czgarrett

Can it possibly matter to steep coffee at 180° F versus boiling?

23 Jan 2011

Abstract

When steeping coffee with a French Press, some claim that the temperature at which steeping begins makes a significant difference in coffee taste. In particular, it is claimed that 180°F is the ideal temperature at which to begin steeping the coffee. To test this, we created two nearly identical pots of coffee, one which began steeping at boiling temperature, and the other at 180°F. We conclude that, indeed coffee steeped at 180°F does taste better.

Introduction

Teresa and I decided to do this experiment because our friends Zach and Penny claimed that they had started steeping their coffee at 180°F and it tasted significantly better. Skeptical, I questioned them as to what kind of controls they had done. They hadn’t done any – they simply started brewing at 180°, and thought it tasted better. Convinced that this was some sort of placebo-like effect, we resolved to prove them wrong.

Teresa and I brewed two pots of coffee at the same time, using identical amounts of water, coffee, and steeping time. The only difference was that we set aside some water for one pot and let it cool to 180°F, while we kept the rest of the water boiling. When the water had cooled, we made the two pots of coffee.

To test the coffee, we labeled four cups of coffee. Two “A” and two “B”. For each preparation method, we tasted a cup of black coffee and a cup of coffee prepared with sugar and cream. To keep the test blind, the final pouring of the coffee into the labeled cups was performed by two assistants who were not tasting. Then the tasters tried each cup of coffee.

After tasting all cups several times in different orders, both tasters separately agreed that cups A had a harsher, bitter flavor, whereas cups B were smoother and more desirable flavors. The assistants then revealed that, cups B were prepared with the coffee brewed at 180°F.

Conclusion

We conclude that coffee which has begun steeping at 180°F is indeed significantly better tasting than coffee which begins steeping at 212°F. We don’t have enough data to verify that this is the “best” temperature at which to begin steeping, but it is significant enough that we will alter our daily preparation method. We would even go so far as to purchase a more expensive kettle that will heat only to 180°F.

Materials and Methods

Acknowledgements

We wish to thank Zach and Penny for inspiration for this experiment, and Ariane and Madeline for their assistance in the laboratory.