While brewing a great cup of coffee is relatively straightforward if you have a good starting point, it can, like many things in life, be taken to great lengths in search of perfection. Magnus does just that.
We caught up with Magnus a while ago to ask him about his approach to brewing coffee.
How do you approach a new coffee you haven’t tasted or brewed previously?
This is an interesting question. I regard every meeting with a new coffee as a continuous process that involves several stages. All baristas have their methods when it comes to brewing, but I think it is very important to put these methods away in the first stage, which I consider a more experimental phase. The reason I feel this is important is because I think we sometimes get too hung up in certain brew recipes, methods or theories, and apply them to all the new coffees that come to our table. If you are using good coffee and good methods, this will generally result in good cups of coffee, but it will almost never result in truly outstanding cups of coffee.
The first thing I do with a new coffee is to cup it [an internally standardised evaluation method; read more], preferrably several times, with or without other coffees on the table, and with or without other people (and opinions) present.
I think it is important to have the notes and thoughts from the cupping with you to the brewing process. I then usually try a lot of different methods, and cup these blindly, to see what I immediately like the best for that specific coffee. After this, I begin to fine-tune my chosen method, and find out what extraction time I want, how much coffee I want to use, what grind to use, what temperature of the water is best. Again blind cup my different brews, constantly measuring TDS and extraction rate [using a refractometer, such as the ExtractMojo; TDS is short for “total dissolved solids”] to see which parameters I like the best for the specific coffee.
There are of course many ways of going about this, but for my part I find that being methodic about being experimental and general at first, and then getting very specific works best for me.
Short version: Cup, brew, tweak, cup, brew, tweak, and repeat. While doing this, I try to be conscious of what I want to highlight in the coffee, and how I want the coffee to appear in the cup.
What is your preferred brewing method?
My favourite brewing method these days is the Hario v60 1-cup. Seemingly easy to handle, but actually quite hard to really nail in my opinion. I generally like paper-filtered brews. I am also weak for the Aeropress, since I feel it leaves you with more control of the process (gravity can be sneaky sometimes!). The reason I like paper-filtered brews so much is that I truly appreciate a clean cup.
For any given coffee, will there be aspects of it (strengths, if you will) you will try to enhance, and perhaps tone down others? How do you go about doing so?
There are always aspects I try to enhance, usually aromas and descriptors that I carry over to the brewing from the cupping rounds. As for how I do it, I just experiment and try different methods and ratios until I really hit the profile that I remembered and loved from the cupping phase.
Do you experiment with water qualities and formulations, or stick to the local water as a benchmark that can be reproduced by customers?
I have experimented with different kinds of water, but I find myself returning to unfiltered tap water again and again. We are blessed with great water for coffee-making in Norway!
How do you tweak your methods as the coffee grows older?
Regarding this, once again with the cupping! It is very important to cup the coffee weekly (or daily) to keep track of the inevitable changes that will occur as the coffee ages. Then repeat the experimental stage in a smaller scale, with regards to the brewing. I normally only make very small tweaks at this point, like going up or down half a gram on the dosing, or adjusting the grinder just a smidge. Also, for pourovers, I might consider pouring faster/slower/differently. This can have a huge impact.
As a general rule, I try to avoid past crop coffee [green, unroasted beans that are past their prime]. That’s why I also appreciate it when roasters buy small batches of green coffee – sometimes they never get the chance to get old.
What are some of your favourite coffee origins?
A great Guatemalan coffee like some of the lots that Las Macadamia/El injerto have produced, Kenyans from Nyeri, and clean, natural Brazilians – they exist! [“natural” refers to the processing method of the coffee (left for a time with the cherry on after harvesting). This normally causes varying degrees of fermentation, leading to less of a “clean cup” – a technical, but descriptive, term in coffee evaluation]
Competition season here in Norway is in full bloom, and I am really getting psyched for the Norwegian nationals. I am also very excited to see what people will do for this years brewers cup here in Norway!
Magnus Hoem Iversen is on twitter as @Strangebelieve.
Check out our How Do You Brew interview with Tumi Ferrer, 2011 Icelandic Barista Champion and current team member!