How to dial in coffee
Recently I developed some easy ways to help my team and myself to keep track of our coffee dial ins, how our coffees behave and when they taste the best.
But let’s start at the beginning.
What does 'dial in' mean?
This term, “dialling in,” is an absolutely necessary step in making a coffee delicious. It simply means finding the ideal variables for a particular coffee and a specific brew method – essentially, creating a recipe to extract and prepare a particular coffee. These variables can include grind size, water temperature, brewing technique, dosing or even the age of the coffee.
To get the best result out of your coffee you do have to consider an awful lot of variables but, when you get it right you can get the best expression out of your brew or espresso!
Why is it so important to dial in your coffee?
Even if your coffee gets dialled in once, it will change a lot during the same day! As the temperature and the moisture in your room changes, so does the coffee. This means that the original recipe you use at the start of the day may not be the best way to prepare the coffee later in the day.
We also shouldn't forget that coffee is a natural product and that hundreds of beans from many different trees are in one bag of coffee. Those beans might be selected and quality controlled but still, they all are just a little bit different and might have different densities or flavour notes.
Checking your taste and the quality of your coffee is fundamental if you want to know what you are actually selling to your customers. Tasting coffee every day (and maybe even multiple times per day) will help you to understand your coffee and how you can manipulate variables and technique to get a certain result, it will improve your pallet and you can give your customers better advice on how to brew certain beans.
How can I taste more efficiently?
To help me keep track of coffees I have tasted, I’ve developed two different ‘dial in sheets’, where you can write down your recipes, your flavour notes and how your coffee develops when it cools down. This is also super important for roasters (link to dial in sheets at the end of this article).
I have been able to review my roast profiles and adjust the roast curves accordingly, as some coffees reveal under or over development only on certain days after roasting.
So what I do is: I taste my roasted filter coffees usually after 5 days after roast (read more about ageing coffee) and my espresso roast usually after 10 days after roast.If you are only just starting with tasting your coffees, please try to taste your coffee each day after roasting. You will experience how important degassing is for a coffee, when certain coffees peak, and how the ageing of coffee can vary between process, packaging and roaster.
For example: in Australia I had the pleasure to work for ONA Coffee, a world-renowned coffee company that is ground-breaking in taste testing and flavour research. I found that a lot of their coffees used to have an ageing time of between 7 and 15 days until they 'peaked'. However, back in Germany with a completely different roaster (Loring instead of Giesen) I've found that the ideal degassing times have nearly doubled. Most of the coffees we roast at Röststätte have their perfect age earliest at day 13 (Filter roast).
Using the dial in sheets
Start with a recipe that you are quite used to. Keep in mind that some natural coffees need less temperature that washed coffees, that lighter roasts can handle more heat that dark roasts and that very fresh coffees might need a longer blooming phase that others.
I will give you the following example for filter coffee:
Let's say I am using a filter coffee thats 15 days old. I could add this information and the name of the coffee with the date and number of the roast batch on the top.
I will use 20g of coffee on 300 ml water with 92 degrees, 29 clicks on a Comandante grinder (just as an example) and I will use 35 sec of blooming. My pours will be in five 60g intervals of water ( also, just as an example) and my time in total will be 3:30 minutes.
I want to see how the coffee develops as it cools down so I can write down all the flavours I get directly after brewing, then maybe three minutes later and then maybe 7 or 8 minutes later.
Based on my overall taste experience, I can now judge this coffee. Maybe the acidity is quite high and sweetness can be improved. Now having all of this information written down, I can: (i) start changing my variables one by one (never change more than one at a time as this will make it impossible to trace back which change actually lead to a certain result), or; (ii) use this chart to monitor how my coffee behaves over time. I use it for both, in order to find the best recipe and on the other hand to keep track of roast profiles and dates.
Let's do another example with an espresso roast:
Let’s say I am dialling in an espresso thats 22 days old. I can write down the process, batch number and details about the coffee over the top of the chart:
I am using 18g in a 18g basket and am extracting 36g out in 26 seconds.
My sweetness in medium, acid high, bitterness medium.
Flavours of blood orange and chocolate and jasmine (just as an example)
My texture is medium low, my weight is also a little bit under medium and the finish is medium to medium high.
It's not bad, but I want the acidity to go down a little bit. What I could do now is: updose (add more coffee to the dose), OR pre infuse, OR higher temperature, OR finer grind, etc
(Remember to only change one variable at a time!) Now, you can monitor how your taste will change and how your variables will shift over time.
What's the conclusion?
Tasting your coffees and understanding how to adjust and change flavour are the most important tools to offer better coffee. Developing these skills will not only educate yourself and your staff, but in the long term also your customers as they will experience a better service by people that really know what they are talking about.
At Röststätte we are dialling in our bar coffees all together with all the staff members every morning and together we discuss flavours and write them down. To give a better service to our customers that buy our beans, we taste test all of our coffee at least every day for a whole month before releasing a new coffee, so we can provide the best brewing recipes and the most accurate flavour descriptions.
To help you become better at monitoring your dial ins, I have attached both dial in sheets to this article - please share them with every coffee enthusiast you know!
I hope this article was useful and you have enjoyed reading it. If you have any questions or suggestions, please don’t hesitate to contact me.
Happy brewing! Nicole