If the morning coffee you make yourself never tastes quite as good as the one your barista brews up for you, don’t despair. Because while their expertise might leave you wondering how to make good coffee, the truth is you absolutely can learn how to make great coffee at home or for the office. It just takes a plan and some essential equipment.
First off, some coffee facts. Often referred to as “the nectar of the gods,” coffee is made from a process of extraction that uses hot water to dissolve—or extract—coffee flavors and caffeine from ground beans. The result: A beverage infused with a flavorful and aromatic taste that packs a punch of energy thanks to caffeine, which naturally occurs in coffee beans. To achieve the perfect balance and combination of flavors, the right amount of coffee flavor needs to be extracted. Too much will trigger a bitter aftertaste; too little results in a sour and astringent edge. Coffee that’s extracted just right will have a natural sweetness and a pleasant finish.
So how can you make the best cup of coffee at home? Read on for our easy-to-follow suggestions:
1. Choose your brewing method
Maybe you prefer a strong brew with a formidable caffeine kick. Or perhaps you need a large pot to share with friends. So, start by choosing a brewing method that serves your needs. Not sure which one is right for you? Here are some quick descriptions and links to in-depth directions:
- How To Brew French Press Coffee— A straightforward method that yields a robust, flavorful cup.
- How to Make Pour Over Coffee— The classic method that’s easy to master and results in a full-bodied taste.
- How to Make Cold Brew Coffee— A simple technique for having cold coffee on hand for making all your favorite iced drinks.
- How to Brew Drip Coffee— A foolproof approach that requires nothing more than measuring and pressing a button. Bonus: Enough coffee to share, especially if you use a coffee maker that can make up to 12 cups at once.
- How to Brew a Single Cup of Drip Coffee—The best way to customize the temperature and strength of your cup of coffee to your liking.
2. Gather your equipment and organize your ingredients
No matter which method you choose, it’s important to stage your equipment and ingredients so you have everything handy once you get started. So,
- Set up your coffee maker or assemble your pour-over components
- Measure your desired amount of coffee. Best practice is one to two tablespoons per 8oz cup. Remember, there’s a technique to measuring both wet and dry ingredients.
3. Grind your beans
It might sound like an overstatement, but we promise it isn’t. Grind size is everything when it comes to flavor. The finer the coffee grounds, the easier it will be for the water to extract flavors because the water will soak into smaller pieces much faster than larger ones. That’s why fast-brewing methods like espresso call for a fine grind size (think of the consistency of table salt) whereas methods that require slow steeping (like pour-over or French Press) require something a little coarser.
Starting with dry, fresh beans is an important first step. Then measure your required amount of beans and place them in a manual grinder. For finely-ground coffee, grind the beans for approximately 20-30 seconds. For a medium grind, 15 seconds might be enough. Eight to ten seconds should yield a coarse grind. Better yet, use a Burr grinder equipped with a selection of settings that correspond to various brew methods to help you achieve the precise grind you need.
4. Prepare your water
If you’re using a coffee maker, it will heat your water to the perfect temperature on its own. However if you’re using the pour-over method, you’ll need to get your water to a specific temperature, namely between 195 and 205° Fahrenheit. (Tea lovers, keep in mind that the ideal temperature for tea water varies depending on the variety).
A good rule of thumb: The hotter the water, the faster it causes the coffee grounds to “bloom.” Furthermore, the longer the coffee is exposed to the water, the stronger the flavor will be. Finally, the water and coffee ratio needs to be in balance otherwise it, too, will affect the flavor.
Using an adjustable temperature kettle, heat the water. Or boil water in a traditional kettle then check the temperature with a submersible thermometer. Use your preferred method to brew your coffee. Now for some science. Tweak your measurements and ratios by subtracting a few grams of coffee or adding another pour of water. Then brew another batch using the same process. Whichever recipe makes you wish for a bottomless cup is the one for you.
5. Pre-wet and pre-heat your equipment
This is what the pros do, so why not give it a shot? Once your paper filter is secure in its basket, pour some of your heated water into it BEFORE adding in your fresh coffee grounds. This will flush out any elements that could affect the coffee’s flavor and also weigh down the filter so that it doesn’t float up during the brewing process.
As for your coffee mug or cup, pre-heating it with a splash of boiling water (which is poured out before the coffee is poured in) or microwaving it for 15-20 seconds will prevent the cold cup from lowering the temperature of your fresh coffee upon contact.
Brewing time is directly related to grind size. When making espresso, for instance, the brew time should take around 20-30 seconds. Most pour-over or drip methods take closer to three to five minutes.
When you’re ready, soak your coffee grounds so that the water thoroughly permeates them. For pour-over methods, go slowly at first and repeat only once the water has fully passed through the grounds.
7. Decant (if necessary)
If you’re brewing yourself a single cup, make the coffee directly in a wide-mouthed mug or cup of your choice. For cold brew, consider making it in a carafe with a spout and cork stopper so that it doesn’t need to be transferred. Either way, if you’d like to take your favorite coffee drink with you on the go, decant it into a thermal mug that will keep your coffee hot for up to 12 hours and cold for up to 24. Want to add more ice? An insulated tumbler with a wide mouth makes it easy.
8. Clean your equipment
Making good coffee at home requires clean equipment. That’s because the oils in coffee beans can leave a residue, which can affect the flavor. And minerals in your water supply can build up in carafes or kettles. So every few months, use a descaling solution to clean your equipment properly. And don’t forget to store your coffee beans in an airtight container whole rather than ground which further reduces exposure to air and preserves their flavor. Finally, keep your coffee beans in a cool, dark place, such as the pantry rather than a kitchen countertop (where light can cause the beans to deteriorate) or the refrigerator (which usually retains too much moisture).
Knowing what you like when it comes to coffee takes trial and error. So, remember to experiment with different varieties of beans and brewing methods in your quest for the perfect cup. Just avoid making too many changes at once when tweaking your approach so you’re able to track what works for you (and your taste buds!) as well as what doesn’t.
Ready to take your coffee appreciation to the next level? Learn how to make your own latte art, plus try these fun coffee-flavored frozen dessert recipes. And if you ever make too much, check out these 5 easy ways to use up leftover coffee. Bottoms up!