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How To Make Filter Coffee for a World Championship

How To Make Filter Coffee for a World Championship

Carlos Escobar and the Toby’s team recently came in fourth place at the World Brewers Cup Championship in Milan. We had to be very methodical with our approach when dialing-in the coffee due to the challenges our team faced during the preparation leading up to the championship (hard lockdown in Sydney, shipment delays). Not only did we have a limited supply of coffee, but we were also limited by time.

We’ll go over the methodology we use to develop a coffee recipe and get the most out of a particular coffee in this article. We were looking for perfection as we prepared for the World Championships, so we went down many rabbit holes in search of minor improvements to the coffee. However, we would use the same methodology when brewing any coffee, and there is a lot to learn from this process.

NB: Simon Gautherin, who coached Carlos for the WBrC, won the Australian Aeropress Championship 2021 using the same methodology and framework as described in this article!

But, first and foremost, what exactly is a coffee recipe?

(You can skip to the next paragraph if you’re already familiar with coffee recipes!)

Chefs, bakers, and even bartenders use the concept of recipe extensively in the culinary world. A recipe is a set of instructions for preparing and cooking food. It usually contains a list of ingredients, cooking parameters, step-by-step instructions, and the equipment needed to put everything together.

We also use coffee recipes to provide direction to the person brewing the coffee.

We usually include the amount of coffee and water to use, the extraction time, and instructions for the preparation steps — but in the context of competition, we look at a lot more variables that may sound a little “geeky”, but have a significant impact on the final cup of coffee. 

Before getting started with the brewing…

Before we get into the methodology we used to dial in a competition coffee, we recommend making a plan to maximise the efficiency of your preparation based on the following principles:

  • Take COPIOUS notes and keep meticulous records of your recipes. We entered as much information as possible about each brew we made into a spreadsheet, as well as detailed notes on how the final brew tasted. That information will come in handy in the future if you get lost in a rabbit hole and don’t see much improvement in your cup. It allows you to keep track of your best brew to date and the recipe for it.
  • When tasting your coffee, keep the scoresheet in mind. It doesn’t matter if it’s not the expression of that coffee you prefer because, at the end of the day, the judges, not you, will be drinking it and judging it based on specific characteristics.
  • To avoid any drastic changes on the day, immerse yourself in the conditions in which you will be competing. That is, brew your coffee at the same roast age as on competition day, store it the same way, wait the same amount of time after grinding, rinse your filters the same way, and so on.

Before we go any further, we’d like to point out that while this is the method we chose, there is no right or wrong approach, and we’re simply sharing what worked for us as well as our thoughts on the preparation steps.

How do you come up with a Championship recipe?

The very first thing we did was place an order for some of the best coffees we could find and cup them. On the cupping table, we’re always looking for a coffee’s potential, any positive trait that stands out, and sometimes that means trying to see past a roast that isn’t right for that particular coffee.

The flavour pyramid is a framework we created together that suggests a flavour hierarchy based on our individual preferences (and what we believe would do best on the competition scoresheet). When we talk about a competition coffee’s potential, we’re looking at what Tier 1 flavours it has, even if it has other Tier 4 and Tier 5 flavours, because we know we can hide or highlight them during the roasting and brewing process. 

It’s time to start brewing once we’ve chosen a coffee we like (we leave the roasting to the roasters and usually dial-in with various roast profiles). When dialling-in, you’re always limited by time and/or coffee supply, so there’s only so much you can try, and you have to pick your battles and choose carefully which variables you want to investigate.

This is another framework we developed to determine which variables had the greatest impact on coffee brewing and to determine which variables needed the most attention. We then created a roadmap that we stick to, breaking down each section of the brewing process into a recipe development milestone. 

The following are the 3 milestones:

  • The Core Triangle – this is the heart of your recipe; all variables are interconnected and must make sense when taken together. They’ll mostly affect the coffee’s strength, balance, and overall profile.
    –  Setting for grinding (grind size, type of grinder, particle distribution)
    – The brew ratio (coffee to water)
    – Pattern of pouring (number of pours, quantity of water in each, time in between pours) 

  • The Water Circle – this step feels like tinkering with a dish’s seasoning; we’re trying to improve on something that’s already great. The mineral content will help you highlight specific flavours you’re chasing in the coffee, while the water temperature allows you to play with the acidity and tactile of the coffee. 
    – Temperature of the water
    – Mineral content of water

  • The Punctilious Square – these are the least influential variables, but they’re still worth investigating if you have the time and coffee to do so. At this point, however, avoid falling down a rabbit hole!
    – Brewing apparatus
    – Material / shape filter
    – Drinking vessel

According to the roadmap, we should begin with the triangle and devote the majority of our attention and effort to that section. We keep changing variables inside that shape until we get the desired result, and then we can move on to the next shape. We go in that order because of the importance of the variables within each shape.

For example, if you only have a small amount of coffee, you should definitely investigate variables within the Triangle and Circle, and you could easily skip the Square and still have a great coffee recipe. 

Now, in order to save time and be more efficient, we can draw on our previous experience and knowledge of these variables to provide a more solid starting point. We’ve developed preferences for grind setting, brew ratio, water content, and even brewer type over the years. We start with our personal preferences as a solid foundation and then tweak the recipe from there.

Before we started brewing for the World Championships, we went through the following steps:

  1. Start with a base recipe – whatever you’re used to; we used a 15/230, 3-pour recipe with a course grind setting, 90°C water, a V60, and Hario paper filters.
  2. Have a base water to test all variables against, the mineral content of the water has a significant impact on the final brew, even if we don’t recommend dialling it in from the start. To avoid drastic changes in the Circle, we believe it is best to test Triangle variables with water that is relatively close to what you will end up using. 
  3. Determine what tds or ext % will produce the desired profile; each coffee will have a sweet spot at a different strength and extraction %. We know that for heavily fermented coffees, we prefer lower extraction and lower ads to avoid alcoholic, acetic, and umami flavours. If you keep this in mind, the number of combinations you try during the Triangle phase will be greatly reduced.

We arrived at this recipe path after hundreds of hours of testing variables:

We hope that this Recipe Roadmap will assist many of you in gaining more focus and structure in your recipe development. We’d like to emphasise that there are several valid approaches to dialling coffee; however, this is how we went about it and it worked for us on multiple occasions.

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