The Coffee Control Chart
This is the part of my presentation where Baristas lose focus and eyes glaze over. “Graphs? Numbers? I don’t need those. They’re scary. It’s all about the feels!” they say. Well perk up, because thoroughly understanding the coffee control chart (CCC) and holding it in your mind’s eye is super important for coffee awesomeness.
Note: You don’t need a refractometer to benefit from this information! Not owning a refractometer doesn’t mean the rules don’t apply to you.
The chart above can be overwhelming at first glance, so I’m going to break it down and show you how easy it is to understand.
We have two axes: horizontal is Extraction and vertical is Strength. Extraction is the percentage of the dry coffee mass you dissolved in the water (aka ‘solubles yield’). Strength is the Total Dissolved Solids of the brew (aka TDS%, total dissolved solids or solubles concentration).
Every coffee that has ever been brewed sits somewhere on the CCC. It caters to every combination of strength and extraction. This might seem bleedingly obvious, but it pays to think of the chart as an infinite canvas on which every coffee can be communicated.
Taking a step back from infinite, we get to 99.99% of every coffee ever brewed. Coffee rarely (if ever) exceeds 30% extraction, and brewing espresso above 20%TDS would require the rizziest ristretto ever dared, which leaves us within these bounds.
Zooming in a little further, and we find there are two distinct zones covering the vast majority of coffees.The red zone covers most espressos, and the blue zone covers most drip/filter coffee. When you make americanos, bypass brews or similar they’d sit somewhere between them, in what has been coined the ‘twilight zone’ of TDS.
I also have a ‘zone of deliciousness’ that encompasses an overwhelming majority of coffees I’ve measured that I think are delightful. Notice I’ve thrown in a little extra box between 3.5 and 4.5%TDS – I’m quite partial to an americano diluted to this range.
Various coffee bodies around the world have published their own zones for strength and extraction preference. Just like my own above, these zones don’t necessarily agree with you or your situation. As always, I recommend experimenting with abandon.
Sometimes you’ll see a few lines thrown onto the CCC. These represent the possible combinations of strength and extraction you could achieve from a fixed brewing ratio (40g, 50g, etc. coffee per liter of water). Once you’re working with a set ratio of coffee to water, your potential destinations on CCC are restricted to one of these lines.
This is really useful. Instead of throwing a dart at an infinite canvas of strength and extraction, a brewing ratio can restrict your brew to a two-dimensional line. If we apply my personal zone of deliciousness to the chart, we immediately see that some brewing ratios will never achieve happiness (40-45g), some have very little chance (50 and 70g), while others strike right through the heart (55-65g). It’s with these brewing ratios that I approach nearly every coffee I come across because they’re most likely to succeed.
With drip/filter coffee it’s really easy to navigate the CCC because it’s easy to fix your brewing ratio. Espresso, on the other hand, is much less intuitive. Next week I’ll be detailing some simple methods for navigating the CCC with each brewing method.
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Questions? Hit me up down below.