Making great coffee with bad equipment / by Bryan Hibbard

While I was visiting family over Christmas in California I found myself in a bit of a conundrum. The coffee maker that was available to me was an inexpensive auto-drip machine that made pretty terrible coffee. I had brought my Holiday Blend with me and it came out bitter and dull. So I set out to create a better cup of coffee with what I had available, which led me to this post. What do you do when you want good coffee but you have poor equipment?

I ended up using the auto-drip coffee maker as a pour-over device. It wasn't as good as home, but it came out far better than the machine could do on its own. If you brought some freshly roasted whole bean coffee with you on your trip, or if you had time to stop in and pick up some from a local roaster you are good to go. Here is what to do:

1. Boil good tasting water using a kettle or a pot on the stove.

2. Find a measuring cup with a good spout on it and make sure you practice getting the slowest trickle of water you can with it.

3. Grind the coffee medium-fine to medium. I ended up bringing a small, manual burr grinder with me. But, in a pinch you can grind coffee in a blender. Not the best, but better than pre-ground coffee. We are going for the best possible cup in a space that does not have coffee equipment.

4. Measure out your coffee and water. Two tablespoons of ground coffee is about 9-10 grams which is suitable for 5-6 oz of water (this is where the measuring cup comes in handy), depending on your preferred strength. I like a 15:1 water to coffee ratio.

5. Make sure the auto-drip machine is off. Follow a normal pour-over method. Add your ground coffee to the filter basket with whatever filters are available. Leave the lid open. Pour a few tablespoons of your boiled water onto the coffee bed to wet the grounds (the bloom phase). Wait 30 seconds and then pour the rest of your measured out water as slowly as possible. Pour in a circular motion moving around the coffee bed and avoiding the sides of the brewing basket.

6. Enjoy!

This method circumvents the three major problems with your average auto-drip machine. 1. You boil the water, so it is hot enough (most machines only get the water to 185 F, which is too low for proper coffee brewing). 2. You control the turbulence on the coffee bed by using your pouring device, you are going to do a better job than the spray head on the machine. 3. Since you are not turning the machine on, it is not using the warming plate. Reheating coffee can destroy awesome coffee flavors really fast.

This is also a great test for those of you who wonder just how well your auto-drip maker is doing and if it is worth investing in some better coffee equipment. Let your machine brew a batch and then make a pour-over batch and compare. Unless your machine is awesome, or you are really bad at getting a slow, steady pour, you should notice a big difference. Happy New Year!