Figuring Out New Beans

Precursor, I tried searching the site to find a topic on this already and wasn’t able to find anything yet. Although, I didn’t know exactly what to search other than how I’m putting it in my terms. So if this thread has already been started, feel free to redirect me and I’ll get rid of this post!

So the question is simple, what’s your preferred way of figuring out new beans if you don’t have any instructions/recommendations that come along with them?

I am just a coffee enthusiast and haven’t gone to any classes (although I’d love to), so I think experience is critical in how to approach this. I primarily do pourover through a Hario V60, but I also have a good friend with a middle of the road espresso machine. So both sides are welcome here.

Personally, I usually look at the notes and origin to determine grind size and temperature of what I’m working with and use my sense of smell while brewing to figure out the rate at which I pour. Then I just take notes afterwards of what I could do differently (and that’s usually where I may alter the amount of coffee I’m grinding). I’m curious though, because when I read through some people’s recommendations of brewing a pourover between the 7-10 minute mark (albeit quite rarely), I’m really interested in what brought them there. So open discussion on what you look for in how you approach new beans.

My recommendation is to have a default recipe, perhaps one that worked for another coffee that you feel was dialled in well. This is your frame of reference.

By recipe, I mean everything: dose (accurate to 0.1g if possible), weight of water poured, initial brew water temperature, water source, grind setting, a target brew time, a pouring pattern/schedule, and an agitation pattern/schedule. Try to quantify everything accurately and make it as repeatable as you can.

Brew the new coffee with this recipe. This will tell you a bit about the coffee. If it has a longer brew time, maybe the coffee is a little lighter, etc.

From there, my experience with filter coffee is that it is usually only a matter of tasting the coffee and adjusting grind and yield to eliminate characteristics of over/under-extraction. By holding all of the other variables constant, we can deal with fewer variables, and these two tools (grind and yield) give us everything we need to find a good combination of strength and flavour extraction.

Usually these two variables are enough to get a recipe I’m happy with, and I typically I don’t even change yield for a filter coffee. I find that shifting brew time by changing grind size usually helps me find an “ideal” brew time for a given coffee, and as long as I can hit this target +/- <10s I get consistent results (as long as the yield is the same).

Nailing the same brew time with a manual pour-over method can be tricky, so it’s important to stick to your recipe closely to hit your target brew time.

It’s a bit different for espresso. Again, I start with a good default recipe and a fixed dose. If necessary, I’ll change yield first to eliminate characteristics of over/under-extraction. If the espresso is weak I’ll fine up the grind to increase brew time by a few seconds until I am happy with the strength. There is a chance that the espresso will now be a little over-extracted — if so, I’ll decrease yield by about a gram which further increases strength and should correct the over-extraction, but this may not even be necessary.

Essentially, I think of dialling in as a way to find the best of a coffee through the process of elimination. Once extraction faults are eliminated, you tend to find the best that a coffee has to offer. Starting from a familiar recipe and having a systematic approach takes away a lot of guesswork, makes it easier to find the sweet spot quickly, and ultimately means more cups of tasty coffee.

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