Coffee Brewing 101: Coffee Brewing Time
The final topic in our Coffee Brewing Basics series is coffee brewing time.
In the Coffee Brewing Basics series we have already covered the process of extraction, the impact of coffee grind size, the strength of coffee or the coffee/water ratio, and the importance of water quality and water temperature.
Coffee brewing time, or the length of time that water is in contact with coffee grinds, has a major impact on the flavor and quality of coffee.
Coffee Brewing Time and Extraction
Remember extraction is the process where the delicious flavors of coffee are drawn out of the coffee grounds and into the hot water.
Properly extracted coffee is good coffee; coffee that has a naturally sweet and smooth taste with delicious flavors and a lingering finish that should leave you wanting more.
Underextraction (too little extraction) causes coffee to taste weak, sour, and salty. Overextraction results in strong, bitter coffee. We want to avoid both of these extremes and make and drink only the best coffee.
Coffee brewing time is one of the major variables that impacts extraction.
Too short of a brewing time = Not enough contact between water and coffee grounds = Underextraction.
Too long of a brewing time = Too much contact between water and coffee grounds = Overextraction.
What is the Correct Brewing Time?
In general coffee brewing time should be APPROXIMATELY 3-4 minutes. However, this isn’t a set rule.
The correct coffee brewing time depends on the brewing method (pour over, Aeropress, French Press) and the size of coffee grinds.
The correct coffee brewing time is the time that results is optimal extraction. Stated differently, the correct brewing time results in a delicious, high quality coffee.
How to Measure Brewing Time
Brewing time is pretty easy to measure with a cell phone, stopwatch, or kitchen timer. Your choice!
How to Adjust Coffee Brewing Time
Immersion Brewing Method (French Press)
Brewing time is easy to adjust when brewing French Press Coffee, simply adjust the time that passes before you push the plunger down.
Feel free to check out a prior post all about how to make French Press coffee if you need a refresher.
When making a French Press coffee I prefer to alter the brewing time while leaving the coffee grind size the same. As a rule a smaller grind size will require less brewing time to achieve optimal extraction while coarser grounds will require more time. However, too fine of a coffee grind size can lead to muddy French press coffee with too much sediment at the bottom of the cup.
When making French Press coffee use a course coffee grind size and start with 4 minutes of brew time until you push the plunger down.
Remember that overextracted coffee tastes bitter so if you have a bitter tasting coffee your brew time is too long. Decrease the brewing time until you get a better tasting coffee.
A sour or salty flavor in coffee is a sign of underextraction and means the brewing time is too short. Increase brewing time until you get a better tasting coffee.
Drip Coffee (Pour Over Techniques and Electric Drip Coffee Machines)
Drip coffee techniques use gravity to draw water through the coffee grounds. Coffee grind size directly effects brewing time. Water passes through coarse coffee grounds rapidly (shorter brewing time) and takes longer to pass through finer grounds (longer brewing time).
There are techniques to alter the brewing time directly like adjusting how fast you pour water over the coffee grounds. However, the most effective way to adjust extraction with drip coffee is by adjusting coffee grind size rather than brewing time directly. The effect of grind size on extraction is magnified here because finer grounds lead to both more surface area of the coffee grounds AND a longer brewing time–both of these cause overextraction. The opposite is true of coarse grounds.
Brewing time of a pour over coffee should be about 3:30-4 minutes. This guide can be very helpful. If it takes longer than 4 minutes for the water to pass through the coffee grounds it suggests the grounds are too fine. Conversely, if water passes through in under 3 minutes your grinds may be too coarse.
Taste can also be your guide. Bitter-tasting, overextracted coffee suggests that the coffee grind size is too small. Increase the grind size until you get better tasting coffee. Sour-tasting, underextracted coffee suggests that the grind size is too big. Decrease the grind size until you get better tasting coffee.
I hope this overview of coffee brewing time was helpful. Here are a few key take home points:
- The correct brewing time is the time that results in optimal extraction and thus good, delicious tasting coffee.
- Coffee brewing time should be roughly 3-4 minutes.
- Too long of a brew time leads to overextraction (bitter coffee).
- Too short of a brew time causes underextraction (sour or salty tasting coffee).