Good quality source product

Principle #1 of making good coffee: Using good quality source product

When playing around with hi-fi equipment, people always ask how much should I spend on speakers vs Amplifier and so on. The answer most of the time is to spend most of your funds on the source of your sound since no matter how much you spend on speakers, the sound can never get better than when leaving the source. The same goes with coffee – no matter how much you spend on your fancy espresso machine, it can never taste better that the coffee bean will allow you.

For this reason, I think principle#1 should be good source product. This is not only about the coffee, but also about the water and the milk you use. Only after this we will focus on Principle#2 of managing your extraction.

  1. The coffee
     Amongst the important source products, coffee is still the most important.  A friend of mine, being a little cash strapped, opted to buy some coffee at a bargain price elsewhere. He admitted afterwards that he will never buy coffee from “those people” ever again as it was horrible.  There are so many factors in the quality of the coffee, but here is the important ones in order of the process it follows:

    • The beans should be from a reputable farm using sustainable farming methods. The grade of coffee and harvesting principles can make a huge difference.
    • The processing method can affect the taste of the coffee. It can vary in fermentation method, washing method, drying method etc. some methods produces a better tasting coffee than others.
    • Freshness of coffee plays a role. Even though green coffee can be kept longer than roasted coffee, it is better fresher than not.
    • Roasting of the coffee can make or break the end product. This varies from coffee bean to coffee bean and some can be roasted to a darker roast, but in general, lighter roast will maintain more of the bean’s character where the roasting profile becomes more evident if roasting is dark, reducing some of the fruity character of the bean.
    • Age of roasted bean. Roasted coffee is best used within 2 weeks. There are a lot of debate on letting roasted coffee first rest and de-gas. I am of the school supporting this and prefer not to sell coffee before the first week after roasting.
    • Grinding size is discussed in principle#2 and not strictly about the bean, but the use of it instead. The quality grinder used is very important though, since a uniform grind size coupled with the ability to make minute changes in grind size will impact your enjoyment of the coffee in the end. It will be a shame if a coffee, lovingly produced and roasted is ruined by poor quality blade grinder.
  2. The WaterWhen you drink an Americano, 98% of your drink is water, so it is super important.  I am not an expert on the matter and there is not much I can say on the subject as it can become quite scientific.  What is important is to use good clean water that is well filtrated.  Filtration of solids not minerals, as some machines will not work properly when water is pure H2O.  this is because the sensors in some espresso machines will not be able to communicate with each other.  Reverse osmosis will also remove all minerals, leading to a flat tasting coffee not unlike too soft water.  Water ideally should have a PH of around  7 is neutral.  Ironically though, more acidic water is good for flavour, but bad for extraction where basic water is better for extraction but not so good for taste.  More importantly is the hardness of the water measured in dH for both Total hardness and Carbonated hardness.  we have been using borehole water with good PH, but have never done hardness tests.
  3. The MilkMost of the drinks we make are milk based drinks so the quality is super important.  we use super fresh full cream milk straight from the Willow Valley Dairy Farm having a natural sweet taste to it.   Other milk types are becoming more popular due to allergies and other datary reasons, but full cream milk produces the best latte art and taste.


Level of Extraction

Principle #2 of making good coffee – Managing the level of extraction

When one first get introduced to making your own coffee, or when you are introduced to a new way of making coffee.  There is some questions that people ask me often like: “how fine should I grind my coffee?”.  Most of the answers on these questions will affect extraction, so I decided to have a post about extraction.

Principle#2 in making good coffee is managing the level of your coffee extraction.

Managing extraction is super important since incorrect extraction will lead to either over or under extraction.  As a rule of thumb, under extraction will lead to sour or acidic tasking coffee, but you can also get salty tasting coffee.  Over extraction can be recognised by a bitter, but tasteless or hollow tasting coffee.  Only when you hit the sweet spot in-between, will your coffee hit the spot with intensity of flavour, balance and lingering pleasant aftertaste.

Extraction level can become very scientific by the use of a refractometer, which is a device often used by especially fruit farmers.  This device can measure level of refraction and since light refract more when traveling through suspended solids it can measure percentage of solids within any liquid.  Because of this, it can also measure extraction level of coffee!

We will try and keep things simpler here 🙂

The following will affect extraction, separated by brewing category as described in Brewing Methods:

Extraction factors for all methods:

  1. Grind size
  2. Water temperature
  3. Brew ratio

Extraction factors for steeping methods

  1. Agitation
  2. Steeping time

Extraction factors for drip or pour over methods

  1. Pouring technique

Extraction factors for pressure or vacuum methods

  1. Pressure applied
  2. Compaction
  3. Distribution

Let us expand just a little into each of these, but play around with all the variables and have fun!  Coffee making is a science for sure but also an art form, so do not let these factors steal your coffee joy.

  1. Grind size: this will affect extraction for all methods, since smaller particle size makes for bigger surface area, so finer grind = quicker extraction.  Various methods also require different grind sizes although some methods can be used with various grind size such as the Aeropress.  Here are general grind sizes per preparation method as a rule of thumb:
    • Super Fine: Turkish Coffee
    • Very fine: Espresso
    • Fine: Mocha Pot like Biatelli
    • Medium to fine: Pour over like V60, Chemex or other cone filter equipment as well as Aeropress
    • Medium: auto drip machines
    • Medium to coarse: Vacuum pots
    • Coarse: French press
  2. Water temperature: Water should not be too hot, else you will get over extraction.  The ideal temperature is between 91-96 degrees Celsius (195F-205F).  Closer to upper level is optimal, but never over.
  3.  Brew Ratio: This is the ratio in grams between the coffee and the water used.  The rule of thumb is 1:15-1:18, where 1:15 is stronger ratio since only 15g of water is used for every gram of coffee.  Note, this is only a rule of thumb as the other factors come into play, but it is a good starting point for your experimentation!
  4. Agitation (for steeping methods): The more you agitate or stir the coffee wile steeping, the more extraction you will get in a shorter time.  Since even coffee allowed to bloom first, will rise to the top of the water, agitation is needed for optimal extraction.  Blooming is the practice of adding just a little water initially and waiting for about 30 seconds before adding the rest of the water, allowing gasses trapped in the coffee to escape and the coffee to get saturated.  I recommend an initial gentle but firm agitation and then letting the coffee steep.
  5. Steeping time (for steeping methods):  You should allow optimal steeping time before you plunge if you are using a French press or filter out grounds in any other way.  If you are using a French Press, pour straight after plunging or decant, else extraction will continue.  The amount of time will vary from 4 minutes for French press to 24 hours for cold brew!
  6. Pouring technique (Pour over methods): A lot has been written on pour over technique.  The height, the number and duration of pours etc.  as it has the same effect as agitation in point 4 above.  I like to keep it simple.  After allowing for blooming as described before, I like to do around 5 pours to reach the desired ratio of water to my coffee, done in such a way where I do not let grounds go dry at any time and when I pour, I do it slowly and as stated in the Stumptown video, always aim for the dark spots, never for the light spots, in concentric circles.
  7. Pressure applied (Espresso and Aeropress)  Although most espresso machines have a fixed pressure, it does have an effect on extraction.  with Aeropress you can manage pressure your self and I have seen posts where people tray and achieve espresso from an Aeropress and going to lengths like creating a lever system to allow for increased pressure!  The general rule for the Aeropress is a gentle but firm, even pressure.
  8. Compaction (espresso): a lot, as always, have been said about pressure and how many pounds of pressure.  More important than this though will be to always tamp with a consistent pressure.  I apply pressure until the coffee grounds resist further compaction.  When you start tamping, the coffee will give way easily, but soon it start to resist.  I stop at my known point of resistance.  You should do the same and modify pressure if coffee either flows out like an open tap by increasing tamp pressure or fineness of the grind.  The opposite should apply if you get drop by drop espresso being extracted.  Compaction should of course leave you with a level bed of coffee.
  9. Distribution (espresso): The even distribution of the coffee in the portafilter before tamping will allow for optimal extraction.  Since water will always find the way of least resistance, we want to create even resistance to water penetration throughout.  There al lots of methods, but I use the ONA OCD distribution tool and swear by it!  Distribution is now less of an art, but I get super consistent distribution from using this tool.

Vanilla syrup recipe


I promised one of our customers at the Farmers market how to make a simple vanilla syrup at home.  Here is the recipe I found an use as a basis, slightly modified from original.


  • 2.5 cups water
  • 2 cups soft brown sugar like Muscovado
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 4 tablespoon vanilla extract.
  • Optional vanilla seeds or pods etc


  • Bring all the ingredients except vanilla extract to a simmer
  • Boil under constant supervision for 10 minutes or more.  Look away for a second and it is bound to boil over!
  • Let mixture cool down
  • Add some or all of the vanilla extract depending on the other forms of vanilla added.

Instead of vanilla, other extracts can be combined with rhe bbasic sugar surup.  It is delicious wirh cold brew.



Cooking with coffee – Mocha custards

I saw this little beauty on the internet and modified it to my liking.  I also made changes so it is Banting safe!  That is of course if you do not put any Kahlua in.  This is really simple and apart from time in fridge took me about 15 minutes.  The most important thing is to never overheat the mixture.


Serves 4


1 cup heavy cream

½ cup strong black coffee like espresso (I used cold brew)

6 egg yolks

3 Tablespoons Xylitol (4 for the sweet tooth)

1 Tablespoon coco powder (Heaped if you like dark chocolate)

2 Tbsp Kahlua (for non-banters)

Whipped cream


Place the cream and coffee in a double boiler over low heat and stir together.  This should heat up but never boil.  If it is too hot, your egg mixture may separate later.

While stirring occasionally, on the side mix coco powder and Xylitol to combine. Add the egg yokes and whisk together. 

Once warm, slowly pour the hot cream and coffee mixture into the egg yolk mixture while whisking constantly.

Return the double boiler on low heat and stir with a wooden spoon.  If heat is too much the cream may separate.  Stir constantly until the custard thickens and coats the back of the wooden spoon.

Remove from the heat and stir in the Kahlua, if using.

Pour into small coffee cup or large espresso cups and allow to cool on the bench top. Then place in the refrigerator for several hours until firmed up.  If it does not firm up it is no worry since it will be just as nice!

Serve, topped with some whipped cream and sprinkle with a little coco powder.

Coffee Creations – Expanding your Horizons

The classics like a cappuccino or espresso will always be my favorite Coffee drinks. It is like a familiar road you walk every day. You know it inside out, yet every day you see something different or have a slightly different experience. Now and then however, you like to leave the beaten path and try something different, just to keep things interesting. This is where endless Coffee based drinks of all types come in play.

Drinks can be loosely be grouped as follows

  • Classic Espresso based
  • Spice infused
  • Alcohol fortified
  • Flavored
  • Creamy
  • Shakes and Freezos

Some of these drinks use cold brewed Coffee (See our post on Cold brew) and some use various forms of hot coffee. The list is endless, but here are two of my favorites for starters. As time goes on, I will add more recipes. Some are my own, but others are from a great little book by Sherri Johns called Coffee Café.


Creamy: Creamacchino

There are so many versions, but I love this simple version which does not have cold whipped cream on top.


Cream Pre-heat the cream in microwave oven or steam.
Vanilla syrup Pour some vanilla syrup in your cup. Pour it on the side wall and let it coat the inside of the glass..
Espresso Prepare an espresso directly into the cup and pour in the pre-prepared cream.
Coco Powder Dust with coco powder to garnish.

Flavored: Hazel Choccachino

This super simple recipe is wickedly sweet and ideally suited for a cold night in front of a fireplace.

Nutella or any Hazelnut chocolate spread Put a healthy scoop in the bottom of your mug.
Espresso Prepare an espresso directly into the cup.
Foamed Milk Pour steamed milk as you would for normal cappuccino.
Optional chocolate shavings As if is not wicked enough, add some choc shavings on top.

Where are we now?

I was pondering which subject I should write about next.  Roasting?  Processing coffee?  Different drinks?  The history of coffee?

I have tried to order my thoughts and added the following layout, which will be expanded and links added as I blog about them, on our home page.

  1. The History of Coffee
    • Legend and Myth
    • Migration of Coffee
    • Early Coffee Trade
    • Social impact and adoption
    • Prohibition
  2. Current Coffee culture
    • Consumer trends
    • Education
    • Fair Trade
  3. The Farm
    • Growing and cultivation
    • Species and Cultivars
    • Pests and Calamities
    • Harvesting and Processing
    • Sorting and Grating
    • Selecting and Tasting (common terms)
  4.  Roasting
    • Art meets Science
    • Roast Types
    • Types of Roasters
    • Home Roasting
    • Storage
  5. Preparation and Drinking
  6. Baking with Coffee
    • Cream Deserts and Hot Puddings
    • Souffles and Meringues
    • Fruit Deserts
    • Frozen Deserts
    • Cake and Torte Recipes
    • Pies, Tarts and Pastries
    • Sweets, Biscuits and Breads
  7. Personal Journey

What would you like me to post about about next?

Coffee Shop Road Trip

For my daughter Suzanne’s pre-birthday treat we decided to hit some coffee shops – most of which we have never been to before.  Armed with the South African’s Coffee-Lover’s Bible we set off for a caffeine trip.

First stop: Munch

I have to say, having a coffee shop as a nursery did not promise great things.  How wrong we were!  Staff was friendly, the food was generous, tasty and well presented.  Best of all, we had close to the best cappuccino’s of the day right there!  The WTF shirts (Where’s my food) was great.

Munch's comfy seating

Munch’s comfy seating

French Toast

French Toast

Outside seating area

Outside seating area

Great Cappucchinos

Great cappuccinos

Fun with your cuppa

Fun with your cuppa

Just chillin

Just chillin

Stop two: Motherland Coffee

When we eventually found parking, we found a cosy, packed coffee shop.  I tried something new with their Dictator – a large shot glass with condensed milk, double espresso, whipped cream and choc shavings.  Suzanne tried an iced coffee while Mariana stuck with the cappuccino.  Though the other drinks was fun, the cappuccino was probably rated as nr 5 for the day.  Friendly staff.

The Dictator

The Dictator

Friendly Barista

Friendly Barista



Stop three: Doubleshot

Off to Braamfontein and a interactive visit at Doubleshot.  One of the owners Alain was roasting on their “antique” 1916 Novo Cito roaster and we had a nice chat.  He explained that roast profiles are relative and many factors have to be considered.  Factors like the temperature where roast would be stopped.  This differs from roaster to roaster, but the temperature your first crack happens, can be used as a baseline of sorts.  The coffee was great and the Finca El Morito they use in their blend played its role in the smoothness of the cappuccino.  There was a nice neighbourhood vibe in the shop.

Roasting discussion

Roasting discussion

Friendly Baristas

Friendly Baristas

Inside looking out

Inside looking out

Birthday girl

Birthday girl

Fourth stop: Father Coffee

This was probably our favourite.  Mariana had another cappuccino and rated it top of the day.  I had an espresso and enjoyed the fruity acidity which shone through without overpowering the drink.  The crema held together well when tested.  We loved the vibe and wooden paneling.  We will be sure to return.

Barista of the day in action

Baristas of the day in action – Freddy and Felix

Great espresso

Great espresso

Great ambiance

Great ambiance

Fifth stop: Vintage coffee

This is where we had our alternative brewing course and I had a nice chat with joint owner Kevin.  I had the cold brew and as consistent as always, Mariana had her fifth cappuccino.  The cold brew is awesome and the cappuccino joint top cuppa with Father coffee.

Vintage coffee banner

Vintage coffee banner

Kevin in action

Kevin in action

Cold brewed coffee

Cold brewed coffee

Buzz complete

Buzz complete

I can recommend visiting as many different coffee shops as you can.  We will do this again soon.

Happy tasting!

An evening brewing black

Last week my wife and I attended an alternative brewing course at Vintage coffee.


It was a real eye opener for me who is mostly a cappuccino / sometimes espresso drinker.  Firstly all coffees are tasted black and secondly, coffees are tasted and allowed to cool down as you repeatedly taste them.

The evening started off with a quick informative talk on the history of coffee as well as the process from bean to cup.  I believe it is good to steep yourself in all things related to coffee.  Your appreciation and knowledge will help you enjoy your coffee more and more.


After the initial talk, we divided into three groups, each discussing and practicing a popular brewing method – French press, V60 pour over and the Aeropress.

First up was the V60 Pour over


At this demo, some principals were highlighted like the importance of weighing coffee and water, the correct water temperature, the correct grind and the timing of your brew.  Even though each method has its own special method, these principals remain the most important.  The pour-over probably produced the cleanest crisp coffee full of fruity notes backed up by a firm but not overpowering acidity.  It reminded me of a fruit juice in some respects.

Next up was the French press.


Since it filters through a metal and not a paper filter, it was more of a full bodied experience.  The difference to the taste and the way I used to make French press coffee before I knew the correct way, was very different.  I used to over-extract my coffee, with the guidelines in the French press blog, this should not happen.  See

Lastly, and perhaps my favourite, was the Aero Press


What made me enjoy this station most was the different ways one can make Aero press coffee, each with it’s distinct characteristics.  The use of an app to guide you through the process was awesome.  Unfortunately, the demonstrated app is only available in Apple’s store, but I found a close second in the android space named MisterBarista at  Although all the baristas was passionate about their method, I found the barista at this station particularly passionate and some interesting discussions was the result!


I can recommend this experience to anyone in the Pretoria, Johannesburg area and wish more coffee shops start to do this type of informal training.

Happy brewing and experimenting everyone!

Chemex – The sexy one

The Chemex is one of the most iconic, classic brewing methods.  When I first saw one I thought , “what a weird name” and “this looks like nothing”!  It grew on me though and now it is one of the brewing methods I would like to pursue.  You just have to look at the elegant lines of the Chemex and the wooden grip to fall in love with it.   I am crazy about the design having the filter holder as part of the eventual decanter.   I read somewhere that it is part of the MOMA permanent design collection.  Not sure what it is, but sound impressive!

kaboompics.com_Fresh morning coffee in the Chemex filter

The Chemex is a method in the pour-over category, unlike the French Press from last week which in the steeping category.  It will produce a very clean crisp coffee due to the thickness of the filter.  It maintains body and balanced floral notes in your coffee.  Her follows one method with one of Stumptown’s famous videos with their take at the end.

What you need


  1. A eight cup Chemex and filter.  You can buy one for around R630-R900 ( $41.32  on Amazon)
  2. Coffee beans. Ideally, you should grind it yourself, but if you do not have a grinder, purchase a coarse ground to the texture of Kosher salt.
  3. A grinder.  A decent burr grinder will do, but not the whirly blade type grinder please.  If not, see point two.
  4. Water.  Filtered water since anything else could affect the taste.
  5. Timer.  I know I am walking a thin line here with the hard core coffee crowd, but since it’s not a science class, I am sure after timing things once or twice you won’t need it any more.
  6. Scale.  As with the timer, I believe that this is an aid for getting your brew right and not the rule, but with the Chemex it is quite important.
  7. Stirrer


Hand drawing a black process diagam

  1. Grind and measure your coffee beforehand.  You can experiment and see recipes on internet, but start with 24 grams to 430 grams of water (1:17) and increase depending on required volume up to 700 grams.
  2. Get your water boiling.  Boil more water than is needed as you want to warm up your equipment.  Start your timer as boil ends.
  3. During first minute, place your filter in the Chemex with multiple folds to the spout.
  4. Use the boiled water to heat your Chemex and to “wash” your filter.  Drain this water.
  5. Add coffee into the filter.  With practice you should be ready for the next steps by the time you hit one minute
  6. At one minute, start your first pour.  This is to let the coffee bloom, by wetting the all the coffee without letting much coffee filter through – around double+ the weight of your coffee.  Stir gently to ensure there is no dry coffee.
  7. Wait 45 seconds, which should put you at around 1:45 from the boil of your kettle (45 seconds brew time).  It seems up to now that 45 second bloom time is fairly universal for all brewing methods apart from the obvious exceptions like Espresso..
  8. At 1:45 start a slow pour.  Aim for the dry spots and use this to gently agitate the grounds.  Fill up to around ten times the weight of your coffee – 240 grams in our case.
  9. A minute later at 2:45 start filling again.  Pour to the top and add water us coffee filters through.  Your aim is to reach 454 grams (Coffee weight included) just before your clock hits five minutes.
  10. At five minutes remove and discard filter, irrespective of how much water is in the filter.  You are aiming for pour time over volume.  Allowing all remaining coffee to filter through will lead to over extraction.



The biggest mistakes you can make are the following:

  1. Using boiling water. This will guarantee over extraction and the harsh bitter coffee that goes with it.  Waiting a minute for water to cool down is a good rule of thumb.
  2. Incorrect grind.  To fine will cause over extraction and possibly lower filter speed.
  3. Waiting for all coffee to filter through before removing filter will also lead to over extraction.

At first glance it seems complicated, but once you follow these easy steps, it should be simple enough that you do not even have to think about it.  If you use water off the boil and do a short pour and allow coffee to bloom for 45 seconds and pour remaining water and stop the brew at an appropriate time, you are just about there already!

As always: Remember, life is to short for bad coffee!

Here is an awesome video from the guys at Stumptown Coffee Roasters:


The Cafetière aka The French Press

French Press?  Sounds like the paparazzi, but it is probably one of the most accessible brewing methods.  In it’s simplest form it is a tubular container with a removable metal filter used to press down on the coffee.  This is the first in the series of blogs about alternative brewing methods from the steeping group.  This is the brewing methods that is the Jacuzzi group where coffee  chills in the water for a while.

It has had a bad rap, as producing harsh, murky or bitter coffee.  Here is a guideline to making good French press coffee. I searched wide and far on the wild, wild web and have distilled the best advice I could find. Following this guideline, should produce a full-bodied, robust coffee with intense flavors.

What you need


  1. A French Press.  Any french press will do, but the best value for money is most likely a Bodum.
  2. Coffee beans. Ideally, you should grind it yourself, but if you do not have a grinder, purchase the coarsest coffee grind you can find.
  3. A grinder.  A decent burr grinder will do, but not the whirly blade type grinder please.  If not, see point two.
  4. Water.  Filtered water since anything else could affect the taste.
  5. Timer.  I know I am walking a thin line here with the hard core coffee crowd, but since it’s not a science class, I am sure after timing things once or twice you won’t need it any more.
  6. Scale.  As with the timer, I believe that this is an aid for getting your brew right and not the rule.


Hand drawing a black process diagam

  1. Get your water boiling.  Boil more water than is needed as you want to warm up your press.
  2. Fill your French press.  This is to heat your press.
  3. Set your timer.  You have a relaxed one minute to prepare your coffee while your water is cooling slightly.
  4. Weigh (for starters) your coffee.  This is where you experiment, but start off on 1:10 ratio on weight between coffee and water.  This works out around a teaspoon (+) per cup.
  5. Grind your coffee.  Use a coarse grind setting. When you finish by pressing down on the filter, too little resistance will indicate too coarse grind and too much resistance will indicate too fine a grind.
  6. Empty the press.  At a minute, your boiled water would have cooled down a tad and will not lead to over extraction.
  7. Add the ground coffee to your French press.
  8. Pour water.  If you are using a scale, set to zero and pour ten times as much water by weight as the ground coffee you added.
  9. Stir.  At about forty five seconds from the time water was added, give a firm, but not over vigorous stir.  We don’t want to damage our press now, so use clean wooden or bamboo spoon.  This will release the trapped carbon dioxide from the coffee crust and most of the coffee should drop to the bottom.
  10. Press down to filter.  At about four minutes from the time water was added, press down slowly on the coffee.  Some people suggest breaking the crust and scooping it off before pressing down.
  11. Enjoy.  Use the coffee straight away or decant since over extraction may take place otherwise.



The biggest mistakes you can make are the following:

  1. Using boiling water. This will guarantee over extraction and the harsh bitter coffee that goes with it.
  2. Too fine grind. Once again, over extraction as well as a murkiness in the coffee.
  3. Too long time before pressing down on the coffee. At the risk of sounding like a broken record… over extraction.
  4. Not using the coffee straight away. I refuse to say it again, so I will only add that your coffee will cool down too much.

Hope this was not too much like school, but once you follow these easy steps, it should be simple enough that you do not even have to think about it.  Remember, life is to short for bad coffee!

Here is a cool video on the French Press from Stumptown Roasters.  Happy brewing!