Coffee Guide - FAQ
When Denise and I started getting into coffee, we were quickly overwhelmed by all that went into brewing a good cup.
Coffee is the most popular beverage in the world, yet few people know that much about it. For example, most people are unaware that before it is roasted, raw coffee beans arrive at our roastery green. At Empower Coffee Roasters, we believe that an educated coffee drinker is a happy coffee drinker. We decided to provide you with (almost) everything you need to know to start enjoying coffee to its fullest potential. Check out our FAQ below and have fun!
You mention that you roast specialty coffee. What exactly makes it so special compared to the coffee I normally drink?
Some say specialty coffee is not a specific thing but rather a state of mind…well, we won’t go that far. Specialty coffee is basically higher quality coffee that is handled with the utmost care from the farm to your cup.
According to the Specialty Coffee Association, specialty coffee is any coffee that is scored an 80 or above on the 100-point Coffee Review Scale. Empower Coffee Roasters will only purchase coffee beans that exceed this threshold. But for us, Specialty Coffee means so much more than just a harvested bean. It also means that that bean is handled with incredible care through the entire supply chain, from the farm to your coffee mug. We source beans from farms that pay their workers a fair wage. We use coffee importers who pay a premium for the coffee, thus ensuring the continued success of that farm, its workers, and the surrounding community. We ensure that our importers are shipping the coffee to guarantee freshness and protection from the elements. And finally, we roast and samples our coffees to ensure they are of the highest quality before we send them to your door. When you order from us, you can be assured you are receiving a superior, ethically produced bag of coffee.
The last thing that makes coffee specialty is you, the consumer. You’re the most special part of the process. We apologize for how corny that sounds, but we truly mean it!
What’s the difference between light and dark roasted coffee?
A light roasted coffee is simply a coffee that has been roasted to a lower final temperature than a darker roasted coffee. Typically, this also means that the coffee has been roasted for a shorter time, but this is not always the case. The higher a temperature a coffee is roasted to, the more it loses the characteristics of the coffee itself. This doesn’t mean that the coffee loses flavor, just that it begins to embody flavors of the roast instead. A light roasted coffee may be more tea-like and floral, while a dark roasted coffee may be more full-bodied and smokier with flavors of dark chocolate. A light roasted coffee will have a cinnamon to light-brown color, while a dark roasted coffee will be a deep dark brown or even black and will be oily on the surface.
Since we take significant time and effort to choose our green coffee, and we pay a premium for that coffee, we prefer our roasts to embody more of the coffee’s natural flavors and qualities. That is why we typically do not roast our beans beyond a medium roast.
Your coffee is great, but expensive. Why is that?
First off, thanks! We agree our coffee is pretty great. The reason it's more expensive is for a few reasons. First, because quality coffee simply costs more. Like most things in life, you pay for what you get with coffee. You could easily find a cheaper bag of coffee, but you will notice the difference in quality. Second, we partner with importers and farms that make sure the workers and farm owners are earning a livable wage. That means paying a premium for the coffee over its market value. We belief strongly in coffee sustainability, which means paying more to the people who produce the product so that they can continue to practice sustainable, safe, and ethical farming. We are happy to do this and hope more coffee producers do the same. Thirdly, we put a significant amount of time and energy into assuring you are getting the best product possible. We believe our prices fairly reflect this effort, but as our company grows more efficient, we hope to be able to offer even more competitive prices.
Lastly, please note that a portion of all revenues go to support organizations that empower women and girls. When you buy a bag of coffee, know that part of that cost is supporting women achieve their dreams.
Aside from great roasted coffee beans, what else goes into making a great cup of coffee?
There’s a lot, but let’s just focus on the two most important areas: grind size and water.
Coffee can be ground from coarse (for French press and cold brew) to medium (for drip coffee) to fine (for espresso). The grind size is critical for the proper extraction of your coffee.
For example, if you are brewing drip coffee and you grind your beans too coarsely, the water will flow right through it and the coffee will be under-extracted and sour. But grind too fine and it will take forever for the water to seep through, and the coffee will be over-extracted and too bitter. The key to brewing coffee is to find a happy medium, which often requires a bit of trial and error.
Water is also crucially important. The water itself should be of good quality. We recommend using either a soft water (meaning relatively free of hard minerals) or even better, filtered water. A good rule of thumb is if the water tastes bad on its own, then it’s going to make your coffee taste bad.
You keep saying “extraction.” Why do I need to care about it?
Extraction is everything and nothing all at once. The Zen of Coffee. But seriously, all we mean by extraction is the process of dissolving the thousands of flavor compounds in ground coffee. Proper extraction is about most effectively getting these flavors out of the coffee bean. There is a ton of chemistry involved in this process, and Denise, who has a PhD in chemistry, made me, who barely passed 10th grade chemistry, promise not to try to explain it.
Ok, so I bought a bag of your coffee. Smells great, by the way. What equipment do I need to make sure I’m getting the most out of it?
Great question! You’re so smart and attractive too.
There is a surprising amount that goes into making a great cup of coffee and having the right equipment is a big part of the process. Now, depending on what you buy, it can get a bit expensive. We like to think of it as an investment into an enjoyable daily ritual. We’ve broken down what you will need and why you need it below:
The absolute first thing you need is a good grinder. When you grind coffee, you are creating a lot of surface area for oxygen to interact with. Oxygen stales your coffee, robbing it of many of its unique flavors and aromas. Freshness is king in coffee, and the best way to maintain freshness is to grind your coffee immediately before brewing. You can pick up a cheap blade grinder, but we strongly recommend a burr grinder. The reason is because your coffee needs to be uniformly ground for efficient extraction. Blade grinders are poor at this, often leaving big chunks of uneven grounds. Burr grinders do a far better job of creating uniform grounds, which means a more evenly extracted cup of coffee. Of all the equipment you need for a great cup of coffee, a burr grinder is the most essential. A good entry-level grinder, one we use at home, is the Baratza Encore.
According to the Specialty Coffee Association, coffee must be brewed between 195 to 205 degrees Fahrenheit to achieve proper extraction. Some experts call for the water to be even hotter! But at minimum, we recommend your coffee brewer to be able to heat water to at least 200 degrees Fahrenheit. The problem with a lot of automatic drip coffee machines is that they do not heat the water high enough. Some popular single pod brewers, for example, have this very issue. Again, brewing a great cup of coffee is all about extracting the coffee flavors correctly.
If you are going to manually brew your coffee, which we do at home, we recommend getting a gooseneck kettle with a thermometer attached, like the Coffee Gator.
In a lot of ways, brewing coffee is about math (ugh). You need to be able to convert units of measurement, as well as determine how much water you need for a certain amount of coffee. Too much coffee and/or not enough water may lead to bitter, over-extracted coffee. Too little coffee and/or too much water may cause bland, watery, under-extracted coffee. We think a scale that has a built-in timer (commonly known as a coffee scale) is vital to consistently brewed coffee.
This is where you can have some fun. When most people think of a brewer, they think of their Keurig or Mr. Coffee. But if you want to really up your game, your options are endless. The amazing thing about brewers is they all produce unique cups of coffee. You can take the exact same coffee bean, use two different brewers, and get two completely different tasting cups of coffee. Let’s go over the most popular types of brewers, all of which have their benefits and drawbacks. We'll soon be releasing how-to guides on each of these brew methods!
Automatic Drip Coffee Machines –
The beauty with the automatic drip machines is the simplicity and consistency. You just pour your water into the container, pour the grounds into the basket, hit a couple buttons and walk away. In a few minutes, you have coffee brewed the same way every time.
The problem with automatic machines are that they often do not heat the water to the appropriate temperature, and they often pour water in one spot like a sink faucet, which means you aren’t wetting all the grounds. They often have a burner on the bottom to keep the coffee warm, but it also - literally - burns the coffee. Thus, you wind up with a poorly extracted coffee that tastes bitter or weak.
If you choose an automatic drip coffee machine, we strongly recommend getting one that heats the water to least 200 degrees, has a shower water head to evenly saturate the coffee grounds, and pours into a carafe, which will keep your coffee warm without burning it.
Manual Pour Over Brewers –
The manual pour over brewers are our preferred method of brewing because it gives us complete control. Plus, there is something calming and meditative about pour overs. The most popular types of pour overs are the Chemex, the V60 and the Kalita Wave. Each produce a slightly different cup of coffee, all delicious.
The downside to manual pour over brewers is they often take a bit longer to brew, and they take some practice to get just right. Whereas automatic drop machines produce consistent cups brew after brew, the manual methods are subject to human error and take a bit of trial and error to get just right. Also, each require their own special filters that may not be available in many supermarkets.
The Chemex is not just functional but also a work of art. It has the capability of brewing multiple cups of coffee at once and is especially known for the bright, clear coffee it produces. Its thicker filters also make it more forgiving than other methods of manual brewing.
The V60 is similar to the Chemex in that they are both conic designs. The V60 brews single cups of coffee and is more open to customization: even the slightest change in amount of coffee, grind consistency or even how you pour your water can change the flavor of your coffee. The V60 is the preferred method of brewing for coffee aficionados who seek the “perfect cup of coffee.” Unfortunately, this also means that the V60 can be a pain to “get just right” and can be unforgiving and difficult to master. Also, it makes owning a gooseneck kettle an absolute must.
The Kalita Wave is slightly different from the Chemex and V60 in that has a flat-bottomed filter, whereas the Chemex and V60 have a conic-shaped filter. A flat bottom promotes an even extraction of the coffee grounds, making the Kalita more forgiving and easier to brew correctly.
Immersion Brewers -
These brewers involve immersing the coffee in hot water and then filtering it through a strainer before serving. The most common Immersion Brewers are the French press and the AeroPress. But while they are both immersion brewers, they each offer distinct flavors.
The French Press offers a full-bodied coffee that many argue makes for the most flavorful cup of coffee. This is because it retains more of the natural oils of the coffee bean, from where the flavor of the coffee is derived. The French press is portable and can brew multiple cups of coffee at one time.
The AeroPress is a compact, portable brewer that is both affordable and easy to use. It also typically brews smooth, less acidic coffee and is great for single servings. There are literally hundreds of AeroPress recipes, and even an annual competition to determine the best one!
The disadvantage of immersion brewers is that each method takes time to brew. There are some French Press recipes that require nearly ten minutes of brew time, and the myriad of AeroPress recipes can feel overwhelming.
We hope this FAQ has made coffee a little less complicated and has put you on the right path to the perfect cup of coffee. Ideally, brewing coffee should be viewed as an experience, not a chore. We spend so much time in our daily lives worrying about bills, work, and general stresses of life. Take this time to just shut your mind off to those worries and focus on the coffee. Some find it to be a meditative process that calms them down and prepares them for the rest of the day. Whichever way you choose to brew your coffee, just have fun with it. Don’t stress too much on all the details, and enjoy it! That’s what we did and its how we found our passion.