How to Make Half a Pot of Coffee
Ever notice that just using half the measurements doesn't work? In a drip maker, it shouldn't work. Here's why, and here's how to do it, which if you're throwing away coffee, will save you money and give you better tasting coffee.
You’ve got your favorite automatic drip maker. Your friend drops by, and you decide to offer her a cup. You just had some coffee, and want don’t want to make a full pot.
So, what do you do?
One of the most difficult of the coffee brewing arts is making less than a full batch and getting it to taste the same. I buy some fairly expensive beans. I think it just makes sense to make only what you’re likely to consume. Even reckless celebrities are starting to closet their conspicuous consumption.
If you simply divide the portions in half, it doesn’t work. Only half the water is going to cycle through the machine, which means half the contact time between the water and grounds. Meanwhile, you’ve halved the grounds, so the contact time is even less, due to the water dripping through half the grounds’ bed depth – actually it isn’t half in a V-shaped filter, but it is less nonetheless.
There are several coffee brewers that offer half-batch settings, but none of them is fully satisfactory. Some machines slow the water drip rate into the grounds, but this does very little to help. I’d almost call it a placebo effect. The otherwise stellar Technivorm models allow you to narrow the filter’s bottom exit valve. That’s a good start, but in practice I still found it wanting unless you do more.
The more I have in mind is grinding finer to prolong the contact time and expose more coffee grounds surface to the hot water. How do you achieve this? Trial and error is the best and most reliable way. Let’s start by timing a full batch brew cycle. Hopefully, your brewer makes a full batch of coffee in under six minutes. Let’s take that as a baseline. Now, halve the rations. I bet you’re going to find it’s something like four minutes.
If you want, you can add enough grounds to prolong the contact time, but, since there’s less water to travel through the grounds, you may actually have to add more coffee grounds than it takes to make a full batch. This works against our goal of economizing, doesn’t it?
You simply have to start grinding finer. See what happens after you grind two notches finer. Time the brew cycle. You don’t need to get it to exactly match your full brew cycle’s time, in fact you probably don’t want to. Remember, by grinding finer, you are exposing more grounds surface area to the hot water, so you must compensate by reducing the contact time. As an example, I made a full batch in the Technivorm brewer and it took six minutes. I use 65 grams of coffee grounds to 45 ounces of water and grind using a 6.5 setting on a Ditting grinder. To make roughly a half-batch, I use 40 grams of coffee grounds to 27 ounces of water and grind using a 5.5 setting on the same grinder. It is a little more than a half batch but I wanted to establish a simple formula, one I could do in a pinch without thinking too much. Oh, yes, and I use the brewer’s half-batch setting, which closes the filter release valve part way. I spent a few batches experimenting until I got settings that match. I’m confident I can now make smaller batches in the machine without compromising the flavor.
I’m also confident that the valve feature, while helpful, is not critical to the process. If I didn’t have that option, I’d simply grind a half notch finer yet as a start.
Ultimately, you are simply trying to match grind and contact time. But, it takes some experimentation to do this.
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