Learning coffee brewing online seems counterintuitive. Most of us want to practice with an expert at our side, guiding us all the way. However, since 2020 online learning has become increasingly common.
Recently I had the chance to try Skillshare and was curious about the coffee-related training available.
I found a pleasant surprise when I stumbled upon dozens of courses about coffee brewing.
In this article, I will share some useful tips, tricks, and sound advice I found when I took the online course From Plant to Cup: Brew an Amazing Cup of Coffee, available on Skillshare. Additionally, I will share more than 10 extra resources available online, which have helped me improve my coffee brewing skills.
You will find Michael’s answers at the end of the article.
Why did I pick the From Plant to Cup: Brew an Amazing Cup of Coffee course?
As I said before, when you look for learning coffee brewing online opportunities in Skillshare, you will find dozens. Yet, after checking a bit, I chose Blue Bottle’s one.
I selected it because:
- It lasts only 59 minutes
- Blue Bottle Coffee, the content provider, is one of the most recognized roasters in the Specialty Coffee world.
- The instructor, Michael Phillips, was the 2010 World Barista Champion and the Director of Training at Blue Bottle Coffee at that moment.
- The course structure is sound and felt like a good reminder of the topics I learned when I took the SCA Brewing Foundations training.
- The project is challenging but quite doable. Brewing a coffee cup with the required equipment isn’t that hard, nor expensive -unless you get the Baratza Forté, of course.
After I took the first lesson I knew that I could finish the course quickly. The content is pretty easy to follow and Michael Phillips makes a great instructor. Additionally, I already have the required equipment and learned most of the basics while taking the SCA certification.
I wrote down my favorite advice, tips, and tricks from the course as I advanced.
Find them below along with some extra information I got from my previous training in Brewing Methods.
If you want to try the course, click my free trial link below:
Home Coffee Brewing: Key Concepts
- Percentage of extraction: how much coffee you get out of your ground coffee
- TDS: Total Dissolved Solids which means the amount of coffee dissolved in your cup
- Brew ratio: the amount of water in proportion to your coffee. For instance, a 15:1 brew ratio consists of using 15 grams of water for every gram of coffee.
- Brewing methods: pour-over methods use devices like V60, Chemex, and the Bon Mac. Steeping methods use immersion devices like the French Press and the Aeropress, at some extent. Different methods and even devices, will change drastically your resulting cup.
- Blend: a roaster chooses different coffee beans to create a specific profile. It’s the result of sourcing and roasting in a specific way to obtain a consistent flavor and aroma.
- Single-origin: they offer traceability as a huge differentiator. It usually means you can get a closer understanding of specific producers. Moreover, honest roasters will label their coffee thoroughly, writing down all the relevant technical details. Information is very important and variables like altitude, varietal, country, and producer (company, group, estate, etc.) will help you to learn more about your coffee.
- Varietal: different plants of coffee that produce distinct coffee beans. Some are famous and expensive like Gesha and Kona, while others like Castillo and Caturra are less flamboyant, but still can offer impressive flavor and aromatic profiles.
- Water hardness: some minerals are naturally present in water. Additionally, treated water contains chlorine or fluoride, which contributes not only to water hardness but to overall water taste. Hard water would lead to under-extracted coffee, as it already contains some solids in it. On the other hand, soft water will easily result in over-extracted coffee.
Tips for choosing your coffee brewing gear for home
- Use bleached white paper filters. Natural brown filters tend to have a cardboardy taste, which ends damaging your brew’s taste
- Get a burr grinder. Avoid blade grinders, as they won’t produce the consistency and quality you need for a great cup of coffee
- Check the grinders’ weight. Good ones tend to be heavier. Good burr grinders come with different adjustment levels
- Use a pour-over kettle. The gooseneck spout allows you to get a slow stream so that you can have a very controlled pour
- Get a digital scale with 1 gram increments, at least. Far from snobby, a digital scale will help you get a great cup because you’ll know easily how much water and coffee you are brewing with.
- Many digital scales come with a built-in timer now. If you have a digital scale without a timer, don’t bother. Use a regular kitchen timer or your phone
Golden nuggets from the online course
The course is very short and down-to-earth. I picked my favorite tips and tricks to share with you below.
- Grinding is widely overlooked, but it’s extremely important. It plays a huge role in coffee extraction. If you brew with finer grinds, you’ll extract a lot more coffee than with coarser grinds
- Keep an eye on the roast date. You can use coffee after two or three months after roasting if the package is sealed. The recommended date to brew coffee is 10-12 days after the roasting date. If it’s too fresh, it will still have some gases in it that aren’t too good flavorwise
- Water is crucial for your coffee aroma and taste. Distilled water won’t work too well, as reverse osmosis filtered water either. Tap water works only if it isn’t too hard, nor overly treated with chlorine or fluoride. Personally, I use a simple filter that takes undesired tastes in my water. You can try different alternatives at home since local water systems are radically different
- Keep a record of your recipes. Try to keep track of your experiments, so that you can improve
- Tasting coffee can be separated into five different categories: sweetness, body, finish, acidity, and flavor overall. Each category will help you understand and love more your coffee. Don’t let coffee snobs intimidate you. Anyone can learn sensory skills and the basics are quite feasible for anyone. As long as you practice, you can experiment with your technique to get a cup of coffee closer to your favorite notes and taste
Tips & tricks
- If you are going to mix your coffee, look for a stronger cup. In the course, Michael claims that Blue Bottle baristas serve 1:11 brews when clients want to prepare their coffee with milk and sugar
- Preheat your server, cup, and coffeemaker just before starting your brew. If you’re using a dripper, wet your filter, so papery residues and sediments get washed out and don’t get inside your brew
- Pour some water over the coffee bed at the beginning. Something around the double of the coffee on your dripper. For instance, if you are using 20g of coffee, use 40g of water. This is called bloom and prepares coffee for a better extraction. Bloom should be around 30-45 seconds. Avoid a too short of a bloom
- Avoid pouring water directly into the filter, keep the water stream on the coffee bed. Be gentle, as turbulence will extract more coffee.
- Be as consistent as you can with your pour-over technique, the water temperature, and the brew ratio. It’s easier to adjust the grind settings to get stronger or lighter brews. If you change too many things at the same time, you won’t discern what’s helping from what’s not.
My questions answered
When I worked as a corporate instructor, my motto was there’s no such thing as a stupid question.
I still believe that making questions is a great way to help others to learn too.
However, it only works if you share the answers as you get them.
So, here we go!
Would you add any updates to the course?
Michael: I have not reviewed the course recently (it was shot almost 6 years ago!) but in general, it was based on simple core principles that have not changed in the industry. We still use TDS and % extraction targets, we still use 4 pours and focus on the bloom. If anything I might say that I use a slightly longer bloom time now than I did back then.
Is it better to have an electric pour-over kettle?
Michael: I do prefer an electric kettle for ease of use but I am not too concerned with temperature control as a need to have one. Most people worry too much about water temp, there is a much larger window of acceptable temps than most of us realize.
What differences should I expect when using four pours instead of blooming and a single pour?
Michael: We compared our technique to several others when developing. It was initially a 3 pour technique but we moved to 4 for quality and process reasons. When everything is said and done I believe that the pulse effect of more pours helps you extract more out of the coffee more easily but with a good adjustable grinder, using four should be enough to get you into the range you desire.
Which criteria do you recommend when choosing between a blend and a single origin?
Michael: It all comes down to the flavor profile you are looking for. I certainly love our single origins and overall prefer them to blends for my personal cups. Our blends however are very comforting and are very approachable for people new to specialty coffee and I like to share them as such.
Extra resources for learning coffee brewing online
I shared in another article the absolute basics I recommend for coffee brewing beginners. Still, some of us like a good read, while others can’t stand for anything that isn’t on video. If you want to learn more about brewing coffee at home, I have some extras for you.
My favorite YouTube channels to learn more about coffee are extremely different. Morgan Eckroth, for instance, is refreshing, energetic, and funny. James Hoffmann, on the other hand, is quite entertaining, but it can be intimidating for many. He’s quite knowledgeable and does his best to be accessible though.
I learned about James a few years ago, while preparing for my blog. For sure, James Hoffmann is a benchmark for most coffee content producers -like myself.
A former World Barista Champion, business owner, and YouTube extraordinaire, I draw inspiration from James’ guides every week. I will drop below my favorite ones for beginners:
- Playlist: Things… Explained!
- The Ultimate French Press Technique
- The Ultimate V60 Technique
- The Ultimate Clever Dripper Technique
Morgan is a professional barista and has competed as well.
Morgan is a lot younger, more charming, and funnier than James -sorry, but it’s true!
She has great content on Tik Tok and IG, but I prefer her YouTube videos as they are more learning-oriented.
- Playlist: Coffee Tutorials
- French Press Recipes
- Homemade Pumpkin Spice Latte
- Vietnamese Egg Coffee Recipe
Guides, Podcasts & Geek Stuff
- World Coffee Research Sensory Lexicon
- How to Use the Coffee Taster’s Flavor Wheel in 8 Steps
- Barista Hustle: Serious coffee training online
- Coffee Community on Reddit
- Coffee Ad Astra: Scientific experiments to improve coffee brewing
- SCA Protocols & Best Practices
- Cafe Imports Learning Resources: Useful Guides about coffee intricacies
- Brewing Coffee Guides Compilation
- In Good Taste. Conversations and Reflections about Coffee Marketing. I find it very interesting to become a more exigent and conscious coffee consumer.
- Filter Stories. Not the conventional coffee talk. Very informative, although not light, coffee stories and history.
- Keys to the shop. Addressing business owners and coffee professionals, this is an excellent podcast to get insider knowledge and perspectives from people in the coffee business.
Unlike YouTube Channels and Podcasts, books aren’t for free. Still, all of the following are affordable if you pick the Kindle version on Amazon.
They’re very informative. I personally have and love all of them.
- World Atlas of Coffee by James Hoffmann
- Blue Bottle Craft of Coffee by James and Caitlin Freeman with Tara Dugan
- Coffee Dictionary by Maxwell Colonna-Dashwood
- Curious Barista’s Guide to Coffee by Tristan Stephenson
I hope you liked the article and find it useful. Share it with your fellow coffee lovers, be safe, and keep learning!
Thanks to Michael Phillips, who generously answered my questions!