9 Rules for How to Make a Perfect Cup of Coffee
A good cup of coffee in the morning can set the mood for your whole day. While you may be tempted to rely on a barrista to serve your daily cup, that can get pricy. With these nine simple rules you'll be able to make your own perfect cup of coffee every morning, right in your own home. It's easier than you think—simple things like storing your beans correctly and using the best filters will prevent unwanted bitterness or off-flavors from your cup. Whether your morning coffee is an estate-grown brew or just the best supermarket blend you can afford, follow these basic rules for a delicious, satisfying cup of coffee—every single time.
How to Make Coffee
There are 3 common ways to make coffee at home. The long-standing favorite has been a classic drip coffee machine, but pour-over coffee at home is becoming increasingly more popular, and French press is an easy favorite as well.
1. The Pour Over:
Arguably the best method for a delicious, aromatic and complex cup of coffee, the pour-over method won't disappoint.
- First, bring water to a boil in a kettle.
- If using whole beans, grind the beans to a uniform consistency similar to granulated table salt.
- Meanwhile, put a filter in the brewer and rinse with hot water. This removes the papery residue on the filter and warms up the brewer, keeping your coffee hot for longer. Discard the water used for rinsing.
- Add the grounds to the filter, making sure the surface is level. When the water is between 195°F and 205°F (about a minute after removal from heat), slowly and steadily pour just enough water over the grounds to saturate them completely, starting from the middle and working your way outward. Stop pouring before the coffee begins to drip through. This is called the "bloom" pour, which allows the coffee to de-gas.
- Slowly pour in the remaining water, keeping the water in the dripper between half and three-quarters full. This should take 3 to 4 minutes. Carefully remove the filter, then serve and enjoy.
2. French Press
Caffeinate like a European and make your morning coffee with a French press.
- First, bring water to a boil in a kettle.
- If using whole beans, grind the beans to a consistency similar to breadcrumbs (coarser than you'd want for pour-over). The grounds should be uniform in size, without a lot of fine grit. Add the grounds to the French press.
- When the water is between 195°F and 205°F (about a minute after removal from heat), add it to the French press and stir it vigorously into the grounds. Brew for about 4 minutes, then slowly plunge the press, separating the grounds from the coffee.
- Serve and enjoy. Note: if you're not planning on drinking the coffee immediately, do not leave it in the French press, as it will continue to sit on the grounds and become bitter. Instead, pour the coffee into a carafe to enjoy later.
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On a hectic morning, nothing beats the simplicity of a drip coffee machine. Depending on your machine, you could make up to 12 cups at a time!
- If using whole beans, grind the beans to a uniform consistency similar to granulated table salt. Transfer the grounds into a filter, then place in the drip machine. Swivel water spout over the center of the grounds.
- Pour clean water into the back of the machine (not over the grounds) and press the on button.
- Turn off the machine as soon as the coffee is done brewing (it will stop bubbling) to avoid a burnt taste. Be sure to clean your machine once a month by filtering through a mixture of water and vinegar, which removes any built-up residue.
Tips for Making the Best Coffee
Rule 1: Buy Fresh Beans
Without question, coffee is best when used within days of being roasted. Buying from a local roaster (or roasting your own) is the surest way to get the absolute freshest beans. Be wary of buying bulk coffee from supermarket display bins. Oxygen and bright light are the worst flavor busters for roasted beans, so unless the store is conscientious about selling fresh coffee, the storage tubes get coated with coffee oils, which turn rancid. Coffee beans packaged by quality-conscious roasters and sold in sturdy, vacuum-sealed bags are often a better bet.
Rule 2: Keep Coffee Beans Fresh
Always store opened coffee beans in an airtight container. Glass canning jars or ceramic storage crocks with rubber-gasket seals are good choices. Never refrigerate (roasted beans are porous and readily take up moisture and food odors). Flavor experts strongly advise against ever freezing coffee, especially dark roasts. Optimally, buy a 5- to 7-day supply of fresh beans at a time and keep at room temperature.
Rule 3: Choose Good Coffee
Snobbism among coffee drinkers can rival that of wine drinkers, but the fact is that an astonishing world of coffee tastes awaits anyone willing to venture beyond mass-marketed commercial brands. Specialty coffees that clearly state the country, region or estate of origin can provide a lifetime of tasting experiences. There are two major beans on the market—Arabica and Robusta. Arabica beans are more widely produced, have a wider range of flavors and are generally considered the "better bean." By all means look for 100% pure Arabica beans. The cheap alternatives may contain Robusta beans, noted for their higher caffeine content but harsh flavors. "Nasty" is a term commonly linked to Robusta coffees by Arabica devotees.
Rule 4. Grind Your Own
Coffee starts losing quality almost immediately upon grinding. The best-tasting brews are made from beans ground just before brewing. Coffee connoisseurs prefer to grind in expensive burr mills (e.g., Solis, Zassenhaus, Rancilio), but affordable electric "whirly blade" grinders (e.g., Braun, Bodum) will do a serviceable job, especially if the mill is rocked during grinding to get a fine, even particle size. (Scoop for scoop, finer grinds yield more flavor.)
Rule 5. Use Good Water
Nothing can ruin a pot of coffee more surely than tap water with chlorine or off-flavors. Serious coffee lovers use bottled spring water or activated-charcoal/carbon filters on their taps. Note: Softened or distilled water makes terrible coffee—the minerals in good water are essential.
Rule 6. Avoid Cheap Filters
Bargain-priced paper coffee filters yield inferior coffee, according to the experts. Look for "oxygen-bleached" or "dioxin-free" paper filters (e.g., Filtropa, Melitta). Alternatively, you may wish to invest in a long-lived gold-plated filter (e.g., SwissGold). These are reputed to deliver maximum flavor, but may let sediment through if the coffee is ground too finely.
Rule 7. Don't Skimp on the Coffee
The standard measure for brewing coffee of proper strength is 2 level tablespoons per 6-ounce cup or about 2 3/4 tablespoons per 8-ounce cup. Tricks like using less coffee and hotter water to extract more cups per pound tend to make for bitter brews.
Rule 8. Beware the Heat
Water that is too hot will extract compounds in the coffee that are bitter rather than pleasant. The proper brewing temperature is 200°F, or about 45 seconds off a full boil. (Most good coffeemakers regulate this automatically.) Once brewed, don't expect coffee to hold its best flavors for long. Reheating, boiling or prolonged holding on a warming platform will turn even the best coffee bitter and foul-tasting.
Rule 9. Keep Your Equipment Clean
Clean storage containers and grinders every few weeks to remove any oily buildup. At least monthly, run a strong solution of vinegar or specialty coffee-equipment cleaner (e.g., Urnex) through your coffeemaker to dissolve away any mineral deposits. Rinse thoroughly before reuse.