Just because you are staying at home more these days doesn’t mean you can’t get a great cup of coffee. Brewing your own at home can be as good or better than what you get at your favorite coffee shop. Here’s some tips that will help you make great coffee at home:
Buy Great, Fresh Coffee
This is the most obvious and important step. Great brewed coffee starts with great (whole) coffee beans. If buying from a grocery store, always check the date it was roasted, if there is one listed on the bag. If there isn’t, buy something else. Seriously. Look for a date within the last two weeks for the best flavor. Anything within a month is acceptable. A local grocery store in our town opened last spring. They currently have some bags of coffee on their shelves from when they opened (I know this because I check every time I go there).
Most coffee bags have a little valve on the bag that allows gas from the roasting process escape - but because it's a one-way valve, air cannot get in. Sometimes when you have a very fresh bag of whole bean coffee, the bag looks "puffed up" and it seems like there is air in it even if hasn't been opened yet. What's going on here is that carbon dioxide gas from roasting has filled up the bag. Just give the bag a squeeze and the gas will be release through the valve.
Store Your Coffee Correctly
Once you open the seal on the bag you are in a losing battle. Air causes coffee to lose its aroma and flavor. Quickly. If you use the bag the coffee came in, make sure you squeeze out the extra air and tightly reseal the bag each time you use it. You can also store your coffee in an airtight container. Homegoods or TJ Maxx usually has these very cheap (not that they are open right now… sorry). What ever you store it in, make sure it is in a cool, dry space and NEVER in the freezer!
Some, including myself, would say the grinder is more important than the brew device. Why? Grind size and consistency. Every brew method (there are a lot!) requires a different size of grind to extract the best flavor from the coffee. For example: Espresso requires the finest grind and a French press uses the most coarse grind.
As important as size of the grind is the consistency of the size of the grind. The common blade grinder that most people use just randomly chops the beans as the blade hits them leaving some large and some very fine grinds and everything in between. This is a problem because the water pulls the flavor and compounds at different rates with different size grinds leaving your coffee a mix of over and under extracted.
A much better option is a burr grinder. This type draws the coffee beans through two burrs that can be adjusted to which ever size you need for your brew method. Because of the burrs, the grind size is much more consistent. The money you invest in your grinder (as low at $40) is easily validated as you enjoy your first cup of truly great coffee, at home.
Whether you use a Mr. Coffee automatic brewer or a fancy Italian espresso machine the most important thing is to keep it clean. Follow the machine’s guidance for maintenance by descaling and cleaning all parts that come in contact with water or coffee. And DO NOT use the coffee carafe or pot to fill the water reservoir! Oils left over from the coffee will get inside the machine’s heater and cause it harm.
Which machine or manual pour over method you use is totally up to you, but experimenting with different ways to make coffee can be fun and rewarding. The zen-like preparation required to make an excellent pour over coffee takes the it to the next level, making the process part of the experience. The variables that can influence the coffee’s flavor can be both extremely satisfying and maddening. Your brew method comes down less to your personality than to your time restraints. If you need your coffee ready for you to pour into your thermal to-go cup before work every morning, a manual v60 pour over devise isn’t going to be your best option. But because manual brewing devices like a v60 or Chemex are not that expensive, it can be easily added and worked into a weekend routine when you have more time and energy to put into the brewing process.
Why would I need a scale? I’m making coffee, not undergoing a science experiment. Actually, you are doing both.
Coffee is a complex process of extracting the good compounds from coffee while trying to keep the bad out. There are over 1000 chemical compounds in coffee and a lot of them taste really bad. Using a scale to help define a good water-to-coffee ratio is extremely important if good tasting coffee is important to you. Weighing out the right amount of coffee grounds for the amount of water you are brewing is key in consistantly extracting the best flavor from your coffee.
Kitchen scales don’t need to be intimidating and there are good inexpensive options out there. What you need is one that allows you to measure in grams - ideally one that is accurate to within 0.1g. Other than that, everything else is just extra.
Consistency in coffee is key. Have you ever made a pot of coffee that was absolutely amazing one day and just so-so the next? If you were weighing out your coffee and water, you would be able to replicate that amazing brew every day.
Coffee is 93% water. It’s obvious that water is important, but why? Most people brew coffee with their tap water. But tap water is wildly different from city to city. Some city’s tap water can taste great and be odor free, while other’s have a metallic taste, smell awful and contain contaminates. The taste and smell of your water effects your coffee. Chemicals and contaminates in your water react with the compounds in the coffee during the brewing process to extract unpleasant tasting chemicals you do not want in your coffee. Hard water causes harm to your coffee maker allowing minerals to buildup inside the machine which, without regular cleaning, can cause it to brew inconsistently and greatly shorten its lifespan.
So is the solution to use reverse osmosis or distilled water to make coffee? No. Coffee needs some minerals in the water to help the good compounds latch on to during the brew process. Brewing with 100% pure water will result in very flat or dull tasting coffee. Then what is the best water to use? My current process is this: I use our reverse osmosis water as a base and then add a specific recipe of minerals (magnesium sulfate and sodium bicarbonate) to the water that have been determined to produce the best tasting coffee. What should you do? The simplest solution is to use a water filter like Brita or PUR. If you are happy with how your water tastes, then use it to brew your coffee.
As with most things, a clean coffee brewer is a happy coffee brewer. Cleaning every surface that comes in contact with water or coffee grounds is extremely important for great tasting coffee. This means cleaning out the carafe thoroughly before brewing and NEVER use the carafe to refill the water reservoir (oils leftover from brewed coffee can get inside the machine and cause problems). You should also wipe or rinse out the basket that the coffee filter is placed into - a great deal of nasty old coffee residue can build up in there.
As mentioned before, hard water can cause scale to build up inside the machine, so regular descaling is necessary and pretty easy with a store bought descaling solution - make sure to follow the instructions that came with your machine.
Brew recipes/ratios and my recommendations