Brewing a great cup of coffee should be complicated.
If it is having some trouble with it chances are you’re missing one of the basics. Maybe you picked up some bad habits somewhere. Maybe were never really taught the do’s and don’ts of making good coffee.
It doesn’t matter. We are going to give you some basics that should go a long way to improving the coffee you make it home.
Making Better Coffee
How to Brew A Great Cup of Coffee
In most American households coffee is the number one way to start the day. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out why that is true. Coffee can give you a much-needed lift in the morning and put a little pep in your step. Also, in the afternoons it can give you a little boost to keep you on track and on task.
There are also a ton of health benefits from drinking coffee. It really is amazing that something taste so good is actually not bad for you at all. What a break.
You can buy coffee in specialty shops or in the grocery store or online. You can buy it as whole bean coffee to grind up yourself or you can purchase beans already ground for you, if you find that more convenient.
Here is your first tip that will dramatically improve the quality of your coffee.
Buy some whole beans and grind them when you’re ready to actually use them. Don’t be intimidated by the varieties of coffee beans available. Take a little trip to your local roaster and ask for recommendations. They will be only too glad to help you out – you’re not being a pain coffee is their passion and they love to share it.
Choosing where and what to buy when it comes to your coffee is only the tip of the iceberg. To know how to get the best cup of coffee, you have to know the steps of brewing the coffee the right way.
There is an art to the way coffee should be made. Always start out by making your coffee in a machine that’s clean and free of any residue or after-effects of cleaning. That includes running a single pot of pure water through a new coffeemaker, since you may sometimes get a plastic taste during the initial cycle.
So to begin with, you’ll want to take a look at the appliance you’re using to make your coffee. After you’ve made sure the machine is ready to use, check for efficiency and brew style.
You might not have the best coffeemaker for the job, so let’s start by examining the machines used to make coffee to see if you’re using the one you need for the coffee you like.
Some Common Types of Coffeemakers
One of the most common appliances is the drip coffeemaker. These are fairly simple machines and easy to use, but you can find them with a great deal of features. You can find models that let you pause the brew, that signal when the coffee is made and ones that let you know when it’s time to clean the coffeemaker.
The drip coffeemakers are huge sellers because they’re usually the most convenient to use and they come in a variety of cup sizes. Most of them have standard carafes, though a few special ones have thermal carafes or no carafe at all if you buy the coffeemakers that hold the coffee in the holding tank.
Push a button and wait. That’s about as complicated as automatic drip coffee makers get. Unfortunately, many people would argue that the quality of coffee isn’t as good as it could be using a different method of brewing coffee.
Next on the list is the single cup coffeemaker. These are sometimes referred to as personal coffeemakers and offer users a lot of convenience in size and economy, since most of them cost less than $20 to purchase.
These machines come with mugs that the coffee drips into and you simply take the mug with you. A plus for these appliances, besides the low cost – is that there are usually no filters to buy and the mug is easier to clean than a carafe.
If you grew up in the ‘50s, then you might remember the old fashioned percolators that plugged into an outlet. These are stainless steel coffeemakers with the filter basket contained in the percolator. You simply fill the filter with coffee and plug it in to brew. These are extremely durable machines. But we do not recommend them. Essentially your boiling coffee and running it through the grounds over and over again.
Next up are espresso machines and these are very popular machines that you’ll find gracing the counter in many homes. Learning how to make espresso at home takes some practice because it’s a specialty technique. The espresso machines brew coffee that’s very strong and are called “shots” because they’re loaded with more caffeine.
You can get espresso machines that range in size and price so you would want to do some comparison shopping if you’re looking to purchase one. Some of the espresso machines you get can make more than one cup of espresso at a time, but if you like your espresso the way the barista makes it, you won’t like the machine that makes multiple servings at once.
You can get the self-priming ones that make dual cups and give you the right temperature and pressure – and those espresso makers are great choices.
If you prefer things that are easier to use, but still want espresso, you can use a machine that’s becoming popular in the United States – and that’s the stovetop espresso machine. These make great espresso shots, they’re convenient, affordable and easy to clean.
Finally, there’s the French Press coffeemaker to consider. Unlike standard drip coffeemakers, which separate grounds and water, a French Press makes coffee by mingling the two together.
These don’t use a filter at all. The press works by using a plunger to press the coffee grounds to the bottom of the press when you’re ready for a cup of coffee. One drawback to a French Press is that since the ingredients are mixed together, you can get a more bitter tasting brew.
The French press is the machine we unreservedly recommend. I use it at home and have retired my little 4 cup automatic drip coffee maker. (I now use it just for a hot plate.) It may seem intimidating for a newbie to learn how to use a French press, but it is easy to do.
It works very complicated but once you do it once you realize how truly simple it is. Here is the French press that I purchased and love. It came as a complete set with everything in it and did not cost a lot of money:
Time It Takes to Brew the Coffee
Brewing coffee is much more involved than merely flipping a switch and watching the brew drip from your machine if you have a standard coffeemaker. There is a certain time element involved in how coffee is brewed and that time is going to vary depending on the type of machine that you’re using.
But with any machine, you should understand that brewing the coffee and getting the best taste is going to be directly related to the extraction of flavor.
In a drip machine, your coffee should not have contact with the water for longer than five minutes. Closer to 4 minutes is better. One of the weaknesses of automatic drip coffee is that there is no control over the time of exposure of the coffee to the hot water. It drip set its own rate.
To understand the science behind how brew time affects flavor, you need to know that coffee is made when the flavor or essence of the coffee is removed or extracted from the coffee bean.
There has to be just the right length of time involved to get the best flavor. This is especially important when making espresso, because you can get espresso that’s too dark or too light depending on how much time of contact it has with the water.
Bitter tasting coffee can result from inadequate water contact and length of contact.
Time is very important when using a French Press.. In fact, one of the reasons we recommend a French press is you are in complete control of the time the coffee is exposed to the hot water.
Essentially you pour the hot water into the coffee and let it steep just like letting a bag of tea sit in hot water. When the tea is strong enough to pull out the bag. In a French press once the time you want is been reached, you push the plunger to filter the coffee and poor. Aim for a range of 3 minutes to six minutes of contact time when using a French press. I use four minutes is a standard with great results.
Temperature of the Coffee
You know by now that the water extracts the flavor of the coffee to bring you the great taste that you like. But it takes the water being at the right temperature to create that great taste.
If you don’t have water that’s hot enough, you lose coffee flavor. If the water in the machine gets too hot, it affects the flavor by giving it a more bitter, scorched taste. Though it’s true that coffeemakers come from the factory with preset temperatures, these can mess up during shipping, so you want to check the temperature of your coffee.
If you have a machine that you’ve had for awhile, test the temperature to make sure the heat is reading over 195 Fahrenheit. Anything less than that will alter the taste, because the flavors aren’t extracted properly.
But don’t go over 205 degrees Fahrenheit because that can change the taste as well. For coffee, temperatures that are too high will give you the same results as bread that tastes stale. Your coffee will taste stale.
The Importance of a Filter System
There are various filter systems available for each type of coffeemaker and some of them are more popular than others. One widely used filter for coffee is the paper coffee filter. You can buy these filters already bleached.
These are white filters that have had the natural brown color removed and this is more for an aesthetic appeal than any difference in taste. Paper filters also come in a natural brown state known as unbleached, which is the natural brown of the tree pulp. Neither one of these choices will change the taste of your coffee in any way, it’s simply a matter of what you like the best.
Some paper filters are not the standard round with creases shape but are shaped like a cone and these are for specific machines that use these types of filters. They work the same as a rounded filter does.
Reusable filters also help keep the grounds out of coffee and they’re environmentally friendly and less costly to use than continually buying paper filters. However, some people prefer to use paper filters along with reusable filters. If you have reusable filters, you do have to clean them out each time you make coffee, so that the filter will continue to work right.
Gold toned filters are stainless steel coffee filters that have tight mesh and are considered highly desirable filters for their screening ability.
There are environmentally friendly filters made of fabrics like cotton, but cloth coffee filters are not widely used by most people for the inconvenience of having to wash the cloth filters.
Fresh Beans You Grind Yourself Versus Pre-Ground Coffee Beans
Once coffee beans are ground, the flavor lessens, so if you use whole beans, don’t grind them until right when you’re ready to make your coffee. The enemies of good coffee flavor are light, exposure to dampness during storage, and oxygen.
If you purchase preground coffee those granules have a vastly greater surface area to interact with the oxygen and you will lose flavor rapidly. Buying whole beans and waiting to grind the beans will give you much more flavor. You want to keep the flavor locked in the bean as long as possible.
If you’re grinding at home, you’ll want to use a good coffee grinder for the beans. You can usually find an automatic blade grinder for less than $20. These have a mechanism that looks like the bottom of a blunder some off-center blades that were around and chop the coffee into different size pieces. That’s the problem there is no consistency of the size of the coffee grounds produced.
The alternative is to use what they call a burr grinder. Instead of a whirling blade that chops, a burr grinder has a flat or conical grinding surfaces that crushes the beans to a particular size. They are much more accurate.
But you really do want to go with a quality grinder. If you use the grinder at the store for your beans, once you get home, immediately seal the coffee into something that locks out air and will hold onto the freshness. Burr grinders can either be manual or automatic.
Ground beans have about a week where they’ll hold onto freshness and flavor (I guarantee those cans of ground coffee have been sitting on the supermarket shelves longer than a week.) – and whole roasted beans can keep their flavor for about six weeks (best used within two weeks). You can also find many coffeemakers today that come with grinders already in them, which makes it pretty convenient.
Here are some burr grinder suggestions (I own the Cusinart on the left, an Amazon ‘Best Seller’):
Cuisinart DBM-8 Supreme Grind Automatic Burr Coffee Grinder And MillJavaPresse Manual Coffee Grinder, Conical Burr Mill, Brushed Stainless SteelBodum BISTRO Burr Grinder, Electronic Coffee Grinder with Continuously Adjustable Grind, Black
Ground coffee, while easy to use, can lose its freshness and taste more quickly than fresh beans do. If you use ground coffee, how you store it can make a difference in the taste and in how long it will keep fresh.
Don’t buy more than enough ground coffee to last you for a week because the flavor won’t last. Store the coffee away from the sun and heat sources and never place coffee grounds in your refrigerator, because the coffee grounds will absorb moisture.
Choice of Water
The main ingredient that you use to make your coffee besides the beans or grounds is the water – and the type of water that you use can make a difference in taste, especially if you don’t have a good filtration system in place when making coffee.
If you have water that has a sulfur taste (like you’ll sometimes get from a well) or if your city water has an unpleasant taste, it will show up in the taste of the coffee. If you can’t stand to drink a glass of water from your tap, then you won’t like it any better in the coffee.
Tap water isn’t always the best water to use when making coffee because it can contain impurities if you don’t use a good home filtering system. You don’t want to use distilled water either, because distilled water is simply boiled water.
While you would think that boiled water is safe to use (and it is), what happens when you boil water is that you take out the minerals. When you do this, it results in water without a taste – and flat water can have the same effect on coffee flavor that bad tasting tap water can.
For the best results with your coffee, you want to use water that’s bottled or filtered – not completely de-mineralized. One of the reasons why is because minerals can change the taste of coffee and minerals can cause build up within your coffeemaker. Always use fresh water, so if you’re using bottled water, check the date stamp on the bottle.
We wrote an article on cleaning your coffee machine with natural ingredients. The absolute best way to do it is to prevent the buildup of scale on the inside of your machine which occurs from using the wrong water.
Ratio of Water to Coffee Grounds
The measurement of six ounces is considered to be a cup of coffee no matter what size of cup or mug you use. The rule for making a cup of coffee based on the six ounces rule is to use one or two tablespoons of coffee grounds for it.
This is a rule that has some variations, however, because the rule needs to factor in the way the coffee is ground. Finer ground coffee can make coffee that’s not as strong if you follow the six ounces for every 1-2 rule.
By the same rule of thumb, grounds that are coarser can also affect the rule. The best bet is to try the ground measurement per six ounces that suits your taste. Personal preferences have a lot of sway in how much water and coffee you use in each pot.
Flavoring Your Coffee
Having one choice in taste of coffee is a thing of the past. Now you can buy flavored coffee beans and you can even get coffee syrups to flavor the coffee grounds You just add a little of the coffee syrup to the grounds before brewing. The gingerbread or the caramel is delightful!
If your home coffee being roaster we can direct you to a post that we wrote on flavoring your own coffee beans.
Once your coffee is brewed, the different mixtures of tastes you can have for your coffee is wide ranging. You can have plain coffee, or coffee with milk and sugar or artificial sweeteners.
But if you’ve never tried the gourmet coffee mixes you can add to a cup, you’ve been missing out. You can get French Vanilla, Raspberry, Hazelnut, Coconut, Chocolate, Mint Chocolate, Cherry and the list just goes on. There’s a flavor for every taste that you can imagine.
The most popular flavors currently are:
1. French Vanilla
2. Crème Brûlée
3. Highlander Grog
4. Irish Cream
7. Caramel Mocchiato
8. Double Chocolate
9. Chocolate Raspberry
11. Sweet Cream
12. Crème De Menthe
13. Chocolate Mint
Even the Coffee Mug Matters
One accessory that people overlook when drinking coffee is the coffee mug. It’s not the design that matters with coffee so if you want a whimsical mug or a plain stainless steel one, that doesn’t make a difference.
But size really does matter here. If you get a cup that’s too small, your coffee is going to be too hot and you might scald your taste buds. But if you get a cup that’s too big, and you don’t polish off your coffee fast enough, the liquid sits in the cup too long and ends up getting lukewarm or worse – gets cold.
So you’ll want to get a mug that’s right for how fast or slow that you consume your coffee. Add all of the above essentials together and you’ll easily brew your perfect cup of coffee each and every time!
We hope you picked up some useful tips on coffee equipment and how to brew a better cup of coffee. Brewing great coffee is not all that complicated but it does require a little bit of knowledge. In the right equipment.
The goal of this post was not to try to make anyone a coffee connoisseur but rather to get people on the right track to making good and enjoyable cup of coffee. We hope we succeeded
Wishing you the best in all your coffee drinking endeavors.
Coffee Lover’s Accessories:
Here are some gift ideas to help make your coffee experiences richer. We selected these gifts based on practicality and usefulness any coffee lover would appreciate.
Zevro Indispensable Coffee Dispenser, Silver – 1/2 PoundOzeri Pronto Digital Kitchen and Food Scale, Elegant BlackZoku Grey Iced Coffee Maker, Travel Mug – Hot Coffee In – Iced Coffee OutCup Holder Desk Clip Silver – Durable, Portable, and Foldable!
1. Ground Coffee Dispenser. No need to measure every time.Designed to measure one tablespoon at a time, the dispenser can be used to place ground coffee directly into coffee makers or espresso machines. It is constructed to keep ground coffee fresh for maximum flavor, and the included base keeps counter tops clean of ground coffee spills. Holds up to half a pound of ground coffee. Click & Check it out here.
2. Digital Multifunction Kitchen and Food Scale An accurate scale is a must for precision coffee making and coffee bean roasting. This is a top seller. Precision Tare Button calculates the net weight of your ingredients by automatically subtracting the weight of any bowl or container.Runs on 2 AAA batteries (included) that automatically power-off after 2-minutes to preserve battery life. Click & Check it out here.
3. Grey Iced Coffee Maker – Travel Mug Pour hot coffee in – get iced coffee out. Make chilled iced coffee or tea in as little as 5 minutes, no ice needed and it works with any brewing method, including single cup machines, drip, and pour over methods 4 designer colors to choose from. Click & Check it out here.
4. Portable Cup Holder With Clamp – Durable, Portable, and Foldable! This is not cheap plastic – it is aluminum with great clamping power. It fits many sizes of cups and appears safe and secure when holding a 32oz filled cup, a mug (up to 3″ in diameter), a thermos, a water bottle, or a soda can. Click & Check it out here.