Caffeine addicts may drink any cup of coffee put in front of their faces, but true coffee aficionados demand the best flavor from each mug they pour. Brewing the perfect cup of coffee is an art form, and several factors will influence whether you end up with a masterpiece or a flop. As boring as this sounds it is an acquired skill. The sooner the serious coffee brewers realize that every step is integral, the sooner they will experience the coffee they were born to drink.
When Vince Lombardi started coaching the Green Bay Packers, he began with a simple lesson: introducing the team to a football. It’s in this spirit that we start with such an obvious ingredient, water. Chemicals such as chlorine, fluoride, and minerals from well-water can ruin your brew before you even get started. A good cup of coffee starts with good water, so forget about using water straight from the tap. Use filtered water from your refrigerator water dispenser, or from your tap, if you have a sink filtration system, or a filter-pitcher. Think the coffee will mask the flavor? Think again…and stop making excuses.
Freshly roasted coffee offers the most flavor, so coffee should be bought as fresh as possible. The National Coffee Association recommends buying fresh coffee every one to two weeks. Also, since local roasts don’t have to travel as far, they generally hit store shelves more quickly after roasting than national brands, so consider buying local for the freshest coffee roasts. While there’s some disagreement about whether refrigerating unused coffee preserves freshness, keeping it in an airtight container definitely works.
Pre-ground coffee is easy, but the closer to brew time coffee beans are ground, the fresher the taste, so at-home grinding gives you the best flavor. The National Coffee Association recommends grinding coffee beans just before you brew each pot, using a mill or burr grinder instead of a blade grinders to get a consistent blend. When grinding, keep in mind that finer grounds increase flavor in coffee, but can also increase bitterness, while coarser grounds may result in a lack of flavor.
More than anything else you do during the brewing process, the amount of coffee you use determines the brew’s flavor. Most coffee producers recommend approximately one tablespoon of coffee for every 6 ounces of brew water. Of course, if you like your coffee strong, you’ll probably need more than one tablespoon, and if you prefer your coffee with a little less bite, use less.
Different roasts of coffee have different flavors, so when you’re trying a new roast, start with the standard recommended amount and adjust according to taste.
The National Coffee Association recommends a brewing temperature between 195 to 205 degrees for the best results, so look for a coffeemaker that reaches a temperature in this range. If you’re brewing manually, bring water to a boil and then allow it to cool for approximately one minute before pouring it over fresh grounds.
The contact time between water and coffee also alters the flavor of a brew, much in the way that steeping times affect the taste of teas. Longer contact times pull more flavor from coffee grounds, but that increases the risk for bitter coffee, too. Coffeemakers with adjustable brew times are ideal for controlling how much time your brew water and coffee grounds come into contact.
With all the elements that affect the coffee brewing cycle, the perfect cup is always just an adjustment away. If you believe your coffee is just good enough, it’s time to start playing around with your brew routine until you reach perfection. Once you’ve created your perfect brew, you’ll have nothing left to do but sit back and enjoy it.