Perfect Coffee with a Sowden Softbrew

July 29th, 2014:

The Sowden Softbrew is a very simple manual coffee maker. It uses a ceramic pot to steep coffee in the same manner as steeping tea. The process is a little slower than most coffee makers, but it delivers very good coffee in a manner that is very forgiving for the user. I have fallen in love with mine and use it every day. This is my technique for brewing what I consider to be perfect coffee in the Sowden soft brew.

There are 23 variables that go into a good cup of coffee. 8 of them are covered by the beans themselves and their roast. Most of the others are controlled by the brewing technique. The four components that are most important from a recipe standpoint are pure water, coffee grind size, brew temperature and brew time.

For pure water, many ‘experts’ will tell you to use bottled water because it is the most pure and improves the flavor. While technically true, the effects are small. The difference in flavor between coffee brewed from bottled vs municipal water is negligible. If you need to, filter your water, but bottled water is not necessary.

For the coffee, fresh ground and recently roasted is always the best, but I have made some very good coffee with pre-ground coffee from a bag. This recipe I recommend grinding your coffee just before use on the grinder’s coarsest setting. At the end of the article I’ll list the adjustments for pre-ground coffee.

Last two variables of temperature and time, you will obviously need a thermometer and a timer. A standard meat thermometer goes up above 190F, which will cover the range you need and really, any timer will do. 

To brew coffee, start by grinding about 1/3 of a cup of coffee and set it aside. While grinding, measuring a little over a pint of water (~18 oz) into a kettle and placing it on high heat.  When the water just reaches the boiling point pour it immediately into the Sowden Softbrew and close the lid. Drop the thermometer down the spout of the Sowden and watch the temp drop. When the temperature of the water drops below 200F, pour the water back into the teapot. This will insure that the Sowden is pre-heated, giving you a more consistent brew temperature.

Next you will add the coffee to the Sowden’s brew basket and then check the temperature of the water in the teapot. If it is below 185, re-heat gently until it is just above 190F. Do not re-boil. When the temperature settles to 190F, pour the water slowly into the Sowden insuring that all of the grounds get wet. Give the grounds a single stir to ensure that everything is wet. Too much stirring will cause problems with the brew, so keep it to a stir or two.

Place the top on the Sowden and let the coffee steep for 8 minutes. Pour it immediately into cups and enjoy a robust but mellow cup of coffee.

Now, for those of you with a keen sense of smell that want to take coffee to the next level, let it steep for 5 minutes instead of 8. At that point start smelling the coffee aroma emanating from the spout. If it smells grassy or sour, the coffee needs a little more time. Once it stops smelling sour, it’s perfectly brewed. Pour the coffee immediately into cups. Once it starts to smell bitter, you have gone too far. The coffee will still be awesome, but you may want a pinch of sugar to counter the bitterness.

As promised, here are the recipe changes for pre-ground coffee. I often go this route on weekday mornings when I am just trying to get out the door.  Pre-ground coffee is finer, so a full 1/3 of a cup is going to be a bit on the strong side. Follow the coffee recipe as stated above just reduce the amount of coffee by about 1 tsp. Also, since the grind is finer, it will brew faster, so reduce your brew time from 8 minutes down to about 6.

Happy Brewing!

- Industrial Designer Manager Darwin Keith-Lucas, Goddard Technologies