The basics of coffee: A simple guide to step up your game

Imbibe Editorial

25 September 2018

With the no/low movement still on the rise and more customers demanding better non-alcoholic options from bars, pubs and restaurants, isn't it time you took your coffee game to the next level? In this handy guide to coffee fundamentals, we lay out the basics of beans, roast, grind and more, so you can brew your guests the perfect cup of caffeine.

All about beans

A good cup of coffee starts with the beans themselves. Arabica and robusta are the two most popular beans used, making up 99% of commercially produced coffee.

Arabica beans are generally considered to produce better tasting coffee. The flavour is softer and sweeter with higher acidity caused by a higher sugar and lipid content.

Robusta beans produce a liquid which is full-bodied, stronger and harsher, containing twice as much caffeine. This type of bean is often used in espresso blends as it produces a richer crema (that's the golden brown froth on top of a shot of espresso, for the espresso illiterate).

The right roast

The way the coffee bean is roasted also affects the flavour, regardless of whether the bean is arabica or robusta. Beans are roasted for varying amounts of time, impacting the way the sugars and fats in the coffee bean degrade and therefore shaping the taste of the liquid in the cup.

A shorter roast time produces a lighter roast, which tends to have a cleaner taste and is more acidic. As the beans absorb heat, they become darker and oils appear on the surface. Darker roasts are less acidic, with a stronger, heavier flavour.

The daily grind

The coarseness of the bean grind is yet another factor that plays into the coffee's taste. If it is too coarse, you'll end up with weak cup of coffee. A finer grind leads to stronger coffee, but if it is too fine it may end up tasting bitter.

The right grind is also determined by the kind of coffee you are preparing. A finer grind is more suitable for espresso, but cafetiere coffee needs a coarser grind, as the flavour is extracted more slowly.

Water ratio

How the coffee is brewed is just as important as the quality of the raw materials themselves. Too much water and the coffee is too weak; too little and it is overly strong and unpalatable. Espresso usually has a ratio of 1:1 to 1:3 coffee to water, while cafetiere coffee has a ratio nearer to 1:18.

For your chosen bean, roast and grind, it is a matter of trial and error to determine the water ratio that will ensure a brew with well-balanced flavours.

Water temperature

The hotter the water, the faster the elements that give coffee its aroma and taste are extracted. Boiling water should never be used – a temperature just off the boil of 91-96°C is ideal. Any colder and the it will taste weak, any hotter and it will be bitter.

Cold-brew coffee, made by steeping grounds in cold water for up to 24 hours, is mellow, sweet and has a lower acidity.


Interested in that sweet spot where coffee and cocktails collide? Read Imbibe's look at coffee-based tipples here

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