Coffee Extraction - The 80:20 Method

February 15, 2015

So we’ve been through how to get more or less extraction from a coffee and what that might taste like. But how do we make the most of this? The following is my super simple 80:20 method for getting the best out of a coffee with minimal effort.

The 80:20 rule or "Pareto Principle" states that, for many events, roughly 80% of the results come from 20% of the causes. This can be observed almost everywhere:

- 80% of the world’s income is only distributed amongst 20% of the population.
- 80% of a company’s complaints usually come from only 20% of their customers.
- 80% of internet traffic occurs only 20% of the time.
- 80% of injuries in workplaces are because of 20% of the hazards.

The list goes on and I can think of many cases in coffee and related business where the Pareto Principle comes in handy. Today I’d like to talk about applying it to make a coffee taste better.

There are so many variables involved in making coffee, and once you go down the rabbit hole it doesn’t really stop. That doesn’t mean to say that controlling variables and making tasty coffee is impossible. It just means we need to focus on what’s most important first.

I’ve been receiving an incredible number of emails detailing Rube Goldberg-esque experiments and "frictionless vacuum" variables (keep em’ coming!!) from Baristas looking to inch out the next 1% increment of tastiness from their coffee. I’m looking forward to tackling this sort of stuff in due course, but for now we need to apply Pareto’s Principle. I want to help everyone make massive improvements quickly and simply.

The reason I talked about extraction for the last two weeks is because it’s the most important part of brewing coffee. If your extraction is improved slightly, the resulting cup is dramatically better. If you can find the sweet spot for extraction, you’ll be close to (or at least approaching) 80% of a coffee’s potential. You might think this is a bit generous or easy, but I strongly believe it's the truth. Find the sweet spot and you’re far far above average.

So how do we get there? It’s super simple:

If you remember, over extracted coffee is dry and bitter and under extracted coffee is sour and empty (amongst other tastes). As you move from under-extracted to over-extracted, the coffee gets sweeter and sweeter and sweeter as you pick up more sugars, then it rather quickly becomes dry and bitter. This is because at a certain point you start extracting heavier organic matter that’s unpalatable.

The aim of the game here is to extract the coffee up to a point just before you get unpalatable dryness or bitterness. It’s the sweetest spot. Guaranteed. Every time.

(If, bizarrely, your aim isn’t more sweetness then this probably isn’t the coffee mail-out for you.)

Espresso, drip, plunger, aeropress, siphon, your shoe; it doesn’t matter what you’re brewing in or with. This quick and nasty trick will help you find the sweet spot for your coffee every time. You can call this the Lazy Barista Method, or even a plain old cheat. Just know, this is the very first step I take when encountering any coffee for the first time.

Here’s how to use it for both Espresso and Filter Coffee:

Maintain the same weight of coffee grounds throughout.
Extract More = Grind finer AND/OR brew for a longer time AND/OR use more water.
Extract Less = Grind coarser AND/OR brew for a shorter time AND/OR use less water.

I’ve fashioned an easy flow chart for you to follow. Print it out, use it on bar, memorise it, share it with your friends, whatever. Just promise me you’ll actually try this next time you brew a coffee. The key here is to forget everything else. No temperature surfing, no agitation schedule, no water analysis, no in-depth recipe usage, and absolutely no bullshit allowed. Just focus on more extraction or less extraction.

That’s it. Enjoy!

Coffee Extraction Flowchart Did this work for you? Do you love or hate it? Let me know!


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