Updated: April 7, 2018
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 hilarious 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 and also the difference between bitter brown sludge and a wonderfully sweet cup of freshly roasted Sumatran.
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. To start with, buying top quality coffee beans will revolutionize most people’s brew at not much expense. The second piece of advice would be to get a grinder capable of giving you a good grind consistency, whether you choose to go for a hand grinder or an automatic grinder.
The third is to measure what you’re doing and adjust based on the taste. This is the difference between 7/10 coffee and 9/10 or even 10/10 coffee!
So how do you measure? Well, you need a scale.
Interested? Let’s learn more…
(In case it isn’t obvious, I do not condone taking drugs or recreating absolutely any aspect of Breaking Bad.)
Your coffee is bad if you’re not using a scale
Coffee is not like tea… If you’re brewing a pot of black tea then you simply dump your teabags in to some hot water and wait a while. If you steep for too long, it’s no big deal. If you use a bit too much water, it won’t affect the taste too much. With tea, the little things don’t matter.
Coffee is a different beast altogether. Browse some of the coffee forums of the world and you’ll hear talk of strength percentages, TDS ratios and the latest in refractometer tech that’ll give you an extra 1% on your espresso extraction. You don’t need to go to those extremes, the point is that little differences in coffee brew preparation can have a huge impact on the taste.
If you’re looking to make great coffee, there are four things you need to measure every time you make a brew… the grind size, the amount of coffee you put in, the amount of water you use and the brew time. Here’s a snippet of the text document I use to track my coffees.
If you measure these variables a whole world of amazing things opens up. And a scale is the key.
Make a great cup? You can now make the exact same one again.
Unsure of where to start? Get a killer recipe from some superstar barista on the web.
Need that caffeine hit in the morning? No more worrying you’ve not put in enough.
So what are we looking for in a scale?
The first thing to point out is that coffee is made in small amounts, each cup can contain as little as 1/2 of an ounce. So we need a scale that can respond to small input. If you try to use a normal kitchen scale then it probably won’t be precise enough. Of course, if you have a kitchen scale that precise already then you’re probably good.
The second thing we must have is a Tare button (pronounced like “tear”). This button resets the weight to 0g and ignores whatever is already on the scale. So for example, you have a little bowl that you put your coffee beans in that weighs 56g, when you press Tare with the bowl on your scale it will go from 56g to 0g and you can measure your coffee beans more easily. It also comes in very useful to measure water when you add it to your French Press, V60, Chemex or whatever…
The last thing is a scale that can measure in grams. Grams are a very small unit of measurement, 1 ounce is about 29 grams. This small unit makes it very useful for measuring coffee beans and a gram is the same weight as a millilitre of water which helps when you measure the amount of water you add too. It’s for these reasons that most recipes for a coffee brew you read online use grams as well.
You’ll be happy to hear that each of the three options I’ve selected fits these criteria.
Here are a few features that are not necessary for making fantastic coffee, but may be useful or make the process easier.
If you’re new to this whole measuring lark then a scale that measures to the nearest 1g is fine. But the dedicated coffee enthusiasts out there might prefer a measurement precision of 0.1g. It’s nice to be able to see the exact weight rather than worrying if you’re a gram or two out like I always did with my old 1g scale. Personally, having moved to a 0.1g I couldn’t go back.
A timer on your scale is not necessary because it’s 2018 and we all have smartphones now. But it is convenient in a kind of decadent way. And if you’re using a method that is very hands-on like the Aeropress or a Pour Over then having the timer going in front of you is pretty useful without having to make sure your phone doesn’t go on sleep.
Another nice feature is to have a quick response time. Pop you coffee beans in and within milliseconds you see the weight flash before your eyes. This one 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?
Lastly, there are considerations like the size of your scale, how much is the maximum weight it can hold, what the battery life is. I’ve grouped this basic data into a table for you to check out.
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.
Like the sound of this one? Click here to check it out on Amazon.
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.
If you like the look of this, then here’s an Amazon link for you to look at, you’ll find price and other details through there.
Here’s a shot of the scale from the side.
And here’s one that gives you a close-up of the screen and what you’ll be looking at. Including annotations in Japanese for that extra-kitsch effect.
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 1/50 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 the app is still a work in progress. The Acaia Pearl has been out for 2-3 years and the app feels almost like a beta version. Everything works, but it’s not as smooth as it could be. Or hopefully will be.
So here’s the Amazon link for you good people before we get to some more photos… Quick warning: The Acaia Pearl is super popular and regularly goes out of stock. Sorry!
Here you can see the Acaia Pearl being used to measure some coffee beans. The weight pops onto the screen on the front. This is the black version, obviously.
And here’s a photo of some baller who’s measuring his strength ratio with the Acaia Pearl.
The Choices + Where to Buy
Here are those three scales again in a nice table format for your enjoyment. Click on the photo of each to be taken to the Amazon page.
Full disclaimer: Those are affiliate links which means I receive a small percentage at no extra cost to you. If you’re thinking of buying one I’d really appreciate if you clicked on them before you buy, it supports the site and helps me write more articles.
|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|
– I was blown away the first time I used a scale for coffee, I kind of blew it off as being unimportant. How wrong I was…
– Don’t forget that no amount of careful measuring and skillful artistry with your brew matters if you’re not using good coffee beans. A michelin star chef wouldn’t buy the cheapest cut of meat so make sure you are getting good quality coffee beans. And they’re not like wine or anything, they’re pretty cheap.
– Not happy with your brew method? Well, I’ve got the perfect place for you to go next. Warning: it’s a bit of a long one!