Discover more from The Magic Roast
Does agitation really matter?
Getting into speciality coffee at home can be a daunting task. There seems to be an endless amount of variables that can impact your final brew.
In this new series ‘Home-brewing 101’, I’ll look at some of these variables. I’ll explain their impact on your cup, and hopefully arm you with the confidence you need to experiment at home.
We’ll cover things like water temperature, grind size, brew timing, coffee to water ratios and brewer selection.
But today we’ll start with one that really got up my goat when I first started brewing - agitation.
How is coffee extracted?
When coffee and water touch, magic happens.
That is because water is a solvent. Water is able to get the great things we love about coffee to dissolve in it.
The final amount of coffee goodness that is able to be dissolved into the water is referred to as extraction.
As described by Scott Rao, in the book Everything but espresso, the rate of extraction [explanation mine]:
“is determined by the coffee ground particle size [grind size], slurry temperature [as a result of the brew water and the amount of heat lost by the brewer]… agitation of the slurry [today’s topic] and brewing ratio [amount of water to coffee].”
Playing with these variables will increase or decrease the rate of extraction. And this will directly impact how your coffee tatest.
What the holy heckers is agitation?
In its very simplest form, agitation refers to the amount the coffee is disturbed or moves during the brew. This is normally caused by a few things:
the physical pouring of the water over the coffee
the stirring of the coffee
the gasses released by the coffee grounds bubbling through the coffee bed.
The more you disturb or move a coffee, the more opportunity it has to release its goodness. Or, the higher the rate of extraction.
If this doesn’t quite make sense, there is an easy experiment that Scott Rao suggests you can do at home:
Grab a glass of water - cold or hot
Grab a tea bag
Place the tea bag in the glass and watch the tea slowly dissolve in the water.
Now, give the tea bag a few dunks and watch how more tea starts to dissolve. Magic.
Why should you care about this?
The broad goal with brewing coffee is consistency - you want the same coffee tomorrow that you had today. So getting a handle on one of the brewing variables, like agitation, is key to repeatable coffee.
Aside from consistency, you can also manipulate the variables to unlock different flavours from coffee. So, it’s a good thing to have in your tool kit.
How should you agitate your coffee?
When I started brewing on my Chemex many moons ago, it lead to so many questions. How much agitation do I need? How much is too much? How do I achieve this agitation nirvana? Does listening to Nirvana help?
So you don’t have to, I’ve done some experiments to compare some of the more common pouring and stirring techniques (ie different agitation methods) to see how they work at home.
My goal was to see how each pour method impacted the coffee, while seeing how easy it was to repeat in the home barista context. With that in mind, I’ve rated each pour method for:
Time - how long did the brew take?
Taste - how did the brew taste compared to the other agitation methods?
Complexity - was the pouring method easy to understand and replicate?
And for the home baristas with children (an important consideration for some):
Children friendly - was the pouring method easy to do, with kids annoying the heck out of you?
The brew methods
For each of the below brew methods, I used 15g of coffee (same grind size for all), to 250g of water at 95 degrees.
The brew methods were:
Dump and run
As a control - what does a simple pour method achieve?
1x pour - 250g as quick as you can.
The classic James Hoffmann method
Lance Hedrick’s max agitation method
A lot of ‘agitation’ in this one, with aggressive pours and swirls.
2x pours: 45g initial pour from a height, followed by an aggressive swirl - get those coffee grounds really high; 105g pour at 2 minutes, again at a height, pour until the bed is really high; swirl the shit out of the brewer as it draws down.
The 4:6 V60 method
The idea with this one is to split the brew water into two parts (40%:60%) and then split those parts into small pours.
6x pours - wait until the water fully goes through the bed before the next pour: 50g initial pour; 50g pour (that’s the first 40%); and then 4x 37g pours).
Maximum ability to experiment with pour technique.
Thanks for reading The Magic Roast! You can keep me going by Buying me a coffee.
To add a real life element to this, I asked my kids ‘annoy me while I brew coffee - this is for science’. Boy, didnt they take that to heart. Here are the results.
Want easy coffee and happy to compromise a bit on taste: Dump and run
This one is for all the people out there who are intimidated by all the brewing technique noise. This was the second equal best tasting brew, but by far the easiest and quickest brew to do.
It was very reassuring to see that no-care coffee can be good-tasting coffee.
I’d recommend this method for anyone who just wants coffee inside of them, doesn’t want to go down any coffee rabbit holes and doesn’t want to spend any money on crazy brew gear.
A great one for those hectic school-run mornings.
Take a small step into the world of technique: James Hoffmann’s method
The James Hoffmann three pour brewing technique had a great balance of taste and ease.
This one came out first on taste, and second in time, ease of brew and children factor.
This method rewards a bit more care and consideration by giving you a tasty cup, with minimal fuss.
I’d recommend this one to anyone who wants to dip their toe into the world of brewing techniques, without getting blown away.
Complicated, but with promise: 4:6 method
The 4:6 method, with the crazy amount of pours and small window of error was the hardest one to brew. It was complicated, you needed to concentrate and it took a long time.
In saying that, this was the second equal best tasting brew, and there is an almost infinite amount of tweaking that you can do to dial it in to your coffee.
I’d recommend this one to the people who already have a good handle on brewing at home, and want to really explore the realms of agitation possibility.
Throw this one in the bin if you can't get a moment'speace during your coffee routine.
You’re bored with life and want a bit of spiciness: Lance Hedrick
I didn’t like this one. It was over-extracted and bitter thanks to the extreme agitation it generated.
It wasn’t the easiest brew either, as you had to put in a wee bit of effort, that, in my mind, wasn’t rewarded.
There might be some coffee’s that this method enhances, but this one was a distant last place in taste.
What did we learn today?
Agitation is a key part of the brew process. Getting a good handle on pouring can help to provide a consistent and tasty brew, day after day.
You don’t have to get too complicated to achieve good tasting coffee. And for many people, that’s reassuring.
I’m going to stick to the classy James Hoffmann method for most of my brews - if my kids will let me that is!
Until next time.