Cowboys used to make their coffee in an old bean can over a campfire. Hipster coffee house junkies swear by the French press method. And, of course, millions of people start each work day with at least one cup of hot, strong automatic drip. What may surprise you is that with each of these methods, the rules are still the same for making a perfect cup. The brewing device is up to you. Grab a filter, a percolator basket, or an old tin can, and learn the secrets to delicious coffee every time.
Rule Number One: Start With Clean Equipment
If you have a busy workplace, you may have noticed that the coffee at work tastes much worse in the break room than what you brew at home. That’s because your workplace often brews several pots a day, while at home you probably just have one. The frequent use means that the coffee maker has picked up the oily residue from hundreds and hundreds of previous pots. That gunky, black residue manages to leave its funky flavor in every cup of coffee you have until it gets cleaned out.
Even cowboys used a fresh, clean bean can to start their morning brew. Clean your pot regularly with vinegar diluted in water at least once a month, or once a week if you make several pots a day. Clean your glass carafe often too, with a little baking soda and a non-abrasive sponge. Be careful not to scratch it: those scratches can trap the oils from your coffee and leave a bitter taste. Clean equipment will help your coffee’s great taste come through.
Rule Number Two: Use Cold Water of the Best Quality Possible
The flavor extracted from your coffee beans only makes up 1% of the cup you drink. The other 99% of your cup of coffee is water. Simply stated: if your water is bad, your coffee will be bad. Remember the cowboys with their tin can coffee? They used cool, clear water from a nearby spring. The closer you can come to duplicating it, the more you’ll taste the difference. If you’re using tap water, let it run for a few minutes to reduce the sediment from sitting in your pipes. The water from your hot water tank also picks up unwanted tastes, so stick with the cold.
Of course, if you want the very best coffee possible, you aren’t required to use tap water at all. Try using filtered water or your favorite bottled water. The cost is more, but it pays off in dividends of gourmet quality coffee. If you make coffee at work, fill the carafe from the water cooler, which is usually filtered water. If you enjoy coffee made with higher quality water, you might want to invest in a filter pitcher, which takes the unpleasant taste out of your own tap water.
Coffee gets its flavor from the oils in the beans. To make your coffee taste its best, the amount of oils extracted need to be between 18 and 22 percent. If you use too fine a grind for your coffee maker, the taste will be too bitter. If it sounds like rocket science, it’s not. All you need to do is make sure that the grind you use matches the method of brewing you plan to use. Your machine will do the extraction work.
An espresso maker makes a cup of coffee super fast, so the grind needs to be quite fine. The plunger method is the slowest, so a heavier, coarser grind is required. Drip makers fall in the middle, so if you grind your own, use the medium setting. Pre-ground coffees usually default to the drip type of grind. Unsure what grind you need? Check your coffee makers instruction booklet. Most have detailed information on which type is best for your particular type of machine.
Rule Number Four: Use the Correct Temperature
Coffee beans don’t need to be cooked. They have already been roasted to perfection. You only need very hot water to extract the oils that flavor your cup of coffee. Most automatic coffee makers have their temperature already set, but if you are using a plunger-type coffee maker, you’ll need to make sure that you don’t boil your water first. Bring the kettle to just below the boiling point before pouring it over your fresh grounds.
Rule Number Five: Serve it Quickly
Isn’t the first cup of coffee you pour from the pot always the best? That’s because about 15 minutes after it brews, the aromatic oils in coffee start to evaporate. Longer than that, and the result is that bitter, tasteless stuff you find in gas stations. Have you notices that the best coffee shops don’t keep their coffee on a burner? It’s poured into thermoses, so it doesn’t keep endlessly cooking away. If you drink a lot of coffee, think about brewing only one half or one quarter of a pot at a time. Each cup will be astronomically better.
There may be one unwritten rule of coffee making in addition to these five. That rule is: make your own rules. Once your coffee is brewed, don’t let anyone tell you how you should drink it. Sweet, black, creamy, decaffeinated: the choice is yours. Just keep in mind that if you follow the specifications for making a perfect cup, your favorite coffee will be even better than it was before, and that’s what coffee perfection is all about.