By June 16, 2010 Read Article

Those Little Scoops

How many of you measure coffee using a tiny scoop that came with your coffee maker? Maybe things are different around an august group of coffee aficionados, but I just returned from a weekend retreat and all I could find was a subminiature spoon. I resisted the urge to remove it from my hosts’ residence for evaluation, but I suspect it measured between 5 and 7 grams of coffee.

This let me to a topic that’s made measuring problematic for many of us just-awakened people trying to just make a fresh batch of coffee: How to measure.

The classic coffee scoop is 10 grams. Sometimes it’s labeled a coffee measure. It is, volumetrically two tablespoons. This works out pretty well for a 6 ounce cup of coffee. What I think happened is the influx of foreign products into the US. I’m talking German and Dutch ones mostly – this was before our current overwhelmingly Chinese product invasion. The European brewers measured their cups in metric, which added enough confusion, but they were smaller besides, roughly 5 ounce cups. This threw everything off. It also gave them a perceived value advantage, in that it gave comparison shoppers the illusion that they had greater capacity, which of course they didn’t. But, a casual consumer reaching to grab a last-minute wedding present would see a Braun coffee brewer that claimed 10 cups next to a Mr. Coffee that claimed only 8. Although only 2 ounces apart, the consumers started picking up the European-source brewers, at least that’s what the appliance industry reckoned. The last hold-out was Bunn, who only changed their cup markings a few years ago, after paying the price in the volume sweepstakes for more than twenty years.

Now consumers, never wanting to think too much about a detail like measuring, started receiving downsized measuring scoops. The canned coffee industry didn’t help things, because concurrently, perhaps in response to the market confusion, took the old corporate number 7 response and started imprinting the nebulous “use more or less according to taste”. I recall a local Chicago brand, Stewarts, who claimed their coffee was so much more flavorful that their tiny supplied spoon allowed you to measure less and still result in great tasting coffee.

When I began my coffee connoisseurship, I was so confused, in desperation I finally bought a cheap diet scale and started weighing my grounds. In fact, that’s my preferred method to this day. First, I think it’s more accurate, and that’s confirmed each time I measure, as I use a 2-tablespoon scoop and find it can vary a bit. Second, it allows me to measure accurately before I grind, reducing waste.

But, there I was, with a non-standard scoop, early in the morning in my friend’s kitchen, faced with the prospect of brewing some wonderful beans I’d brought with me. I even brought a Chemex coffee maker along, but alas no scale, or for that matter, no standardized scoop.

I quickly did some quick conversions in my head. I figured the scoop to be 6 or 7 grams, and the Chemex I brought took 50 grams per pot (It holds 30 ounces of water). I used 7 scoops. It turned out just okay. It was an Alterra Coffee Sumatra Mandheling, and I know the coffee – it could have been better.

Next time, I bring a scale. But, what would you do? How do you measure? Do you know what size scoop you have? Anyone challenge the 10 grams/2 tablespoons per 6 oz cup formula? How much do you use? Also, a number of brewers have confusing cup measurements (Technivorm is one, using 4.5 ounce cups). Does this throw anyone off?

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