Dialing in Pourover Coffee with Educator Charles Babinski

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Coffee Los Angeles

Intelligentsia employs multiple brewing methods, including Cafe Solo, Hario V60, and Siphon.

Every morning, a ritual takes place at top coffeehouses that customers rarely see, since it initially occurs before the shops even open. This is the act of “dialing in” coffee, optimizing the grind and dose for each available brew method. On October 28, Intelligentsia Coffee welcomed coffee farmers from more than a dozen coffee producing countries to their Extraordinary Coffee Workshop, and employees increased their understanding of how their beans are presented to the public in consumer environments. That process included a demonstration and explanation from Intelligentsia Venice Educator Charles Babinski on dialing in three pourover brewing methods: Hario V60, Cafe Solo and Siphon.

What are the different brewing methods that you’re demonstrating today?

Eva Solo, which is sort of like a simplified French press. There’s no filter, just the metal one. Really rich, really thick.

The second one’s a V60. This is going to be a good balanced cup, paper filtration.

The third one’s the siphon. Sort of through our own experience, we have an idea of which coffees will work best with which method. This siphon’s going to get a really clean cup, brighter body, really nice articulation of acidity and sweetness. Kenyas, just because they have good acidity, nice complexity, works great with the siphon.

The Maravilla is incredibly well structured and it’s super delicious, great for the V60. And then the Ethiopia, in the Café Solo, the floral qualities of it will balance out with the darker body that brewing method can do.

When a person comes in, in the morning, the first thing they need to do is set up the dialing procedure. The way we do the dialing procedure is pretty simple. We set up a cupping, and alongside the cupping, we do a brew of each one.

Each one?

One brew for each coffee. We sort of narrow it down that the Kenya will be a good siphon, and that the Guatemala will be a good V60. We’ve got the cupping, which is sort of our standardized way of tasting. It’s going to give us a sense of what the quality of the coffee is without the effects of manual brewing. Then we’re tasting it alongside our default specs for it.

If you brewed the same coffee using each method, they’d be similar, but there would be differences just from how the brewer worked. Like the Café Solo is just going to be really rich, really sooty, maybe the acidity is a little bit rampant in the Café Solo, but in a siphon it’s just going to be kept back.

Who gets to do this at the café?

The opening barista…

We’re going to brew them all at the same time, and when it’s all over, when it’s all brewed, we taste the coffees.

Writer: What sort variables do you change?

That’s something we’re learning a lot about, what’s best. Traditionally it’s dose and grind, but more and more, I feel like changing the amount of water that you use it’s a gentler hand on the overall extraction. Say we have a cupping, and the cupping’s totally delicious, but the brewed coffee is just kind of flat, it’s obviously something with how we brewed it, so in the morning the barista would say, “Okay, well, how do I fix it? Do I need to extract more? Do I need to extract less? Do I need to put it into a completely different brewer, because it’s just not working?” These are kind of the types of decisions we make every morning.

Coffee Los Angeles

Intelligentsia educator Charles Babinski demonstrated how to dial in pourover coffee.

How much training do baristas receive before they’re allowed to dial in the coffee?

There’s basically a test. Somebody will practice it three or four times and do the test, and if they pass, they’re golden.

How many grams of water do you use for the siphon?


Do a lot of people order siphon?

Yeah, when we have it, a lot of people order it. People love the siphon.

You know, we’re dealing with absolutely delicious coffee, so unless we’re messing it up, it usually tastes really good, but just being able to come in every morning and taste the coffee and taste what we do as baristas, it’s just incredibly educational. There’s nothing better in the morning, it’s nice and mellow and you just get to enjoy the coffee.

So this is right before you open for business?


How many grams of water do you like to use for V60?

Probably about 415, 420. A lot of that just has to do with the size that we’re using.

[Babinski stirs the grinds in the Hario V60]

You’re stirring the grinds?

It’s something that some of us do, some of us don’t. I like doing it for saturation. People worry that the agitation affects the extraction too. It’s one of those fun, interesting coffee arguments. When we all get together, we just kind of argue.

So there’s no company standard that you have to adhere to?

There is, but people keep pushing it as they find ways…One of the conversations we’re having as baristas is, “What is the best way to make coffee?” Down to the small details. There are arguments about, “Should we pour this fast or this slow?” Or should we use this much water or that much water? Ultimately, when you take a step back, it’s all really, really tasty. We’re just arguing about that small difference.

[Intelligentsia Pasadena has two water towers, two temperatures]

181 or 211?

211 is for coffee and 181 is for tea.

What do you think of people who brew the siphon with the grinds before the water rises?

That’s sort of the standard. I just wanted to make sure the water’s the right temperature before I start. One of the things that makes the siphon interesting, here we’re using water that’s 203 degrees before it goes in, but it’s just cooling down the whole time. With the siphon, you’ve got relative surety…It’s a little bit of vapor pressure, and a lot of it is just the fact that you’re brewing at a hotter temperature than normal.

[The siphon finishes brewing]

So we’ve got the siphon all brewed up. We have the V60 of the Maravilla ready. We only have to do the Café Solo of the Ethiopia and hopefully we’ll be ready to taste. Realistically, we started the cupping seven minutes ago. We need to get all the brewing done within 15, 16 minutes before we start tasting it.

Man: Would you say your cupping cups are your standard or a reference point?

It’s a reference point. That’s an interesting argument. Is it ideal to go with the full manual? Honestly, some days you go in, all the cuppings are better than the brews, and some days, all the brews are better than the cuppings. I’m aiming for just delicious coffee.

Café Solo, what’s the number of grams?

35 grams of coffee, 575 grams of water.

Are you using the same grinds on all these coffees?

No, different grinds…The V60 and the siphon are going to be on the finer side. Café Solo is coarser for a few reasons. There’s a longer contact time with water on the coffee. We don’t want to stay too fine or it’s going to over-extract. We know if it over-extracts, the sweetness flattens out, it gets ashy, it just won’t have the same pop to it. We also need a coarser grind because Café Solo, we’re not filtered. We don’t have a paper filter like a siphon or a V60, so the more fine particles we have, the more fine particles we have in the cup. I find sometimes I’ll brew Café Solo where I’ll filter it, and I’ll generally use a finer grind for that.

Man: Is there such a thing as a perfect cup of coffee?

Absolutely not. No. I don’t think so. There are so many different amazing cups of coffee that you could have out there that arguing over the perfect one…That happens, but that’s as much about the place and time as anything. You can have the signs say, if you extract this way, and you extract this much, it’s this concentrated, it’s going to be the most sweet. 90% of the people are going to prefer it, but some of the best cups of coffee I’ve had have been outside of that, and they’ve been interesting. It’s more that they’ve shown me something about coffee that I never could appreciate before. The perfect cup of coffee, or the best cup of coffee, is one that open doors.

What was the last cup of coffee that opened a door for you?

I’ve cut down on espresso because I love brewed coffee so much. Espresso wise, I’d gotten bored, but I started playing around this past week with doing single baskets, which is kind of a different way of pulling espresso. You use less coffee. It’s a really different profile. I was pulling Kenyas in the single baskets, and I was just getting these cups that were so weird and so different. They didn’t taste like any espresso I’d ever had. That was the last sort of exciting coffee moment, or epiphany moment, at that.

So is that half the amount of coffee you would normally use?

Yeah, and you’re pulling a shorter shot, so the concentration is not as much. It’s a lighter coffee.

SCAA Executive Director Ric Rhinehart: Single basket?

Single basket.

Rhinehart: So you’ve got a different geometry.

Oh yeah.


Joshua Lurie

Joshua Lurie founded FoodGPS in 2005. Read about him here.

Blog Comments

This was fascinating. I really need to learn more about siphon brewing.

Thanks, TreasureLA. I realized this was all pretty technical info, but glad you enjoyed the article. Charles is highly knowledgeable about coffee, and presents it in a pretty accessible way.

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