- 7 Ways to Improve the Quality of Your Soil
- Improving Soil Tilth
- 7 Ways to Improve Soil Quality
- 1: Create Permanent Garden Beds and Pathways
- 2: Choose NOT To Till
- 3: Create a New Garden with Sheet Mulching
- 4: Add Organic Matter
- 5: Mulch for Big Benefits
- 6: Plant Cover Crops
- 7: Grow Chop-and-Drop Nutrient Accumulators
- 7 Mind-Blowing Optical Illusion Experiments
- 20 ways to reuse coffee grounds, tea leaves
- 7 Uses For Old Coffee Grounds In Your Garden
- 10 Unusual Alternative Ways To Use Instant Coffee | Good Vibes
- Instant coffee exfoliator
- Cat repellent
- In the garden
- Drain cleaner
- Wood stain
- Household cleaner
- Ant repellent
- Growing mushrooms
- Extraction: The Secret to Making Mind-Blowing Coffee
7 Ways to Improve the Quality of Your Soil
Good quality soil is essential for a healthy and abundant garden. Here are seven ways to transform ailing, lifeless soil into rich, black gold.
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Does your garden consist of lifeless or hardpan soil? While there are many ways to improve soil quality for the purpose of growing food, in this article I’ll share the methods that have been the most successful for me. Believe me, I’ve tried a lot of things!
When my first house was built in the 1950s, the developers scraped the topsoil from the yard, sowing grass directly into hard clay. Later (before I lived there), a second owner filled in the in-ground swimming pool with fill dirt (which, by definition, contains zero organic matter).
I discovered this when I started digging in the backyard to start my gardens, finding giant chunks of blue-painted concrete mixed with lifeless dirt.
It became my mission to transform my yard into a rich, abundant garden. I figured if I could do it, then others could do it too!
Improving Soil Tilth
Tilth refers to the physical condition of soil—how suitable it is for planting crops. Healthy soil with good tilth includes lots of organic matter. It is well-aerated and well-drained, yet retains enough moisture to feel a wrung-out sponge.
To revive lifeless soil, aim to improve its tilth.
7 Ways to Improve Soil Quality
The following are the ways in which I improved my lifeless soil with the most success.
1: Create Permanent Garden Beds and Pathways
One rule that I learned early in my garden training is to never walk in garden beds. Stepping on garden soil compacts it, which destroys tilth as well as beneficial soil organisms and their habitat.
Establish permanent beds and walkways so that the beds are clearly defined.
Keep them narrow enough that you can reach all areas without stepping inside to keep foot traffic out. Beds created in this way can improve each year rather than starting each season in a compacted state from last year’s walkways.
In addition to keeping soil in the garden beds loose, permanent beds also save time and money.
Rather than applying costly amendments over a broad area, you need only apply them to permanent bed areas, skipping the pathways. Irrigation installation is easier, too, since the beds are permanent fixtures.
Permanent pathways of white clover, microclover, or wood chips attract beneficial insects and fertilize the garden.
2: Choose NOT To Till
Tilling is a mechanical method for quickly loosening and aerating soil in preparation for planting.
Although it may be useful on large farms where managing soil by hand would be impractical, a tiller is simply a quick fix in small gardens and on micro-farms, where it can have detrimental effects on soil in the long run.
In some instances, tilling can encourage the soil to blow away in the wind or wash away in the rain. Read about How to Prevent Soil Erosion in your garden. It can also destroy beneficial soil organisms.
Fortunately, growing crops on a small backyard scale doesn’t require tilling to produce loose soil for planting.
A digging fork or a broadfork are useful tools in the no-till garden because they loosen the soil without destroying microorganisms. A digging fork gently aerates and loosens the top few inches of soil before planting.
Get more tips in my article Transitioning to a No-Till Garden.
3: Create a New Garden with Sheet Mulching
Sheet mulching is a no-till method for starting a new garden or reigning in a garden that’s been overtaken by weeds. It consists of smothering existing vegetation with a layer of cardboard, and topping it with a new planting medium.
The decomposing cardboard and plant residue attracts worms and other soil organisms. The organic matter on top of the cardboard can consist of compost-approved food scraps, grass clippings, or manure (be aware of poisoned manure), that is topped with straw or shredded leaves or office paper.
The final top layer consists of compost soil, 6-18 inches in depth. As it all decomposes, the contents of the sheet mulch will shrink in size.
Allow sheet-mulched areas to sit for at least two weeks before planting, and ideally for three months, to allow it to decompose into a rich planting medium.
Here, I’m sheet mulching an area of lawn by adding a layer of horse manure over cardboard.
After applying horse manure and shredded leaves, I topped this new circle garden with a layer of compost soil for planting, and a wood-chip pathway.
4: Add Organic Matter
We often start out with soil that is not ideal for growing food. But we’re anxious to get growing, so we go ahead anyway. Now we’re asking our soil to produce nutrient-dense food from nutrient-deficient soil. This can lead to lackluster harvests or pest and disease problems.
Amending soil in the fall is important even if you start with great soil, simply because of the nutrients you’ve harvested from it throughout the season.
You see, there is reciprocity between you and the soil in organic gardening; a give and take. Fall and winter is a great time to replenish soil and let it rest if necessary.
Add organic matter in the fall to start every spring garden on a good note.
Food scraps transformed into rich worm castings.
Would you to learn more about improving the health of your soil, reducing maintenance, and increasing yield?
You’ll find loads of information just this in my award-winning book, The Suburban Micro-Farm.
5: Mulch for Big Benefits
Mulching encourages healthy soil tilth by retaining moisture and nutrients. It also saves time by reducing the need for weeding, watering, and fertilizing.
How you mulch your garden beds depends on your climate.
For example, heavier mulches are beneficial in hot, dry climates where moisture evaporation is high. In contrast, lighter mulches are more appropriate in cool, rainy climates where soil benefits from the warmth of the sun, but still needs protection against erosion.
For most gardeners, a heavy mulch in the off season provides protection beneficial soil organisms against the elements and reduces soil erosion from heavy rains.
After a pest outbreak, however, discard affected plant material and do not apply mulch over the winter so as not to provide protection to overwintering pests.
There are many ways to mulch and many types of materials to use. Learn more in my article Mulching in the Permaculture Garden.
Grass clippings topped with shredded leaves makes a balanced mulch that reduces weeds and retains moisture.
6: Plant Cover Crops
Cover crops are an excellent addition to your soil improvement program. They can provide organic matter and nutrients, improve drainage and aeration, attract beneficial soil organisms, and act as an overwintering mulch.
While cover crops can be grown in rotation with other crops at any time throughout the year, they are most popularly sown in the late summer or early fall to grow over the winter.
Many are killed by the winter cold to make spring planting easy, while others are turned under before planting. Use a digging fork (or chickens!) to turn cover crops under about three weeks before planting in the spring.
Here are some cover crops that have worked well for me:
- Daikon Radish
Here are some clay-busting plants that fight compaction.
Read more about cover crops:
7: Grow Chop-and-Drop Nutrient Accumulators
Nutrient accumulators are plant species that are often integrated into permaculture gardens. The roots of ‘accumulators’ are said to collect specific nutrients from the soil.
These potentially nutrient-rich plants can be chopped back several times throughout the year in order to use the cuttings as a mulch. This may save money by reducing the number of soil amendments you need to purchase. Growing them may also improve biodiversity.
Although there hasn’t been a lot of research conducted on nutrient accumulators, comfrey is the most often-cited plant. This study suggests using comfrey as an organic, DIY fertilizer spray. Learn more about using comfrey to fertilize your garden.
Here are some herbaceous plants to ‘chop and drop’:
Flowering comfrey attracts beneficial insects and provides nutrient-rich mulch.
There are many ways to improve soil quality, but at the heart of each method is the goal of reducing compaction, amending soil with organic matter, and taking advantage of the off-season.
>>> Get my free 19-page Guide to Organic Soil Amendments for more ideas:
What methods have you used to improve your garden soil?
7 Mind-Blowing Optical Illusion Experiments
Admittedly, not many kids are huge fans of physics and chemistry, but the following experiments are sure to pique their interest! With just a few ingredients, they can create great optical illusions and perform amazing tricks that are almost magic. And these experiments aren't just for kids – you'll have a great time overseeing the fun!
1. Waterproof Bag
- resealable plastic bag
- colored pencils
- pencil sharpener
Sharpen the colored pencils, fill the plastic bag with water and close it, and push the pencils through the plastic bag. Despite the puncture marks, the bag doesn't leak! IT may seem magic, but it's actually because the pressure from the water seals the bag.
2. Visible Water Particles
- wooden skewers
- laser pointer
Dip the wooden skewer into a glass of tap water, clamp the stick with plier, and shine a laser pointer through the water droplet. Thanks to the laser pointer, you can now see the water particles magnified on the wall behind the glass.
3. Burning Sugar
- lighter fluid
- baking soda
- casserole dish
Head outside, pour some sand in a casserole dish, and drizzle some lighter fluid over it. Mix the sugar and baking soda and add it to the sand. Now light the sugar on fire and see what happens! When baking soda burns, it produces carbon dioxide, and the pressure from the carbon dioxide pushes the sugar the sand.
4. Matter of Perspective
- Rubik's cube
Take a picture of a Rubik's cube with a high-resolution camera, print out the picture, and cut out the cube exactly. Now place the picture on a table in front of you. If you look at the photo head-on, it looks the cube is in front of you, but once you change your position, you realize it's all a trick!
5. Magnetic Matchstick
If matches are unused, the magnet will not attract them. But once the match burns, it produces iron, thus attracting the magnet.
6. Backwards Water
- sign with arrows on it
Place a piece of paper with arrows on it behind a glass. Fill the glass with water and marvel at how the direction of the arrows changes. What looks magic is simple physics: the light is refracted as it passes from one material to another.
7. Swimming Shapes
- casserole dish
- dish soap
Pour some water in a casserole dish, cut some shapes paper, place them in the dish, and use a pipette to add some dish soap to the dish. Because soap breaks down the surface tension of water, you will see the shapes propelled across the surface.
After these experiments, everyone young and old a will want to head straight out to the lab and continue experimenting. So grab your goggles and lab coats and get going!
20 ways to reuse coffee grounds, tea leaves
It takes a brave and hearty (and spartan) soul to give up coffee and tea in the name of food miles. Many do, but morning caffeine is the guilty pleasure that whispers in a voice too alluring for many to resist.
One thing is for sure: it's generally a long journey for beans and leaves to travel from exotic climes to the kitchen counter — so we may as well honor them with some extra chores before condemning them to the trash.
For those who add their spent dregs to the compost bin, you can still do so in many of these applications once their mission has been accomplished.
Exfoliate with a body scrub made of coffee grounds, coconut oil and a little brown sugar. Gently massage it on in the shower, rinse, be soft.
Use coffee grounds as mulch for acid-loving plants — roses, azaleas, rhododendrons, evergreens, hydrangeas and camellias. They coffee grounds for the natural acidity and nutrients they add to the soil.
Sprinkle coffee grounds around areas of ant infestation to deter them.
Used grounds are said to repel snails and slugs, so sprinkle them in problem areas.
5. Simplify fireplace cleaning
Before cleaning the fireplace, sprinkle with dampened used coffee grounds, which will weigh down the ash and thus eliminate clouds of smoke-flavored dust.
Soak used grounds in hot water and use as a dye bath for Easter eggs, fabric and paper for a lovely, soft brown tinge.
Keep kitties the garden with a mixture of orange peels and used coffee grounds distributed around plants.
To boost a carrot harvest, mix seeds with dried coffee grounds before sowing. The extra bulk makes the wee seeds easier to manage, while the coffee aroma can nourish the soil and help repel pests.
Some tips call for dried leaves, here’s how. When you’re finished brewing tea, place the leaves into a large strainer or colander. Press out as much moisture as possible, and then spread the leaves on paper.
Let the leaves dry thoroughly, turning over several times in the process.
Also note that wet tea leaves stain, so if you are using wet tea leaves on or near a porous surface, be sure to test in an inconspicuous place first.
9. Tame stings and burns
Cool tea bags can bring relief when applied to bug bites and minor burns, including sunburn. For overall skin irritation, put spent tea leaves in a bath and soak.
10. Soothe your eyes
The tannins in tea have anti-inflammatory effects, which is why cool ones are often employed on puffy eyes. (The chill also helps with swelling.)
11. Feed the garden
Use tea leaves as food for garden plants — green tea is high in nitrogen, and as a bonus, the leaves can ward off pests and insects. This is also good for houseplants, so add old tea leaves to their water.
12. Boost potted plants
When potting plants, place a few used tea bags on top of the drainage layer at the bottom of the planter before adding soil. The tea bags will help to retain water and will also leach some nutrients into the potting medium.
13. Quell the cat box smell
Sprinkle used, dried tea leaves in litter boxes to help reduce the smell.
14. Eliminate other pet odors
Sprinkle dried, used green tea leaves on your pet’s pillow, bed, in the doghouse, or other smelly spots to eliminate odor.
15. Freshen the carpet
Sprinkle dry tea leaves onto the carpet, crush them lightly and let sit for 10 minutes, then vacuum. This will refresh the carpet and deodorize your vacuum cleaner and bag. (Especially helpful if you have pets.)
16. Treat the dog
As an extravagance, loose leaf gunpowder tea is a treat for dogs to roll around in. It’s great for the aroma and luster it adds to the coat.
17. Freshen mats and beds
It is common in Southeast Asia to wash straw sleeping mats in tubs of water to which tea has been added. The tea works as a deodorizer, so you can apply this method to yoga mats and air mattresses.
18. Save the fridge
If you’re baking soda, place dried, used green tea bags or leaves in a small open bowl in your refrigerator to help absorb odors.
19. Wash your hands
Rid your hands of food odors (garlic, onions, etc.) by rubbing them with wet green tea leaves, an instant deodorizer.
20. Deodorize kitchen surfaces
Rub wet tea leaves on cutting boards and counters to remove food odors.
7 Uses For Old Coffee Grounds In Your Garden
What to do with Coffee grounds? Put coffee grounds in the garden? Does adding used grounds from your morning coffee to your garden soil help or hurt?
Have you noticed down at your favorite coffee house, bags of used coffee (Starbucks has them)? Have you tried putting coffee grounds in compost? How about using coffee grounds as fertilizer… is it a good idea?
Don’t even think about throwing away the used java grounds! They are just as valuable as their coffee. In the garden there are possible 7 uses for coffee ground.
#1 – Coffee Grounds As Ground Mulch
Coffee grounds, especially for acid-loving plants, make an excellent ground mulch.
What plants used coffee grounds? Plants blueberry bushes, huckleberry, holly bushes, azaleas, rhododendrons, juneberry, fragrant gardenia trees, camellias, trillium, and begonias.
It’s a bit ironic but the dark brown remains of your morning coffee will turn your hydrangea flowers bright blue!
Evergreen trees are also fond of acidic soils, as are dogwood trees, magnolia trees, willow oaks, and beech trees.
Garden vegetables that prefer slightly acidic soils include peppers (all types), radishes, sweet potatoes, eggplant, tomatoes, parsley, rhubarb, and potatoes (even though the soils in Idaho are predominantly alkaline).
When you mulch with coffee, spread a layer about one-half inch thick or your grounds will mold too readily and they could make your soil too acidic.
#2 – Add Coffee Grounds To Your Compost Pile
Adding old coffee grounds in garden soil is a good way to build the soil structure. Coffee is a good source of nitrogen (contains 1.5% by weight) and you can include it to the plant’s nutrition thru compost coffee grounds.
Adding used coffee grounds to compost (coffee filters too) puts nitrogen fertilizer into your compost soil.
However, it is also important to keep in mind the acidity of coffee grounds. Balance this out with yard scraps, kitchen scraps, and a good source of calcium carbonate wood ashes or lime to balance out the pH and also add more phosphorous.
Keep in mind that the fungus growing on coffee tends to use up a lot of nitrogen. Again, it’s a good idea to have a good mixture of organic matter and other materials in your compost bin or compost heap.
#3 – Coffee Grounds For Plants A Ring Of Protection
Slugs attacking your strawberries? Snails munching on your lettuce? Are ants eating your tomatoes?
Apart from using coffee grounds for soil amendment, you can also use coffee grounds for plant protection a moat protects a castle. Place a protective ring of used coffee grounds around these vulnerable plants.
Slug and snail, worms, and other common garden pests dis the smell, acidity, or texture of coffee grounds and are repelled by them. Best of all, using this simple all natural solution can help you avoid using any toxic pesticides around your food!
#4 – Free, Effective, and Easy To Make Liquid Fertilizer
Coffee beans are full of nutrients nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, copper, and magnesium. Backyard flower growers to use coffee grounds for roses as the used grounds still contain a high concentration of these nutrient as the used grounds still contain a high concentration of these nutrients.
It is very easy to use coffee grounds as an organic fertilizer by making an effective liquid food. Put about one-half pound of used coffee grinds in a five gallon bucket, fill with water, and stir.
Let this sit a few days to allow the nutrients from the coffee to seep into the water. The resulting brew is your liquid fertilizer. This is an excellent alternative to store bought chemical fertilizers which contain harmful chemicals petrochemicals, arsenic, and cadmium.
Of course, un the store bought liquid fertilizers, your homemade liquid fertilizer is free!
#5 – Using Coffee Grounds In The Garden To Stain Your Garden Benches
After creating a beautiful edible organic garden, the last thing you need is a varnished or painted garden bench, leaching toxic chemicals into your soil every time it rains or you water your garden!
An easy solution is to use natural coffee grounds to stain your garden benches. Use coffee grounds give a beautiful sepia color that will not contaminate your garden.
#6 – Grow Your Own Oyster Mushrooms
Used coffee grounds make an excellent substrate for these gourmet delectables!
Oyster mushrooms are the easiest mushrooms to grow. However, most people grow them on pasteurized straw.
However, if you use coffee grounds to encourage plant growth, when you brew your coffee, you automatically pasteurize your mushroom substrate!
All you need is a container with soil to dump your coffee grounds in and some mushroom spawn to get you started.
#7 – Shoo Away the Neighbor Cats
Humans and cats don’t always think a. While we relish the smell of fresh ground coffee beans and fresh brewed coffee, cats are repelled by the same coffee aroma!
Thus, if you have some neighborhood kitties (or your own cats) digging up your garden, try spreading some coffee grounds over the soil or around the edge of your garden!
If you don’t drink coffee at home, or not a coffee drinker enough to supply your garden soil and plants, many coffee shops Starbucks give their grounds away for free!
You could also request every coffee shop or cafe that you are patronizing to save the coffee grounds for you, and they would probably require you to do so. You will later reward them with some pretty fresh flowers or fresh vegetables in the greenhouse.
10 Unusual Alternative Ways To Use Instant Coffee | Good Vibes
Coffee is the life blood that keeps many of us going throughout the day.
There are hundreds of studies out there claiming the various benefits of drinking coffee beyond it giving you a much needed energy boost when you were awake at 4am, again, because there were foxes playing with a dog toy in next door’s garden (no? Just me?).
From claims of pain relieving benefits to reducing the risk of some cancers, there’s a lot to be said for our favourite caffeinated tipple. But, coffee is so much more than the fuel that powers many a person. Here are 10 things you can use instant coffee for, and none of them involve drinking it!
Instant coffee exfoliator
The texture of instant coffee grounds make them an excellent exfoliator. Caffeine is known for its anti-inflammatory properties, so when you use it on your skin, it can reduce redness and puffiness.
Plus, as an exfoliator, it’ll get rid of dead skin to wake up a tired complexion. Try making an exfoliating body scrub by combining coffee granules with a little coconut oil and some raw sugar.
If the coffee smell is a bit too much for you, add vanilla for a sweeter aroma.
Just as vampires are supposedly repelled by garlic, it seems the same is true of cats and instant coffee.
We love a catty companion as much as the rest of the world, but there are some places we wish they wouldn’t go and things they wouldn’t do. digging up our houseplants. Or climbing the curtains.
Adding a little instant coffee, or used coffee grounds, to the soil of your houseplants could help to deter your cats from going near them. No more plant sacrifice!
In the garden
There are so many ways coffee can help your gardening, beyond giving you the energy to keep going! Adding instant coffee or used coffee grounds to compost adds nitrogen to the soil. Nitrogen rich soil means your plants will be better able to convert sunlight into the energy they need to live and thrive.
And, the caffeine can help to stimulate your plants to grow. Plus, worms love coffee, and slugs and snails hate it. Worms attracted to your flowerbeds by coffee will add more nutrients to the soil, and aerate it by creating tunnels to move around in.
Slugs and snails on the other hand, aren’t such fans and tend to stay away from soil with coffee in it.
However, as coffee hasn’t been tested as a pesticide, do be careful how you use it. Take guidance from the Royal Horticultural Society to make sure your garden use of coffee stays within regulations.
Now, coffee isn’t ly to help unblock a clogged drain, but it can help to keep the pipes fresh and avoid them getting stinky.
Pouring coffee grounds down the offending drain, followed by boiling water, can help get rid of any unwanted odors without replacing them with the smell of coffee! Now you just need to work out if you can face pouring perfectly good coffee literally down the drain…
We all know that coffee stains, and is a pain to wash out.
But, when you want it to leave its mark, that’s a useful property to have! And for wood, which you ly want to be brown, coffee is perfect! To stain wood with coffee, simply combine 1 part instant coffee with 1 1/4 parts boiling water, stir it up and leave it to cool.
While your coffee is cooling, sand down the wood you want to stain. Then, apply the wood stain with a paint brush. Repeat until you achieve the colour of wood you want. This cheap and cheerful method is an easy way to upcycle home furnishings that need a fresh look!
Using coffee as a watercolour paint is a great, budget friendly way of producing beautiful sepia-toned artwork to display at home or give as gifts.
Simply dilute instant coffee in water, adding more coffee or more water to achieve darker and paler shades respectively.
It’s a great option for children to use in their painting as you ly have coffee around the house anyway, so don’t need to buy them any special equipment before they can get crafty.
As we learned from pouring coffee down the drain, coffee has de-odorising properties that quickly neutralise bad smells.
As well as down the drain, you can use coffee in your fridge or freezer to absorb bad food smells. Simply fill a bowl with coffee grounds or granules and pop it in the fridge overnight to get rid of the smell.
You can even wash your hands in coffee to wash off clingy smells garlic and onions after cooking.
Instant coffee granules are mildly abrasive, so they’re great at getting stubborn, dried on food marks off your counters and hob. They’re not abrasive enough to damage your surfaces, though, so you can scrub away without fear. Simply apply a spoon of instant coffee to a damp cleaning cloth and get cracking!
many garden creepy crawlies, ants also dis coffee. Since they can become a problem for many during the summer and have a nasty habit of biting, coffee can be a friendlier alternative to ant poisons and powders.
Simply sprinkle some coffee grounds where they seem to be coming from, and it should keep them at bay.
It’s not certain why, exactly, but it’s thought that the size of the granules might be off-putting for them! After all, a coffee granule is a decent sized rock to an ant…
Used coffee grounds are the perfect environment for growing mushrooms. For a first go, you can buy kits that come with all the equipment you need pretty cheaply online. But, if you’re determined to DIY, you’ll need a decent size bucket, mushroom spores from a reputable source, lots of coffee grounds, cling film and a plant spraying bottle.
To grow your own mushrooms, fill your bucket about half-full with coffee grounds. Break up the mushroom spawn and mix it well into the coffee grounds, and gently compress down. If you have enough coffee and mushroom spawn, you can repeat this process until the bucket is almost full. Don’t overfill, though – you need to leave about an inch clear at the top.
If you’ve used all your spawn and coffee, though, drill a few holes in the sides of your bucket near the top. This will prevent carbon dioxide from building up near the top of the bucket. Once your bucket is full, cover the top with cling film and pierce a few holes in it. Spray the top of your bucket with a little water a couple of times a day.
Within 1-2 weeks you should see mushrooms appearing!
Can you bear to use coffee for anything but drinking? Give these tips a go!
A content editor with a hole in her pocket, forever on the look out for ways to live the high life at a low cost.
Extraction: The Secret to Making Mind-Blowing Coffee
More than anything else, extraction determines how good your brew is going to be. Understand it, and you’ll be well on your way to an amazing cup.
Extraction describes the process of pulling flavor from each speck of ground coffee. It’s the reason the water goes in clear and comes out brown: As it passes through the grounds, it’s dissolving all kinds of compounds and taking them straight into your cup.
Here’s the tricky part: Some of those compounds taste great, but others are kind of nasty. To get the good ones, and the right amount of them, you need to properly extract your coffee, meaning that the water dissolves the right stuff, and the right amount of it.
Too little, and your coffee is under-extracted; too much and it’s over-extracted.
Note that extraction isn’t the same as strength (which varies mostly according to how much ground coffee you’re using for a given quantity of water). The somewhat confusing truth is that you can have a strong cup of under-extracted coffee or a weak cup of over-extracted coffee. For now, we’ll focus on extraction; strength we’ll deal with soon.
– Whatever you usually use to brew coffee (e.g., a French press, Chemex, Mr. Coffee, etc.—a paper-filter method is best for this exercise, but it will really work with anything).
– Coffee ground to three different levels: Very coarse, somewhere in the middle and very fine. (If you don’t have a grinder, you can ask the baristas at a local café for help.) Make sure you have enough of each to brew a cup or pot, however you normally brew.
Now, go ahead and brew a batch of coffee using each grind size, doing your best to keep brew time and water temperature consistent.
The very coarse grind should yield an under-extracted brew.
The grounds are so coarse that the water won’t be able to extract enough good-tasting coffee stuff from them, resulting in a brew that’s sour and grassy, with a sensation reminiscent of underripe fruit.
(If you’re using a French press and want to get the full, exaggerated effect of under-extracted coffee, try brewing the very coarse-ground coffee for half the usual time. The coffee will be totally gross.)
The very fine grind should deliver an over-extracted cup. Because the grounds are so fine, the water will have no trouble extracting way too much caffeine and other pungent compounds.
The result will be bitter and astringent. (If you’re using a French press and want to get the full, exaggerated effect of over-extracted coffee, try brewing the very fine-ground coffee for twice the usual time.
The coffee will be totally gross.)
If your in-between grind is on target, the coffee will be properly extracted. That is, it won’t be sour and it won’t be bitter. If your brew went really well, it will have a natural sweetness.
Next time you make a cup, taste it for diagnosis: Is there a sort of sour and drying sensation when you take a sip, or does it leave a bitter aftertaste? Adjust your grind size slightly finer or coarser, respectively, to wind up with a more balanced and delicious cup.