I am a numbers and statistics kind of guy. I like to keep records, measure and tweak things. Procedural inconsistencies, especially when it comes to coffee brewing, bother me. I like to have processes in place that help me to consistently produce the same cup of coffee (And then incrementally change things to improve that cup of coffee). Besides upgrading to a quality burr grinder, using a digital scale when brewing is one of the best ways to keep some key variables consistent.
I know that there are some free spirit coffee brewers out there that don’t want to shackle themselves to an experience that is more like a science experiment than their usual calming manual coffee brewing ritual. I’m okay with that. If you want to keep your brewing process organic and free from measuring and controlling all the details, a digital scale might not be for you. For the rest of us, a digital scale is an inexpensive addition to your brewing gear that can really help you dial in your ratios and processes.
What is the big deal with using a scale anyways
At first glance, most people would assume that using a digital gram scale to assist with brewing your coffee is fanatical and a little crazy. That is the general response I can expect when someone asks me a question about dosage and I tell them I normally brew my coffee by weight not volume. In the grand scheme of things, you can brew a great cup of coffee without a scale. It is harder to brew two great cups of coffee in a row sans a scale and much harder to brew fifty great cups of coffee in a row without a scale. Did I mention that I like consistency?
I tested and compared two whole bean coffees by volume and by weight. One of the coffees was a fairly dark roasted store bought blend. The other coffee was a light roasted single origin home roast. I weighed eight tablespoons of each coffee and was actually pretty surprised at how different the weights were. The store bought dark roast weighed 31 grams and the home roasted coffee weighed 41 grams. That means, if you are measuring by volume, your dosage could be off by as much as 32%!
The difference in measuring water by weight or volume is less of an issue but I think that weighing it adds simplicity and it also takes away the temptation to just “eyeball” it.
How to brew with a digital gram scale
If you are unfamiliar with manual drip brewing, you may want to refer to one of my previous post, Drip Brewing 101.
It is more of a hassle to measure water by volume for brewing. If you are going to be brewing via the drip brew method for example, the process is more complicated. Let’s say you need two cups of water for your brew. You will need to measure two cups of water in a kettle and boil the water. What if you want to pre-rinse the filter and preheat the gear? You could boil some water for rinse and then boil the two cups for the brewing afterwards or you could boil one cup extra and measure one cup after it boils for rinsing. You could also boil a full kettle of water, rinse the filter, and then measure two cups into a separate vessel and brew your coffee (This could cool your water below the ideal 200 – 205 degree fahrenheit recommended for brewing). Are you confused yet? There is a better way.
Brewing on a digital gram scale is much simpler. If you would like to brew the same manual drip brew as above, the process is much simpler.
- Fill your kettle up with water and boil the water
- Pre-rinse the filter from the kettle and dump the pre-rinse water
- Put the brewing gear with mug on the scale
- Place your coffee in the drip brewer (when brewing by weigh, I recommend staying between a 1:16 and a 1:20 coffee to water ratio. Start at 1:17 and adjust to your liking)
- Tare your scale and pour enough water in the drip brewer to wet the grounds. Let it bloom for 45 – 60 seconds.
- Slowly pour water into the brewer until you reach your target water weight
- Let the water finish passing through the grounds and enjoy!
Important features to look for
While you don’t need to spend a ton of money to receive the benefits of a digital scale, it helps to look for a few features that make your manual brewing life easier.
- A digital gram scale with at least 1 gram accuracy- It should go with out saying but make sure you are getting a digital scale. You also want to make sure that it is at least accurate to one gram (More accuracy is better).
- A long idle time before it shuts off- Nothing is more frustrating than having your scale turn off while you are blooming the ground or in the middle of your brew. Look for a scale that stays on for one or two minutes before shutting down.
- Water resistant and easy to clean- You are going to be pouring water into a vessel on this scale and occasionally spilling water or coffee on it. You don’t want a scale that is going to break the first time a little water get on it.
- Display updates quickly- If there is significant lag in the digital display, it is hard to get your water weight accurate.
- Big enough surface for your brewing equipment to fit on- Make sure that the weighing platform is large enough for all of your equipment to fit onto.
I use a very inexpensive and low budget scale that is no longer in production. This scale is a great cheapo scale and has served me well. It is lacking on some of the features I recommend above. If money is an issue, you can really start with a 15 dollar scale and see a difference.
I have not personally used any of the scales that are currently popular so it is hard to give an experienced recommendation. I would start by looking at the Hario Pour Over Scale and the Escali Pico HP PR500s Scale. Do your research and read some of the good and bad reviews. I just discovered the Acacia Pearl Scale the other day. I don’t know much about it but I am intrigued. It seems to be a little on the expensive side but it looks pretty amazing. If you have any experience with it, let me know.
Do you have a particular scale that you have had used and would recommend? Please leave a comment if you have a tip or some advice to share.