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The Coffee Nerdist: Weight, What?

Have the gray drapes of fake spring closed where you live, leading you to realize just how foolhardy that iced coffee is that you’ve been brewing? While you’re strapping on your post bike-to-work-month rain gear for four more weeks, there’s one other piece of gear I want you to consider… a scale.

Once you get your coffee basics down (proportion, grind, water, and freshness), the next big step towards quality is using the same amount of coffee and water each time you brew. Consistently using the same amount of coffee and water will not only make your coffee repeatable, it also locks down those parameters so you can experiment with more wily others like grind.

tasty bootlegged coffees

On the coffee side, using a scale to measure your ground coffee avoids mistakes like overpacking-while-scooping (a misdemeanor in most states), heaping (felonious when you leave a trail of grounds from the grinder to your brewer), and side-steps entirely the age old question of “Should I measure the tablespoons of whole bean coffee or the tablespoons of ground coffee?” In my experience, whole bean vs. ground has not made a big difference.

Measuring water has a similar positive effect. There’s no more guessing. Did I stop pouring too early and I’ll soon be drinking coffee-flavored gak splat OR did I pour too much and should I prepare to enjoy a cup of tan-flavored water?

Measuring coffee and water take on new significance when you want to manipulate some other variable in your brewing routine.

  • Grind need adjusting? Hold your water and coffee volumes and adjust the grind only.
  • Curious how the Stumptown Finca El Puente stacks up to the Counter Culture roast from the same farm? Keep your variables the same and let this West Coast vs East Coast battle be joined.

Still don’t think this applies to you? How about that once-every-single-bag-you-buy experience where you plan to brew with your normal 28 grams of coffee, but there are only 23 grams left. What does 20% less in that coffee scoop you use every day look like? Same question for your water kettle. Don’t know? Scale to the rescue. If you have 20% less coffee available for brewing, scale down the amount of water you use from 400 grams to 320 grams and get your day underway.

Here’s my Chemex/Kone routine at the office.

  • Boil fresh cool tap water.
  • Measure 29 grams coffee (extra gram for flushing the grinder and any that gets caught in the chute), grind.
  • Place empty Kone and Chemex on scale. Tare to zero.
  • Add 28 grams coffee. Tare to zero.
  • Pour 100 grams water. Allow to bloom for one minute.
  • Pour 300 grams water (for a total of 400 grams).
  • Remove Kone and grounds, tip Chemex into mouth until coworkers notice.

Boy howdy, I’m convinced. Where do I get those wonderful toys?

With a few basics out of the way, the choice of a scale can really come down to your personal preference. Make sure your scale can hold at least 1kg so it’s capable of measuring the weight of your preferred brewing method including water and coffee. Also, make sure it’s accurate to within 0.5g or 1g so you can be assured of your brewing consistency.

Coava Coffee sells my favorite scale, the Jennings CJ-4000. Note: Coava sent me a couple of their Aeropress disks last year to try out and they ruled. Also, Coava are awesome people. And they are responsible for roasting the Honduras David Mancia which my Drippr homeboy brought back for me and is so good that it’s the coffee I’ve compared every other coffee to this year. And, rumor has it the David Mancia will be returning in August.

Old Will Knott also sells a wide variety of good scales.

Don’t have any extra room on your counter for a scale AND grinder? You’re in luck. The biggest innovator in home coffee grinding, Baratza, just released a weighing grinder and a weighing attachment for your existing Baratza grinder:

Baratza Vario-E weighing grinder (oh, how I lust for this)

Baratza Esatto grinder-mounted scale

I’m not so sure, pal.

Don’t take my advice then, listen to Will Smith of and MaximumPC fame demonstrate the use of scales with his Aeropress at the link below. Note: Since coffee can get trapped in your grinder (not in Will’s case — he’s using a pretty low waste Baratza), be sure to weigh your coffee after grinding. You may need to add an extra gram of whole bean coffee to get the right amount of coffee out.

PHOTO: New message. (and so it begins) on TwitpicI was going to recommend that you follow the advice of this doctored up photo taken out of context) of 2004 World Barista Champion Tim Wendelboe, but the trailer for the book done by the Dirty Cup folks below actually steals the show.

What are you waiting for? Get out your coffee and scale and TARE it up!

If you have burning coffee questions that would make interesting Nerdist Coffee fodder, please @ me – or add a comment below.