37.7 grams or: Use the Force

You might think the problem with precision and consistency in coffee-making is a thoroughly modern issue, what with the rise of nth-wave baristas and single origin heirloom cultivars at the retail level. Then again, Beethoven counted his beans. Sixty? Maybe. Modern baristas might accuse him of inaccuracy since beans vary so much in density and volume. But if you get the same roast level from the same types of beans, it’s not nearly as imprecise as you might think. The differences slowly average out. I bet the gradual balance Beethoven achieved must have been pretty satisfying.

Weighing the beans sure is faster, though. My routine involves an oddly sized French press (or “cafetiere”). It’s smaller than typical Bodum presses, yielding somewhere between 20 and 22 ounces of liquid. For whatever reason, I’ve noticed that it’s possible to use up a 12-ounce bag of high-quality coffee beans with almost exact efficiency. As long as I use 37.7 to 37.8 grams of coffee, I can get through the bag in 9 batches with just a few beans left over.

But that is some odd behavior. People write articles extolling the virtues of various coffee extraction methods because they think it makes better coffee. “A conical burr grinder produces a better quality cup!” “The perfect pH level of water produces a better quality cup!” “Waiting X time for ‘bloom’ produces a better cup!”

Nowhere in there do you ever hear: “Getting through your coffee bag with arbitrary efficiency produces a better quality cup!” But it became one of the central dogmas in my routine.

To complicate matters, the overall trove of coffee has sometimes gotten jumbled up with 16-ounce bags or visitors. My response — not a thoughtful one, just an automatic intuition — has always been to add some extra beans from the bottom of the old bag until I reach equilibrium. You know what, I prefer the stronger coffee. 39 grams is an optimal flavor for me. Even so, 37.7 always eventually wins the day. It’s as though this small addition of ratio brings more rationality to the world. When I was a young kid I would pretend to “use the force” with Lego characters, and now I seem to have found the adult substitute, which is just as embarrassing, useless, and satisfying.

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