| Lynsey Harley
Find out why your barista is obsessed with scales, and how a even a small purchase can vastly enhance your coffee drinking experience at home.
Everybody knows the recipe by now, put one scoop of ground coffee in a filter or french press and add hot water, drink and enjoy! But we get asked all the time ‘how much is a scoop?’ or ‘if I want to make a cafetiere how many scoops is that?’ The answer to both, is we don’t know.
Scoops are often provided to create a dose that suits a coffee producer’s specific recipe. The trouble with this is that there’s thousands of different coffees available and so many different variables will affect the final taste of your coffee such as your brew method; the equipment you use, the water quality, ambient temperature, etc - it’s almost impossible to guarantee you’ll get the same cup that they’ve tried and tested in their lab. As it’s not a numerical measure, it’s hard to find the right tweak to make your coffee taste great by guessing where your coffee comes up to on the scoop - ‘one scoop’ just isn’t accurate enough!
The solution is simple, it’ll seriously improve your coffee’s performance and open up an entire world of roasters to you… scales.
Before we get into it, I have to admit that I have this conversation with pretty much anybody who brushes past me at an exhibition or when I’m making coffee for friends at home, and as soon as I mention: a) scales and b) brew ratios, they seem to immediately lose interest. Of course they do, it’s boring, we don't want a maths and science lesson all I want to do is make a cup of coffee thanks! But trust me, combine these two simple golden nuggets of info in your home brewing and you’ll have friends and family queuing out the door to try your coffee.
So, why do baristas use scales? Most filter brew methods follow a general rule of thumb that for every 1litre of coffee you want to drink you’ll need to use 60g of ground coffee in your brew. So if the average cup holds roughly 250ml you’ll use somewhere in the region of 15g of ground coffee.
That’s the basic recipe that every barista will usually start with when trying a new filter coffee in their cafe (this doesn’t refer to espresso shots, there the science becomes a little more serious). With this basic recipe you can apply it to pretty any beans you buy, regardless of where they’re from and who’s produced them and by following this formula for every brew, you’ve got a better chance of tasting the subtle differences in flavour and mouth-feel between different coffees.
To apply this formula to your brew you need one essential tool, a set of scales - digital scales to be precise. Why digital and not just a normal set of chef’s scales? Check out a couple of our brew guides and you’ll see why you need the scales to be flat and accurate. Watching someone try to balance a cup and a V60 on a big bouncy set of chef’s scales is probably quite amusing but they aren’t going to tell you if you’re sticking to the right formula every time (probably because there will be coffee all over the kitchen counters and the floor!).
Combining the formula and the scales seems tricky and long-winded at first but it’s easy really and it'll soon become standard practise. Follow the brew method instructions just as you would’ve done with the scoop, but this time chuck the scoop back in the cupboard with the tupperware that never gets used and weigh your coffee before you brew it, remember it’s roughly 15g for one cup or roughly 30g for two.
You’re going to weigh your water too, it's useful to know that 1g is the equivalent to 1ml of water. So if you brew your coffee on the scales you’ll know that 250g is equal to 250ml (that’s your average cup). Remember our brew guides are available online, there’s also tonnes of other brewing videos on Youtube if you really want to get into it.
Now you’ve brewed your coffee how does it taste? Is it any different? More balanced? Maybe you’ve discovered you were being way too generous with the scoop before and your coffee tastes a lot lighter now. The real beauty of using scales is being able to replicate the same recipe every time, so maybe now you can brew five identical batches in a row whereas before you couldn’t find consistency. If it’s a bit weak for your liking maybe add a couple more grams of ground coffee to the next batch, with scales you can make measurable tweaks, this is why baristas swear by them.
Using scales you’ll soon notice that 30g of one coffee can look completely different to 30g of another, plus when you add grind variations into the mix it becomes even more obvious just how greatly weighing with scales trumps weighing by sight.
Hopefully by now you can’t wait to say sayonara to the scoop and get yourself a set of scales. It can be a bit daunting if you enter ‘coffee scales’ on Amazon and see a set of Hario or Brewista scales for £55.00, but don’t worry, you don’t know these just yet, hopefully you will one day but not yet.
Coffee professionals and experienced enthusiasts use scales around this price (and a hell of a lot more expensive) because they need pinnacle accuracy with extra functions to ensure that they create the perfect brew every time, up to 200 times a day.
For a first step even a simple set of digital kitchen scales will suffice, like the Salter Disc Electronic Digital Kitchen Scale available at around £15.00 on Amazon. I’ll be honest, I bought this set a year ago and I still use them with my Chemex in the morning before work, they’ve even outlived a couple of more expensive models.
So there you have it, add some scales and a little maths to your morning brew and you really will taste the difference again and again. Happy brewing!