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How to: fix your V60 coffee brewing problems

Having supplied his favourite V60 recipe, home-brew wizard James Wise has answered your most common V60 brewing problems as part of our Brew Better series. 
My coffee tastes bad, what’s gone wrong?

The taste of your coffee can be affected several things - the amount of coffee you’re using, the amount of water you’re putting in, the temperature of your water, the grind size of your coffee, the brew time, the quantity you’re making; these can all affect the taste of what you’re pulling out.

It’s best to use one recipe and stick to it as much as possible, then work from a sensory perspective to identify what variables need changing - does your coffee taste too bitter? Salty? Sour? Too weak? Too intense? This recipe I put together is a good place to start and should give you a decent cup using most coffees.

When you are brewing at home it often isn’t feasible to fine-tune all these elements – but if you can’t adjust the grind size of your coffee for example, you can still manipulate the temperature of your water, the dose, or your water to coffee ratio.  

How does temperature affect my brew?        

The temperature of the water can affect the taste of your coffee a lot. Different temperatures will pull out different flavours and affect the V60’s brew time too. If you’re using a kettle at home, chances are it won’t have a temperature display though so you do have to rely on guestimation and the sensory angle.

How does time affect my brew?

Honestly, time is one of the less important factors in making a good V60. I’d expect to see a two-cup V60 running between 2.5-4 minutes but, saying that, I’ve had really good coffees at eight minutes, and also really good coffees at two minutes. I’d always work from a sensory angle to assess if my coffee is ‘right’ or ‘wrong’, rather than only looking at the time.

Why does my coffee taste so bitter?

Your coffee may also be tasting bitter with a long and unpleasant finish if your V60 is running very slowly (typically anywhere above four minutes would be considered ‘slow’). Bitter coffee can also be an indicator that the temperature of your water is too high.

If you can, grind your coffee a bit coarser. If you can’t adjust the grind size, try using water which is slightly cooler – leave your kettle of the boil for a while longer before pouring it.

Why does my coffee tastes sour?

If your coffee tastes sour or salty with a very quick finish, your water might not be hot enough - leave less time after your kettle has boiled before starting to pour it or, if you can, grind your coffee finer.  

How do I stop the coffee grounds rising up the sides of my V60?

If you have large grinds stuck up the sides of your V60 it will have stopped your coffee extracting evenly. This means that your cup will be a mishmash of over and under-extracted flavours.

Pour your water as slowly as possible, then gently go around the top of the water-level of your V60 with a stirrer in a circle. Avoid agitating the grinds towards the bottom of the brewer, but encourage them to keep moving as the water passes through. You can also give the brewer a gentle rotation after you've completed your pour, which will level out the coffee bed and clear any coffee grounds from the sides.

It's also worth looking at your technique - a wide-pouring kettle is not good at pouring slowly, so you could invest in something a little more precise like a milk jug. 

I reckon I’ve sussed the V60. What can I try next?

Think you’ve mastered the technique of the V60? If you’ve got it to the point where you can make tasty coffee every time, there’s still a few things you can do to fine tune it – try playing around with the recipe, make it stronger or weaker - both have positives to them. Weaker coffee is more accessible to the palate and will help you pick up some more subtle flavours. Make it more intense and you’ll highlight some of the bolder flavours in the cup. You could buy a grinder and start to explore how grind size affects your extraction.

The answer to ‘what next?’ depends on what your goal is. If you’re looking to get better at understanding coffee and the available tastes that coffee has, I would suggest sticking with the V60. Now that you can produce a good cup most times, play around with different coffees, explore different origins, regions and processing methods. You can figure out what your preferences are and the flavours you enjoy.

If you’re looking to explore different brew methods, I would recommend trying a Kalita next. It’s similar to the V60 in how it works, but has a flat bed. It will be the most intuitive to use after the V60.

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