What is the Ideal Temperature for Making Coffee?

8 min read JUN 22, 2024

Determining the perfect temperature for brewing coffee might seem straightforward at first glance. Still as with many aspects of coffee brewing, it becomes increasingly complex the more you delve into it.

In this exploration we will examine the three predominant methods commonly adopted to answer the elusive question of the 'ideal brewing temperature.' Each approach offers a unique perspective on achieving that perfect cup of coffee. As we navigate these varied methods I will also share my opinion on what constitutes the optimal temperature for coffee brewing.

Three Perspectives on Ideal Coffee Brewing Temperature

The quest for the perfect coffee brewing temperature has developed three primary schools of thought. Each of these theories is grounded in its own logic and has been championed by various coffee experts.

1. Advocating for Boiling Water in Coffee Brewing

This contemporary viewpoint, often associated with Australian coffee expert Matt Perger and echoed by numerous other coffee fans champions a simple yet bold idea:

Theory Explanation:

"Utilize water that is as close to its boiling point as possible."

Rationale Behind Boiling Water Use:

Enhanced Solvency: The hotter the water the more effective it is as a solvent. This means that using hotter water extracts a broader range of flavors from the coffee grounds, leading to a more flavorful cup.

Compensating for Heat Loss: When water is introduced to coffee grounds in a pour-over dripper or a French press, there's an immediate drop in temperature due to heat transfer. This drop is more pronounced with a ceramic cone, owing to its greater thermal mass and less so with a plastic one.

Mitigating Heat Loss: Preheating your brewing device can reduce this temperature drop, but it cannot completely prevent it. Therefore starting with boiling water ensures the brewing temperature remains sufficiently high throughout the process.

Greater Consistency: Boiling water offers a consistent variable. Without the need for a thermocouple you can visibly ascertain the correct temperature, aiding in consistency. This consistency is crucial for replicating successful brews or troubleshooting less successful attempts, as it provides a steady baseline.

2. The Perfect Optimal Temperature Approach for Coffee Brewing

This traditional perspective posits that a singular optimal brewing temperature for coffee exists, a concept that has been a staple in coffee brewing lore for years.

Theory Explanation:

The consensus among many in this camp is that the magic number for brewing coffee is around 200 °F (93.33 °C), though the exact figure may vary slightly depending on whom you consult.

Key Points of this Approach:

Memorability and Convenience: From an American standpoint 200 °F is an easily remembered temperature, making it a convenient benchmark for many.

Avoiding Overheating: A common belief among non-experts is that using water hotter than this threshold "burns" the coffee, adversely affecting its taste. By setting the temperature just a few degrees lower, this supposed burning effect is believed to be avoided.

Questionable Scientific Backing: While the scientific accuracy of these claims might be debatable, consistently brewing coffee at around 200 °F or 93 °C is generally seen as a safe choice, placing you within a favorable range for most brewing methods.

Coffee Maker Standards: Many high-quality coffee machines are designed to heat water to this specific temperature, indicating its widespread acceptance as an effective brewing heat.

Despite its popularity, the question remains: Is 200 °F truly the ideal temperature for brewing coffee? While it's a commonly accepted standard, there's room for debate and exploration about whether this temperature is as universally optimal as it's often portrayed.

3. Adjusting Temperature to Specific Beans and Brew Methods

The third and most nuanced perspective in coffee brewing argues that there is no one-size-fits-all ideal temperature. This approach emphasizes a flexible methodology, adapting the brewing temperature based on various factors.

Theory Explanation:

According to this view, the optimal brewing temperature is not fixed but should be adjusted based on several key factors:

Type of Coffee Bean: Different beans, depending on their origin and characteristics, may require different brewing temperatures.

Degree of Roast: The level of roasting significantly affects the beans' extraction properties.
Chosen Brewing Method: Each brewing method, from French press to pour-over, may benefit from different temperatures.

My Personal Endorsement:

As a proponent of this method, I believe in the importance of considering water temperature as a crucial element in the extraction process. The temperature can significantly influence the range and intensity of flavors extracted from the coffee grounds, and the water's mineral composition further impacts this.

Application of This Approach:

Light Roasts: I usually opt for water temperatures close to boiling for very light roast coffees, which are typically more challenging to extract. This higher temperature helps extract the subtle nuances of these beans more effectively.

Dark and Medium Roasts: Conversely, for darker or medium roasts, I recommend lowering the temperature to around 200 °F (93 °C) or even slightly below. Using near-boiling water for these roasts risks over-extraction, leading to unwanted bitter flavors.

This approach acknowledges the complexity and diversity of coffee and offers a more individualized path to brewing, catering to the unique qualities of each batch of beans and the specifics of the brewing method.

Embracing Temperature Versatility in Coffee Brewing

Exploring the Range of Temperature Options, in Coffee Brewing

The idea of limiting oneself to a temperature when brewing coffee is similar to restricting one's options in the culinary world, where various cooking techniques like simmering, poaching and boiling are employed for different ingredients and recipes.

Examples Highlighting the Benefits of Flexible Temperature Usage;

Let's delve into why adopting a flexible approach to coffee brewing temperatures is advantageous like in cooking.

Case in Point: Cold Brewed Espresso

A year ago I had my first experience with cold brewed espresso. It involves brewing espresso using ice water. At first glance this might seem counterintuitive in terms of flavor quality. However contrary to expectations the lower brewing temperature uncovers a range of flavors that were previously untapped by brewing methods.

Extending the Concept to Other Brews

Let's consider an example of an elongated espresso shot with a 1;18 ratio. With a light roast it would be necessary to adjust the brewing temperature downwards. This adaptation plays a role in achieving the desired balance in the flavor profile of the shot.

By holding onto the belief that water must be either boiling or at an optimal temperature overlooks these scenarios.

Once you start considering these exceptions it becomes clear that the world of coffee brewing is more complex and nuanced. This understanding emphasizes the importance of not being too rigid, about brewing temperatures but rather embracing flexibility to enhance the coffee experience.

The Significance of Brewing Methods in Temperature Selection

The impact of brewing temperatures on coffee quality can be easily observed in competitions such as the World Aeropress Championship. The varying temperatures used by champions throughout the years highlight the significance of adapting brewing temperatures to methods.

Insights from the World Aeropress Championship:

A consistent pattern emerges in these championships; winning temperatures have consistently been below boiling point typically ranging between 75 to 85 °C (167 to 185 °F). This trend was notably deviated from in 2019 by Wendelien van Bunnik from the Netherlands, who claimed victory using a temperature close to the often recommended standard (92°C or 197.6°F) along with highly recommended Aesir filters.

Personalized Temperature Exploration:

The main takeaway is that there is no one size fits all "brewing temperature; it is subjective. Can vary depending on personal preferences and circumstances.

It's worth trying out different temperatures at home to find what works best for your brewing style and the type of coffee beans you prefer.

A Custom Approach to Brewing:

Understanding the importance of temperature in coffee brewing is essential. It's equally important to not be too rigid with following rules or guidelines. Instead discover a brewing temperature that aligns with your taste preferences and the specifics of your brewing method. This custom approach to brewing guarantees a personalized coffee experience.

Frequently Asked Questions(FAQs)

What is the Recommended Temperature Range for Brewing Coffee?

To achieve optimal extraction it's ideal to keep the water temperature between 195 and 205 degrees Fahrenheit while brewing. Water temperatures below this range can result in extracted and flat tasting coffee. On the other hand, hot water may compromise the flavor quality of the coffee, detracting from its overall taste.

Can Boiling Water Negatively Affect Coffee Brewing?

The recommended water temperature for brewing coffee is usually around 202 206 degrees Fahrenheit. Since boiling water exceeds this temperature range, using it directly on coffee grounds if they're not lightly roasted can be too aggressive and potentially harm the flavor profile of the coffee.

Why is Hot Water Preferred for Brewing Coffee?

Hot water is more effective at extracting a range of flavors from coffee beans. However it's important to find the balance because if the water is too hot it can extract bitter flavors. On the other hand, using cooler water for brewing coffee takes a longer time, sometimes several hours to achieve significant flavor extraction.

How does the roast level of coffee beans affect the ideal brewing temperature?

The level of roasting the coffee beans also plays a role in determining the brewing temperature. Light roast beans generally need temperatures close to boiling point to fully bring out their flavors due to their denser and harder structure. Conversely darker roasts are better brewed at lower temperatures (around 195 to 205 degrees Fahrenheit) to avoid extracting too much and causing bitterness.

Does the brewing method influence the water temperature choice?

Different brewing methods also influence the choice of water temperature. For example techniques, like espresso and Aeropress may benefit from higher temperatures because they extract quickly. Pour over and French press methods that have longer extraction times might require lower temperatures to maintain a balanced flavor extraction. Knowing the differences in each brewing technique can assist in choosing the right temperature for achieving a flawless cup of coffee.

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