Changing Coffee? Recalibrate!

Periodically we get phone calls from customers who say that our coffee tastes bad. We don’t get a lot of calls but we are our coffee so we take complaints seriously. L

Since Laura, our roaster, cups every roast and we brew, taste and serve every roast, we wonder how we could have let a bad roast get out the door. If we get more than one complaint on a roast it has to be our fault but if only one customer complains about one bag, maybe it wasn’t our fault. However, we hate it when we call the cable company and they blame it on the computer and the computer repair person blames it on the cable company. It seems no one wants to take responsibility. So we are always reluctant to suggest to the customer that it may not be our coffee. Usually the customer is absolutely adamant that the problem is our coffee. Sometimes we just let it go and give them their money back. However, we have engaged a few customers and helped them find the problem.

The oddest experience was a lady who had been given our coffee as a gift. She poured some of the bag into her Mr. Coffee machine and turned it on. She said our coffee tasted sour. We explained to her that you have to grind the coffee before you brew it.

A typical complaint is that our coffee is weak and sour. Weak and sour is an indicator of under extracted coffee. When we hear that we know it is one of two things, either not enough coffee grounds or water temperature too low.

  • The ideal ratio of coffee grounds to water is 10.8 grams of coffee for every 6 ounces of water. You can move this up or down to your taste but if you are brewing a dark roast coffee and switch to a medium roast you may need to add more coffee to get the full flavor of the lighter roasted coffee.
  • Coffee is best when brewed with water between 195 and 205 F. Coffee brewers and water kettles have thermocouples that wear out. As the thermocouple wears out the water temperature goes down. It happens slowly so you may not notice it, until you switch coffees. We have had customers who found out that they were brewing coffee at 160F. You can check your water temperature with a meat thermometer to see if it is in the right range.

The opposite complaint is that the coffee is acidic and bitter. Acidic and bitter is an indicator of over extraction because the water was too hot. Brewing coffee over 205F brings our the bad acidic flavors in the bean. Cowboy coffee and percolator coffees are good examples of acidic and bitter coffee.

Another complaint is that the coffee tastes dirty. If the customer is using an automatic brewer the problem may be mold and fungus. The water reservoir and the tubing in an automatic coffee brewer are wet and warm – a perfect habitat for mold and fungus. If they were drinking a heavy bodied coffee they may not have noticed the taste or they were masking it with cream and sugar. When they switch to a lighter roast they notice the off flavors. Some customers don’t want to hear that they may be drinking mold and fungus, so we just suggest that they run undiluted white vinegar through a brew cycle to get rid of the calcium build up in the machine. We suggest that they then look at the result. If there is anything in the brewed vinegar they should do it again until the vinegar is clear. If there is mold or fungus the brewed vinegar will have black flakes in it.

Finally, we have had customers using tap water. distilled water, water softener water or reverse osmosis water. They all make flat, lifeless coffee. Great coffee is brewed with the same water you like to drink. Spring water and bottled drinking water make good coffee, so does water run through high end filters. Don’t brew coffee with:

  • Distilled water
  • Reverse osmosis water
  • Water softener water
  • Tap water with chlorine
  • Low end filters

Each coffee has an ideal process for brewing. Changing coffee is a good time to recheck the brewing process to make sure you are getting the full flavor of the beans.

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