Mike Murphy loves the ritual of the Chemex; it’s a reminder of the importance of slowing down. Photo: Josh Griggs

How to make the perfect plunger coffee: A guide to lockdown brews

Mike Murphy and his team from Kōkako Organic Coffee were planning on opening their flagship coffee bar at Commercial Bay last Saturday -  a project three years in the making. With the country now in lockdown instead, we talk to Mike about how to make the perfect at-home plunger coffee, what his favourite brewing method is and how in the world can we make a cafe-style flat white?

Note: You can't get coffee delivered to you directly during Level-4 lockdown, but you are still able to buy many of your favourite coffee beans, including Kōkako, at select retailers (like supermarkets and Farro).

Metro: What are some of your general tips to getting a good home brew?

Mike: 1. Use high-quality, freshly ground coffee beans and filtered water for the best results.

2. For any size of plunger, start with a 1:15 coffee-to-water ratio.

3. To achieve a full flavour expression of the coffee, decant it immediately after brewing so it doesn’t become bitter or chalky.

4. For a cleaner cup, skim the surface of the brew with a spoon to remove the crust before plunging. Lowering the plunger with minimal pressure creates the best results – excessive force can cause scalding liquid to shoot out the spout.

If someone wanted to graduate from the plunger, what’s the next step – what should they be considering when looking for another method to invest in?

It depends on how you consume coffee in your home, how many people you are brewing for and how much time you have to brew your coffee. For a cleaner cup of coffee, gravity fed brew methods such as Chemex and V60 Dripper work really well – you can either use paper filters or organic cotton filters if you want to eliminate waste. For a single cup, the V60 dripper is best and for 2 to 3 cups we’d suggest a 6-cup Chemex (which you can purchase at Farro Fresh). If you are into single-origin coffees and prefer to be able to taste the subtle nuances of the coffee, then a gravity fed filter method like these is best; but for most coffee blends a well made plunger will certainly do the trick.

 And so is the (very expensive) Moccamaster worth it?

Totally! I’ve tried having a single group espresso machine at home and it just didn’t work for me. The Technivorm Moccamaster is a relatively low-cost investment that produces consistently clean cups of coffee in only a few minutes. You can brew from 1 to 4 cups of filter coffee and it’s great for families and larger groups.

 What is the best way to make a home brew closest to, say, a flat white from a cafe?  

You can make espresso-like-coffee (similar to a Long Black) from an Aeropress by using fine ground coffee; put a small amount of boiling hot water into the Aeropress and plunge it as hard as you can. You can make a flat-white style coffee at home, but it takes patience and practice.

We found this online so please excuse the music!

What’s your favourite home-brew method and why?

I love the ritual of the Chemex; it’s a reminder of the importance of slowing down - but that feels like every day at the moment. Using a Chemex is like being part of the slow-food movement; from weighing out the beans, to grinding them in a hand grinder, rinsing the filter with hot water, then slowing pouring the water over the ground coffee to see it bloom; it all makes for an immersive experience; then you get to enjoy it afterwards!

Here’s our recommendation for brewing Chemex at home...

Kōkako Brew Guide for 6 Cup Chemex

You will need

6 Cup Chemex
Chemex 6-8 Cup Filter
Adjustable burr grinder
Programmable water boiler or kettle
Pour-over kettle
29g fresh Kōkako Coffee
500ml fresh, filtered water, and additional water for rinsing your paper filter

Bring the water to the boil then allow it to stand for 30 seconds. This will give you the ideal brewing temperature of 96°C.

Open the Chemex filter into a cone and place it into the Chemex. Place the thicker, multi-layered side of the filter against the pouring spout.

Rinse the filter with plenty of hot water. This preheats the Chemex and also ensures any flavours from the new filter paper are flushed out before the coffee is brewed. Leave the filter in place and discard this water.

Grind your coffee to a medium-coarse grind and add it to the filter. Place your Chemex on your scales and tare to zero.

Pour over a small amount of water (around 100g), just enough to saturate the grinds. This will initiate the “bloom” period. Start the timer from the moment the water hits the coffee, and allow the coffee to bloom for around 30 seconds.

Continue pouring in a circular motion avoiding the sides of the Chemex filter. Keep a close eye on the scales, and add around 100g of water on each pour in 10-20 second intervals up to a total of 500g.

Brewing time should ideally be around four and a half minutes. Once all the water has filtered through, remove the filter and place in the compost. Your coffee is now ready to enjoy.

On their regular trips to visit coffee cooperatives in Papua New Guinea Kokako brew coffee with a plunger, often sharing coffee with farmers who have never even tasted the fruits of their labour. This is pictured on a 2018 trip, to the Unen Choit Coffee Cooperative in Papua New Guinea with Chairman Molock Terry. Photo: Josh Griggs

And for those wanting a step-by-step guide on a perfect plunger, here you go:

Kōkako Brew guide for the perfect Plunger Coffee

You will need

3 Cup Plunger
Adjustable burr grinder
Programmable water boiler or kettle
20g fresh coffee
300ml fresh filtered water, plus extra water to preheat French Press

Bring the water to the boil, remove the plunger and preheat the chamber.

Weigh out 20g of fresh coffee and grind on a coarse setting (bread crumb size).

Decant the water from the chamber, and add the ground coffee. Then gently pour 40g water onto your grounds. Stir the slurry and leave for 30 seconds – the coffee grinds will start to ‘bloom’.

Pour the remaining water and place the lid gently on top of the grounds. Let the coffee steep for 3 and a half minutes.

Gently remove the plunger from the scale, then hold the flask firmly and press the plunger down using only the weight of your hand.

Once the plunger is fully compressed, turn the lid to open the spout and pour away!

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