You know how in Breaking Bad that chemistry teacher makes the best crystal meth anyone has ever seen? Powerful drug lords and common addicts become obsessed with the stuff. It changes the whole world of meth, and best of all makes for some damn good tv.
You may even remember this scene (no spoilers)…
Making “the best coffee you ever had”? It’s simple chemistry. The right methods, the right equipment and the right ratios of ingredients. Getting these simple things right can be the difference between low grade street quality meth and million dollar amphetamine.
What I guess what I’m saying is… do you want to make coffee as good as Walter White can make meth?
Good chemistry is about good ratios. To get the best possible reaction you need the right amounts of stuff. A small batch of uranium 235 is harmless and useless. Get enough of it however, and it’ll cause a critical mass that creates an explosion capable of destroying entire cities.
Coffee is no different. There are a few keys to making fantastic coffee. A top quality hand or automatic grinder is one. Experimenting to find the optimal conditions is another. A third is being able to monitor those conditions.
The quickest way to doing that is to get a scale. Get one of these in your kitchen and you can be sure of making that 1:14 ratio every time that results in your dream of a Cappuccino. And once you have a coffee scale, you need to check out this.
Interested? Let’s learn more…
NB. In case it isn’t obvious, I do not condone taking drugs or recreating absolutely any aspect of Breaking Bad.
I’ve selected three scales that cover a few different price points. Each one does the job it’s needed for. Measuring coffee and water. You can choose whether the extra money is worth the extra features.
|Ozeri Touch||Hario Scale||Acaia Pearl|
|Best Under $20||Best Under $50||Best At Any Price|
|Precision||nearest 1g||nearest 0.1g||nearest 0.1g|
|Units||g, lbs/oz, fl. oz, ml||g||g, oz|
A few things you should know
Your coffee is bad if you’re not using a scale
If you’re reading this article then you’re probably pretty serious about high quality coffee. At the very least, you’ll be starting the weird and wonderful journey to great, great coffee. But is a scale truly necessary? I’m going to make the case that it is.
Small changes can make a drastic improvement to the taste of the coffee you drink. An extra minute of extraction can turn a sweet, full French Press into a bitter, silty disaster. Not using the correct grind size for a shot of espresso can leave you wondering why you spent 8 minutes preparing a cup of mildly coffee flavored water. Don’t get it right and you’ll be putting up with average coffee, and likely without even realizing it.
One variable that can influence flavor massively is the amount of coffee you use. Too little coffee and it will taste weak and flavorless. Too much and it will taste strong and overpowering. And if the amount of water to coffee is not right then your coffee may not brew properly, underextract or overextract.
Which brings us nicely to the coffee scale.. Get one of these bad boys and in a pinch you’ll see exactly how much coffee you’re using and how much water you’re using. You can adjust the amount up and down until you’ve got that really perfect coffee, you know, the one where you look forward to going to bed at night because the sleep is a shortcut to your next cup. And with a good scale, you can get that exact amount every time. You can even get recipes online that are precise to the nearest gram.
Size / Maximum Weight / Battery Life
What is nice about buying a coffee scale is a lot the information is quantitative – numbers that can be put in to a nice table for you by your favorite coffee website… This one, I mean. Some of this stuff will be obvious, some less so.
Here are the features that every scale in this article will have. Features that I consider essential to a scale that can be used for making fantastic coffee.
Pressing this will allow you to ignore the weight of a container and just measure the contents. So you put your french press or pourover on the scale, press TARE and it will reset to 0 and you can add your coffee and see how much it weighs. Super useful and most electric scales have it.
Measures in grams.
Grams are a very small unit of measurement, 1 ounce is about 29 grams. This precision – and that a gram is the same as a millilitre of water – is perfect for measuring coffee and water. Also, most online recipes will use grams as well.
Here are a few features that are not necessary for making fantastic coffee, but may be useful or make the process easier. The best scale for coffee will include all these/
Measurement precision to 0.1g.
If you’re new to this then a scale that measures to the nearest 1g is fine. This level of precision gives you enough information to reliably get an excellent cup of coffee. It does have issues though. Measuring to the nearest gram means you are up to 0.5g out. So if you’re really going for perfect then I’d recommend a precision of 0.1g.
A timer on your scale is not necessary. We all have smartphones now. But it is convenient. Either way, I would recommend you are using a timer for methods where it is useful such as a french press or Aeropress.
Here’s another one that is purely convenience. Do you mind the 1-2 seconds the scale takes to measure your coffee? Or would you prefer a lightning fast readout of the weight?
Best under $20: Ozeri Touch
|Size||9″ x 6″|
|Battery Life||6-9 months|
|Batteries||Lithium 3V CR2032|
|Maximum Weight||12lbs (5750g)|
|Units||g, lbs/oz, fl. oz, ml|
The Ozeri Touch is a really nice looking scale. It’s made with a tempered glass surface which Ozeri claims is ‘4 times stronger than normal glass’. The black design looks modern and sleek and it’s available in numerous other colors.
It’s a simple design with only two buttons. The first is ‘Unit’ where you can change between grams, pounds and ounces, fluid ounces or millilitres. The second is the ‘Tare’ function which resets the weight, ignoring whatever is on the scale. Just remember to press the button twice as it states in the instructions!
The accuracy of this scale is excellent considering the price. Testing the scale with preset weights gets the exact amount to the nearest gram almost every time.
Its size measures 9″x6″ and it can hold a maximum of 12lbs. This is heavy enough to put your french press or pourover on the device. I recommend doing the whole brewing process on the scale. The scale itself is pretty light at only a pound so it’s quite portable.
The Ozeri switches off after 2 minutes to preserve battery life. Although this is described as a selling point it can actually be a bit annoying if you’re not quick on the draw. It can be quite frustrating to have to redo the Tare with your French Press again if you miss it!
Something else to bear in mind is that this uses Lithium CR2032 batteries. While they are easy to find and order online – Amazon stocks them – you may struggle to find them in a normal grocery store.
Additional features include an overload alarm and a low battery indicator.
Best under $50: Hario Coffee Drip Scale
|Size||7.5″ x 5″|
|Battery Life||12 months|
|Maximum Weight||2kg (4.4lbs)|
The Hario is another sleek, black, modern-looking design. It’s made out of plastic, which doesn’t feel as nice but makes it more durable. This scale was designed specifically with coffee in mind and for that reason has some features you will not find on your average kitchen scale.
The first benefit of note is that the auto-off is significantly longer than most other cheap kitchen scales. Hario gives you 5 minutes and this is a good amount of time to set up. It also will not power off at all while you are using the timer.
Speaking of the timer, this is a great little feature of the Hario. If you’re at the stage where you’re measuring weight of coffee and water then you will want to time your brewing. With the Hario you can measure that 4 minute long french press brew without needing to get your smartphone out.
It’s a step up from the Ozeri in terms of precision. The Hario measures to the nearest 0.1g which means you will be able to measure almost exactly how much coffee you use rather than being up to half a gram out. The scale becomes a little less precise as you move over 200g (down to nearest 0.5g) and over 500g (nearest 1g.)
The measurement speed is decent but not fast. You can expect to have to wait a second or three after adding coffee or water for the scale to register.
You must bear in mind that the Hario only measures in grams. I would recommend that you use grams for measuring coffee as 1 gram = 1 millilitre. This means it’s simple to measure out a 1:16 ratio or however you like it. But if you absolutely have to use pounds and ounce then this isn’t for you.
It’s powered by AAA batteries so they’ll be easy to replace and this one works nicely as an espresso scale, too.
Best at any price: Acaia Scale
|Size||6″ x 6″|
|Battery Life||20-30 hours running time|
|Batteries||inbuilt with USB charger|
|Maximum Weight||2kg (4.4lbs)|
This coffee scale is at the top-end of the market and promises big things – it won SCAA 2014 Best New Product for the category of ‘Coffee Accessories’. The Acaia Pearl has a modern design and beautiful white finish that makes it look more like it should be sat on a desk in Silicon Valley rather than in your kitchen!
At first glance it looks like there’s no display. It is there, it’s just ‘invisible’ as the folks at Acaia say. When you turn it on the display will appear at the bottom. You can have a weight readout or weight and a timer.
First major advantage is the super quick 20ms response time. That’s only a fiftieth of a second. You put the coffee on the scale, you see how much it weighs in about the time it takes you to blink. It’s extremely accurate too – it can even detect weight changes caused from the evaporation of water!
There is all those useful features that the Hario has too – the high precision of to the nearest 0.1g, a timer, an auto-off timer that’s customisable. The Acaia even has the option of using ounces and it has an in-built battery with a good battery life AND is rechargeable. Wow.
The real benefit of the Acaia Pearl however, is the mobile app. It’s available for iOS and Android – you connect using bluetooth – and has a bunch of benefits that are completely unique to this scale.
Take a look at the shot of the phone on the right. That’s the visualisation on your app that is linked to the scale. The app is full of features like this. There is even ‘Live Pour Tracking’ where you can see the ratio change as you add water to your Pour Over.
The long term idea is to be able to share this data with other coffee users, creating a user environment where best practice can be shared. And just to rest any worries, the scale is perfectly usable without the app.
I personally love the concept and see it as definitely the future, but you should bear in mind it is a work in progress. The Acaia Pearl has been out for 2-3 years and the app still feels almost like a beta version. Everything works, but it’s not as smooth as it could be. Or hopefully will be.
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