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A word about refractometers and their use in the industry.

If you are unfamiliar, they measure coffee strength and with brewed coffee mass and ground coffee mass
the flavor extraction can be calculated and tracked.

Coffee is all about taste. Hands down, if it doesn't taste good what the numbers say don't matter. This, I believe, is why there is such resistance to the use of instruments (refractometers) to help brew coffee and espresso more consistently. Used purely to brew by numbers (extraction and strength %) they don't necessarily work.


Because if the homework that tracks the ideal flavor profile of the coffee being brewed to the numbers (extraction & strength %) hasn't been done the ideal cup won't be achieved. As an example, I generally enjoy coffee brewed at 19.5% extraction and 1.3% strength which tends to be the sweetest cup. Some amazing coffees are actually dull at those numbers because the sweetness actually flattens out the flavors and nothing really stands out.

Cupping remains THE method of analysis for deciding on the best flavor profile.

Once that profile has been agreed upon it should be analyzed so that that profile can be repeated consistently, day after day, shop to shop. This is where refractometers really shine.

The other main and highly beneficial use of refractometers is to tune the palate to the numbers. In doing this, the user learns the specific difference between an Ethiopia Deri Kochoha at 18, 20 & 22% extraction/1.25, 1.3 & 1.35 strength and a Guatemala Xeucalvitz at the same extraction. It is an excellent objective tool so that coffee professionals can all be on the same page. The fact remains that the palate is a very subjective and highly suggestive analytical tool that changes with personal mood. Numbers do not change at all, which brings up another point for determining flavor profile, multiple opinions. If you are deciding on brewing and roasting profiles by yourself there is a margin of error you will have, namely, your mood. The more trusted people cupping with you the more objectively better the cup profile will be and the numbers will reflect this as well. It is like a computer: good in, good out, garbage in, garbage out.

It comes down to the fact that if you don't know where you are you can't get to where you want to be.