Brewing outside of Gold Cup

This isn’t really supposed to be a contentious or confrontational post. It is just something I’ve been thinking about for a while.

Lots of people now have sufficient equipment to understand their extraction, in terms of how much of the coffee grounds are ending up in the beverage. The research says that 18-22% is the desired range of extraction, certified by all Speciality Coffee bodies (SCAE, SCAA etc) in their Gold Cup programs.

First let’s get the important caveat out of the way – just because the overall extraction falls within this range it doesn’t mean the drink will be tasty as you can’t account for the evenness of the extraction. This isn’t what I want to talk about though.

My question is this: Does anyone reading this, who regularly analyses their extractions, have a particular coffee or brew method that they think works better when the extraction falls outside of this range?

Would they be willing to share if that is the case?

To explain a little more to remove confusion:

By better – I mean that in a hypothetical side by side test, using 100 members of the coffee drinking (and enjoying public), do you have a coffee/method that the majority of testers would prefer over an even extraction of the coffee within the Gold Cup range?

I’ve imposed the condition because while some individuals may prefer coffee brewed unusually (say a sub 20s espresso extraction), most people would prefer a traditional extraction (25-30s for the sake of argument). Individual preference is important, but so is spreading and selling speciality coffee to as many people as possible.

Does this make sense? If you do – then please post a comment. I’m not out to shoot people down, or try to embarrass them in some way. I may have reached various conclusions from my own research but I’d like the opportunity to discuss this further with people.

24 Comments Brewing outside of Gold Cup

  1. michael mc laughlin

    we have just started our version of a brew bar here in belfast offering a kenyan karimumi and sumatran blu batak. admittedly i have limited experience as we only started selling it properly on friday but we have been offering samples to our regulars in past few weeks as we learn the processes and coffees. ive kept a record of all the tds readings and peoples comments. it seems that those customers who are used to drinking our standard filter coffee seemed to prefer an over extracted sumatran (1.5 – 1.7 on the tds) while those that usually drink cappucinos or lattes really went for the kenyan that was brewed to gold cup standard. this has been by no means a deliberate attempt by me but i did find it interesting, as i had always been aiming to get a gold cup standard brew. we are babes in the woods at the minute so i dont know if it would stand as useful information for you

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  3. Stephen Leighton

    This has always been my biggest issue with the mojo, that the window makes you aim for a target that can not be measured until you taste it. The “I’ve got a perfect 20% extraction” is a false goal, and can often hold back brew development. I know that it held me back from really understanding the power of the mojo for many months, to the point I thought it was a useless tool (now seriously re assessed I would like to add).

    The standards and tools we use are just a ball park to start in and should not be used as the final goal, but as a measurement to find the final perfect ratio. And if it is outside of gold cup standards then so be it.

  4. Mike White

    Stephen, I would argue that the mojo provides data. Nothing more, nothing less. If you’re looking to repeat (positive) results it’s important to collect data to determine how it was achieved. I’m guessing you do the same when you roast.

    James, this isn’t really an answer to your question, but I would also argue that although a lot of people have access to these tools, very few actually implement or understand their findings. Many people are installing pourover bars, but it’s still difficult to find a great tasting cup of hand poured coffee (in NYC anyway).

  5. James Hoffmann

    Absolutely – but I’m really interested whether it has lead anyone (consistently and definitely) outside of Gold Cup. And if so – I want to know more about the coffee/brew!

  6. GHHowell

    I would like to add another element to consider: A grinder’s output could be too many extra-fines (dust) which overextract by definition. One could be reading “perfect” extraction for something that is in fact a blend of over and under-extracted coffee…. Few people measure the actual grind percentages their grinders are producing. They will often only be able to tell if their taste buds are telling them one thing and Mojo another….

  7. Jay C.

    Something about the Mojo I’m not clear about. From what I’ve heard, the mojo is designed and calibrated (?) mainly to work with automatic brewers like the Bunn or Fetco type towers. If this is the case, does that somehow impact the results from the device, giving skewed results for brew methods other than a tower?

  8. James Hoffmann

    I had assumed, from your comments about the ExtractMojo online, that you had one!

    The Mojo is designed and calibrated to assess the refractive index of coffee, and from that work out the strength (measured in TDS). Software can take that reading, and with enough additional data – ground coffee weight, brew water weight etc – it can tell us how much of the ground coffee ended up in the cup. That is all it does.

    It isn’t calibrated to batch brewers, and if you’re particularly concerned about variation in water absorbed by the brewing process (in the grounds or the paper) then you can weigh the resulting liquid and use that number for an accurate read.

    What it does do is highlight how much easier it is to make great coffee repeatedly with a well set up bulk brewer compared to brewing by the cup – but that is another story I think.

  9. James Hoffmann

    A very good point. I am hoping people with results outside of the expected will share the info allowing others to try to replicate it across a range of equipment/water etc.

  10. Ben Kaminsky

    I’ve had them, but I’ve never been able to quantify them and have rarely ever been able to repeat them. Two in a hundred clover brews, a few syphons here and there. This years Aeropress champion used the most ridiculous technique (unbelievably high dose/under-extraction) resulting in a lovely cup of your coffee. Say what you will about the water, etc , but she beat the box (the box as represented by you, me, dave walsh, and nick cho).

    I think there does exist another side to brewing, one that the Coffee Collective are probably struggling with right now, which is the idea that if one were to desire a cup with heavy aroma that still had a balanced taste, the box would not necessarily apply to you. I haven’t yet figured out how to brew this way repeatedly.

    I still strongly believe that if you’re looking for consistency in the cup and long term sustainability and profitability for specialty coffee, Gold Cup wins out.

  11. James Hoffmann

    I agree that brews outside the box can be delicious – though the heart of this post is whether it is better than a great brew in the box.
    I like to think (read as: I delude myself into thinking) that in more controlled circumstances than the aeropress competition those of us aiming for a specific target could have done better to hit it.

    I’d like to taste the winning brew – I’d like to understand what it had that others didn’t have. How strong was it? How hot was it? I’m not – I should point out – indicating that it shouldn’t have won – or worse saying it shouldn’t have won because it wasn’t gold cup. I just want to understand it all better.

  12. Daniel McDonnell

    The industry believes in measurements, the “senate” believe in “out of the box”, but who believes in individual taste?

    The difficulty of being a barista is tasting someone else’s tongue, being in someone else’s head.

  13. Ben Kaminsky

    I tasted it a number of times. It was balanced, sweet, full bodied and enormously aromatic (as I remember my disbelief). I know that I hit the box with my brew, though I think my misuse of the Ãœber boiler helped lead to my downfall due to incorrect water temps.

    The question, as you put it, remains unanswered. I’ve never tasted them side-by-side, but I believe I’d probably pick the box when done well.

    (Sorry this is useless chat.)

  14. Kevin dP

    A few weeks ago I was enjoying some of Supreme Roastworks’ Ethiopian Guji (natural) on the V60. Pretty standard extraction (18g coffee 300g water ~3min30sec when the grind was spot on) ticked all the boxes for me; body, aroma, acidity, you name it.
    Returning from a run one day my brother and I accidentally brewed 24g coffee 600g water ~3min 30sec (ground more coarse than for a 300g batch obviously) and drank an immensely enjoyable cup. It was only later that I realised I’d completely gone outside my normal ratio.

    But it was so good-I’ve tried it once since with a washed Panama and even though the results weren’t as tasty as the first time, it was still really enjoyable. Maybe I just appreciated a slightly “weaker” brew post-exercise? My suspicion is that I drank the first lot without any pre-conceived notions or expectations of a “weak” or “watery” brew. I really try to be open minded when tasting coffee but it’s so hard to do with something you’ve brewed yourself!

    No Mojo though so no TDS readings to hand…

  15. Rob Smyth

    For me the Mojo (have used but don’t own) and TDS meters (do own) are a tool to calibrate what I’m tasting and not the other way around. If a brew tastes over or under extracted, weak or strong, then being able to measure it against Gold Cup standards is very useful to assess the brew and determine what I need to change to improve it next time around. I’ve drunk plenty of brews outside Gold Cup that have still tasted good, though notably less inside Gold Cup that haven’t tasted good. Aiming for the box is a good starting point, but not a hard and fast rule, some coffees may just taste better brewed outside the box. Above all, taste for me is paramount over all other measurements.

  16. Zane Mattisson

    The best cups I’ve had this year where all made with an Aeropress (okay, and one Abid) using a very quick brewing technique. When presented with the first one earlier this year I clearly recall thinking to myself, “Huh? It’s sooooo light. Surely that extraction time was way to short.” But, it reminded me again about why I changed industries.

    Anyway, at least as I have been perceiving it here in good ol’ Cape Town, what I (and probably only a handful of other coffee professionals and lovers that I know of) desire in a cup of brewed coffee is not what our general customer wants – They want a strong, “coffee-tasting” coffee whereas I want to have to remind myself that what I’m drinking is actually coffee.
    This could be because of “uneducated” palettes (those unexposed to what coffee can actually be). I feel good examples of these are the lovely Kenyans around at the moment… especially the Tegu AA from Square Mile (no sucking up intended. Just genuinely one of the most non-coffee coffee’s I’ve had in a long while) and an awesome Kirimikuyu peaberry from…um…a well known Oslo roaster, something & something. Sorry, wasn’t my coffee.

  17. Zane Mattisson

    PS, with regards to espresso-based drinks, our barista’s are finding that if we use either a slightly larger basket like the La Marzocco 18-20g basket, and/or knocking the portafilter a few times, compacting the ground coffee so more can be packed in (i.e. ristretto as I have come to understand it), shots of around 40ml in say 30seconds are achieved. We have found that this is preferred by our customers, especially the regulars. Well, for the majority of our coffees.

    Sorry, we don’t have the necessary equipment yet but still interesting.

  18. AndyS

    Ben mentioned the Aeropress championship extractions that typically seem wildly overdosed (and undoubtedly underextracted by the conventional wisdom). Another such situation is the ultra-ristretto espresso with a brew ratio over 100% (ie, the dry coffee dose weighs more than the resulting espresso beverage). At cafes specializing in these ultra-ristrettos I’ve had shots that have been truly delicious, and there’s no way they were 18-20% extractions. And…they sell very well.
    The nature of espresso extractions is such that it’s difficult to get “normal” extraction numbers without getting into a shot that’s significantly more dilute than these ristrettos. The very high concentration seems to make underextraction tastier than it might be otherwise.

  19. David Locker

    James, some results I would like to share:

    Single Cup

    200ml starting water volume
    18g – 20g filter grind
    93c tank temp
    Brew time 1:00 to 1:20
    Water total hardness 200ppm (a little hard)
    Extraction 15%

    I have found that with a high single cup dose you can produce a great cup with a little less extraction. With single cup you have time constraints so it is hard to achieve an ideal extraction (SCAE) as the contact time is limited. You can try to speed up the extraction process with a little turbulence which I have posted some results below:

    180ml starting water volume
    18g filter grind
    93c tank temp
    Brew time 75 sec

    No turbulence = .7 strength (off the chart)
    Turbulence = 1.5 strength (14.64% extraction)

    Traditional Filter Brew

    5ltr starting water volume
    220g filer grind (not SCAE Gold Cup standard)
    93c tank temp
    Brew time 4:00
    Water total hardness 200ppm (a little hard)
    Extraction 20%

    With a traditional filter brew I have found the 18% – 22% rule applies.

  20. Jay C.

    Mike – I think your thoughts on poor pourovers nationwide are spot on and I have a very specific theory to this. I will post on that later.

  21. AndyS

    James, you said “Lots of people now have sufficient equipment to understand their extraction, in terms of how much of the coffee grounds are ending up in the beverage.”

    Having the equipment, of course, doesn’t always mean having the knowledge to use it properly. If one reads the comments above, it’s clear that some folks have genuine insight into how to measure and apply the Gold Cup standards. But it’s also clear that these people are in the minority — mistaken measurements and misconceptions about the Gold Cup standards are common.

    It may take a few more years before a critical mass of coffee professionals truly understand how this technology can improve their coffee making.

  22. James Hoffmann

    You’re right – and we’ll probably continue to squabble and argue and confuse ourselves for quite a while yet. Every time I use things like ExtractMojo I feel like I am learning and understanding coffee better – and I think I still have a long way to go as well.

    It makes me quite excited for what we might accomplish in the future!

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  24. Anonymous

    regarding “By better – I mean that in a hypothetical side by side test, using 100 members of the coffee drinking (and enjoying public), do you have a coffee/method that the majority of testers would prefer over an even extraction of the coffee within the Gold Cup range?”

    The “gold cup” zone was developed in the 1950s by EE Lockhart. The way he determined it was by surveying American coffee drinkers of the day. The reality is there is a rectangle on the chart which is shifted higher for the European target zone and one even higher for Scandinavia. That it what has become kind of ironic about all the “science” behind the gold cup brewing standards. All the science and formulas that was built was created to create a cup of coffee that matches the opinions/taste preferences of the people surveyed back in the 50s.

    You can brew to the center of that gold cup rectangle on Lockhart’s charts and give that cup of coffee to any Swede and they will tell you is like water.

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