Salt in your coffee? Tips from baristas for the perfect cup of joe


Whether it's a pinch of salt or a finer grind, baristas share some tips on how you can take your coffee game to the next level. — Photo: CHRISTIN KLOSE/dpa

Whether it's a pinch of salt or a finer grind, baristas share some tips on how you can take your coffee game to the next level.

Whether your cup of coffee is a morning kickstart or a delicious social ritual, some very grounded tips from the baristas can take your grind and serve to the next level.

"Few things are more important when it comes to coffee than the freshness of my ingredients," says Horst Dietrich, who has been spellbound by coffee's "aura of adventure and the exotic" since childhood.

High quality, freshly roasted beans are essential for a perfect brew, stresses the barista and coffee coach from near Frankfurt. For Dietrich, that means beans roasted two to eight weeks earlier for optimum taste.

Fellow German barista Jan-Christoph Prell allows up to four months from roasting. But both devotees agree that your grinder - not your coffee machine - is the most crucial piece of equipment when making coffee.

Be sure to grind the beans directly before making the coffee, says Dietrich, since the powder loses half of its aroma even 15 minutes after grinding. If you want to drink filter coffee, grind a little coarser.

"As a guideline, you can orientate yourself on sea salt and table salt - the powder should be somewhere in between," says Prell, who runs a specialized roastery near Osnabrück in northwest Germany. Powder for espresso, on the other hand, can be finely ground.

For filter coffee, Prell recommends 7 grammes of coffee powder to 100 millilitres of water as a starting point to experiment with more or less powder, depending on your taste.

For espresso, it's best to make a double serving, the baristas advise: 18-20 g of powder should produce 40-60 ml of beverage in the cup. An espresso should run through in just 25-30 seconds, because water dissolves the acids from the powder at the start and any bitter substances at the end of the brewing time.

If the coffee tastes too sour, this may be because the water ran through too quickly. If the coffee tastes bitter, the water may have percolated too slowly. Again, the key is in the grinding: coarser coffee grounds make the water run through faster, while a fine grind runs slower. If the espresso tastes sour, grind more finely.

The goal in brewing coffee is to achieve a balance between acidity and bitterness. Most coffee connoisseurs intuitively grasp whether the balance between acid and bitter is right, but there are some tricks to hit the right balance.

Sugar makes the coffee taste less bitter, but the acidity is retained. Sprinkling a pinch of salt into the finished drink also helps to soften the bitter taste. And a dash of milk also buffers the bitter notes.

Now to the machine: There are many types, but the fully automatic coffee maker is the jack-of-all-trades, grinding, brewing and foaming with a few deft flicks of the settings.

But what if the machine-made beverage doesn't quite hit the mark? The first step is to think about the beans used. Even the best and most expensive fully automatic machine cannot conjure up a good drink from poor-quality beans, says Prell. It's worth a visit to an artisan roastery to seek advice and test the beans. Once you have found your favourite flavour, you can usually order more online.

If the beans are right, adjust the settings of the machine. "Select the grind as fine as possible," says Dietrich, while Prell advises setting the water temperature for brewing as high as possible. The optimal temperature for brewing coffee is 92 to 96 degrees Celsius. Only with very dark, almost black roasted beans for espresso should a lower temperature setting be selected.

You can also adjust the amount of powder or water. If the coffee is too thin, either increase the powder portion or reduce the amount of water per cup, depending on which settings the machine allows. – dpa

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