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Water Temperature: Does it matter for drip and pour-over coffee brewing?

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Recently, I was doing some research about the influence of water temperature on coffee brewing. As you might find already, tons of articles confirm how important it is for coffee extraction.

I can’t blame them, I have tried different Aeropress and Pour-Over recipes with temperature variations, and I agreed. It can change the coffee flavor and aroma. 

But, I found a few days ago a video on Specialty Coffee Association YouTube Channel that contradicted everything I read previously.

I was shocked. So, I decided to dig deeper. Science seemed to be toying with us. Again!

By the way, here is the video:

My first impression

As I said before, I felt that all the grounds of pour-over coffee brewing were shaking below my feet. Yet, I later learned I was overreacting. At first, I thought that some foundational statements were at stake, like:

  • Does will change the temperature requirements to obtain the SCA certification for drip coffee makers change?
  • Does will change the way we understand the importance of water temperature for coffee flavor and aroma?
  • Does will be relevant variable temperature electric kettles and thermometers for pour-over brewing coffee?
  • Does will be valuable to include water temperature as a variable of pour-over coffee recipes?

What were they thinking?

The research team found exciting unanswered questions from a scientific standpoint. Most claims about the water temperature importance for coffee brewing get their evidence from espresso-making research. Moreover, although the relationship between coffee extraction and the water temperature has been researched, we didn’t know if temperature alone was crucial for flavor and aroma.

Research Study Highlights

The first thing you might have noticed is that the video is long and overly technical. You can grasp some insights quicker reading the scientific paper here. But, if you don’t want to read that kind of stuff, don’t worry, I got you covered.

The most important highlights I found were:

  • Water temperature isn’t as critical for drip brewing coffee as it is for espresso.
  • Researchers used three different temperatures for their research: 87°C, 90°C, and 93°C. The first two are below the conventional requirements for coffee maker SCA certification.
  • The experiment design used fixed brew strength and extraction, changing only water temperature.
In the image Kalita Drippers and servers together. With any brewing device, water temperature use to be part of any pour over coffee recipe.
Coffee brewing recipes tend to indicate water temperature as it is considered one of the most relevant variables to obtain coffee brewing consistency.

The third bullet is the most important to understand the scope of this study and how to interpret its results. In short, higher water temperatures accelerate coffee extraction, but alone it doesn’t change the flavor or the aroma of coffee. Another way to put it is that water temperature matters, as it helps to make stronger and more concentrated coffee quicker.

Conclusions

Flavor and aroma change depending on the water temperature we use, but not because of temperature alone. Temperature accelerates how much coffee gets dissolved in the water, which influences the coffee tasting experience.

Of all the things I thought were at stake at first, only two are under serious scrutiny. First, the certification requirements for coffee makers could change in the short term if the SCA takes these study insights seriously. Yet, it’s very likely that these findings will lead to further research before taking more drastic measures.

Second, the way we understand the role of water temperature for pour-over and drip coffee brewing needs to change. Accelerating the coffee extraction process isn’t a minor thing, but it’s quite what hot water does.

Finally, I learned a collateral insight after reflecting on the issue and exploring related research. The Specialty Coffee Association is using scientific research to improve its current standards. Hopefully, we will see exciting developments driven by innovative research shortly.

One of the most exciting developments around it is the update of the coffee brewing control chart. If you are interested in it, you can watch the video here:

Thinking about it, what do you think? Will science kill the art of coffee making? Or, on the contrary, it will elevate our art?

Additional Resources

My personal take on the best way to make coffee

Great Coffee 101: Best Coffee Hacks

The Scientific Article published by Nature 

Batali, M., Ristenpart, W. & Guinard, J. (2020) Brew temperature, at fixed brew strength and extraction, has little impact on the sensory profile of drip brew coffee

Coffee Extraction Briefly Explained

Coffee Extraction And How To Taste It

A counterintuitive video by James Hoffmann

Brew your coffee with boiling water

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