resting’. When the beans have just been roasted, there’s too much carbon dioxide inside the bean,” she says.
“When you pour water on it, the gas prevents the water from extracting all the flavour from the coffee. Around three to four days after roasting you can start brewing it, but usually one to two weeks after the roasting date is the ‘sweet spot’. Afterwards, the flavours drop off – it’s not like you can’t drink it, but the flavours would not be as complex.”
Katie Ho says that the roast level – how dark the beans are roasted – will also affect how long the coffee will last. “The darker it is, the faster you’ll need to use it. In theory, darker roasts mean more expansion of the cells, which releases aromas and flavours more quickly, while lighter roasts can be denser, so you can use them more slowly.”
On labels, you’re likely to see terms such as light, medium and dark; or cinnamon, city, city plus, Viennese, French, Italian and Spanish, although the former list of terms is more common these days. Carole Ho says, “In light roasts, you’ll be able to tell a lot of the coffee’s fruitiness and acidity; when you get darker, the taste of the roast takes over.”
Coffee labels usually show the origin of the beans – a country such as Colombia or Ethiopia, but there are now options to buy from more specific locations, even down to a certain batch from a single farm. The term “single origin” isn’t actually a formal definition. “My understanding is that single origin is one farm or estate, one producer – for example, a cooperative or processing station – with one crop, in one region of a country,” says Katie Ho.
Chan says single origin coffees can have their pitfalls. “They aren’t consistent – you are only tasting from one farm. If anything happens on that farm, it could ruin the whole batch of coffee.
“Some coffees have a lighter body, but if you like a full and round body, that particular single origin won’t be for you. In blends, we combine the strengths of different coffees. For example, you might use coffee from Sumatra for body, and add another for acidity and sweetness. If you’re looking for more balanced flavours, you can create more consistency through blending.”
She suggests looking beyond the origin when searching for your new favourite brew. “Look at the flavour profile on the label, and better yet, ask the staff or roaster at the shop. If the roasting level is different, and the processing is different, [the coffee flavours] can vary a lot, there’s more to it than just the origin.”
Olympia Graeco Egyptian Coffee
24 Old Bailey St, Central, tel: 2522 4653
Interval Coffee Bar
33 Wellington St, Central, tel: 2570 7568
Blooms Roastery, blooms.com.hk