Why James Hoffman made me make the worst coffee I’ve ever made.

A month or so ago I was lying in hospital in terrible pain, or floating on a morphine cloud, listening to youtube videos to distract myself. Somehow I fell onto James Hoffman’s videos about coffee. He has a delightfully wry take on coffee, is very expert without being patronising, and has a lovely soothing voice. I added him to my list of man-crushes, including Irving Finkel, and Adam Savage.

Adam Savage ( Gage Skidmore cc-by)
Irving Finkel (Ádám Szedlák – Flickr cc-by)

James Hoffman (Twitter)

Hoffman likes filter coffee. He likes the Aeropress and the Hario v60. Cheap, great ways to make coffee at home. He even likes the little coffee handgrinder I have at home. Confirmation bias a-go-go!

My Mum and Dad liked ‘real coffee’, and had brought a variety of coffee things with them from their travels through Europe and the East in the very early ’60s. A Turkish long handled thing, and a brass coffee handgrinder from Afghanistan, probably make out of a small caliber artillery shell. (Most of them are). I remember 70’s ‘perks’, and an old enamel ‘cowboy coffee’ jug for the simplest of infusions. A Delft windmill wall mounted coffee grinder. What my Dad called a macchinetta, or a Moka Pot, and espresso cups.

It was at the the Otago UBS in the late 80’s I really learned to make coffee though. Being the youngest, and last on at the company, it was my job to make a half dozen cups using something like a v60, and locally ground beans each morning. Our boss, the great Bill Noble, was Canadian, and had brought this tradition with him. God forbid I should not let it bloom, and carefully let it brew. My colleagues could spot a lazily made cup, and soon enough, so could I!

Hario V60. (Hario Corp.)

As the years went on, I picked up a V60 of my own, and eyeballed the coffee and the water. I even got a Chemex, and did the same. I got roasteries to ‘grind for filter’, and virtually all of them scratched their chins and gave me something. In NZ, we only drink espresso. My V60 at work always (still) creates comments and a bit of wonder, and I like to give a spiel about bloom, just so if they get one it doesn’t horribly disappoint.

Hoffman has made a lot of films about how to brew with a filter. He’s no nonsense, clear, and I’ve made the best coffee I’ve ever made since watching them.

So why do I say I made the worst coffee ever? Well, because he encouraged me to experiment. I started with far too fine a grind (bitter, nasty, down the sink). Then far too course (sour, weak, flowed straight in the filter and straight out). Disgusting. I had even broken out my gram scales from the bad old days to get my measurements right.

Small rant about measurements. Wanting to do a coffee cupping with friends I looked up the ratios I should have on line, and got this:

When cupping, the ratio of 8.25 grams (whole bean) coffee (± 0.25 grams), to 5.07 fluid ounces (150 ml) water shall be used


Holy fucking mixed standards, jerkwads. Get with the system! (I know, it just bothers my technical writer’s heart.)

Foul, foul coffee. Then I made an OK one. And slowly dialled my wee handgrinder in. Better. Ohh, for the Ethiopian, let’s try one click coarser…

Now a month later, I’m tasting. I like my coffee. Really like it. James Hoffman has improved my skills, and made every day just a bit brighter. I owe him my thanks, and if he’s ever over this way, and has some time, I’d buy him lunch.

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