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How to Make Great Coffee

Updated on April 10, 2015

Want to know how to make good coffee? You can make and enjoy café-quality coffee at home and save money too. Here is all you need to know, step-by-step. Start enjoying the fresh-roasted taste of specialty coffee. It is easy to make good coffee, really good coffee, at a fraction of the cost of buying coffee by the cup. And you don't need fancy equipment either, just an inexpensive grinder and a cone filter will make excellent coffee. If you want to try an easy technique that high-end restaurants use for great coffee, pick up a small french press.

Fresh roasted coffee beans--freshness is essential for great coffee.
Fresh roasted coffee beans--freshness is essential for great coffee.

Step-by-Step Summary

  1. Buy freshly roasted coffee beans (unground)--the fresher the better because roasted coffee starts to lose flavor immediately.
  2. Measure fresh filtered or spring water into a kettle and bring it to a boil. Turn off the heat and let the water sit for 30-60 seconds (“off-boil”).
  3. Grind beans in a burr grinder just before brewing. A burr grinder doesn’t damage or heat the beans during grinding. Grind the coffee using the coarse setting for the French Press or a fine setting for a cone filter. Measure 1 to 1.5 tablespoons of beans for each 4 ounces of water that you put on to boil.
  4. Remember the “two minute rule”: ground coffee should not wait for brewing more than two minutes.
  • For the French Press, place the coarse ground coffee in the French Press pot and pour all the “off-boil” water on the grounds. Put the plunger on top, but wait 4-5 minutes before pushing the filter plunger down to the bottom to separate the grounds from your brewed coffee. Serve immediately.
  • For drip coffee, place the fine ground coffee in the cone filter and pour a small amount of the “off-boil” water on the grounds. Let this first bit of water wet the grounds for 15 seconds, then pour the rest of the water over the grounds. When the coffee dripping slows to just a few remaining drops, serve immediately.

Enjoy!

Fresh Roasted Coffee Beans

Coffee is available in many varieties from many locales around the world. The varieties are distinguished by the coffee plant or bush that yields the berries from which the green beans are taken, the ripeness of the berries when harvested, the local climate, and the weather conditions during that particular growing season. So, like fine wine, specialty coffee is identified by the plantation where it was grown and the vintage of the beans. Also similar to wine, the flavors of coffee are delightfully different, depending on all these factors; and a whole industry exists in categorizing the quality and types of flavors that a particular variety yields in brewed coffee. There is both art and science to bringing out the best flavor of the coffee during the roasting and brewing processes, just as there is with processing grapes into wine.

A very important difference with coffee, however, is that unlike wine, coffee does not get better with age. Green coffee beans can be stored for months, but roasted beans start losing their flavor rapidly as many of the complex components will evaporate or degrade in air. And ground coffee will become stale even more quickly, hence the “two minute rule” mentioned above.

So where you buy your roasted coffee beans and how you store them before use are very important factors in determining how good your home-brewed coffee will be. If you do decide to buy your beans in a store, it is better to buy them in a tightly sealed bag, rather than in the open dispensers many supermarkets use. Also pay attention to the date on the bag and try to get the latest date possible as it will indicate how recently the beans were roasted.
A better option is to find a specialty coffee roaster, either locally or one that will ship to you directly soon after roasting. There are many of these small businesses that have developed a reputation for fine coffee. Try a few until you find one or more varieties that you really like. You can search online or use the links below to find coffee roasters.

Wherever you buy your coffee beans, pay attention to how you store them to best maintain the flavor until all the beans are consumed. Do not refrigerate the beans, as condensation of water onto the beans can speed up the degradation. Also, keep the bag sealed until you need to open it, reseal the bag as best you can between every use, and store it in a cool, dry place. If you buy more coffee than you can use in a two-week period, put the sealed bag you don’t yet need in a plastic bag, close it tightly and put it in your freezer. Take it out before you need it and let it come up to room temperature before opening the outer bag, taking care to keep moisture from getting onto your beans.

Fresh Water

It stands to reason that if you use bad tasting water, your coffee probably won’t taste great either. It might be worth comparing coffee brewed with your tap water to coffee brewed with bottled water. If you can’t taste the difference, then your tap water is probably fine to use; but heavily chlorinated water may have some effects on coffee. This question might be a good experiment for the coffee scientists to look at, if they haven’t done so already.

Heat the water to boiling, then turn off the heat and leave it sit for 30 seconds, so-called "off boil" water.

A manual burr grinder--whether manual or electric, burr grinders are preferred.
A manual burr grinder--whether manual or electric, burr grinders are preferred.

Burr Grinder

A burr grinder is one which grinds the beans between two discs with teeth. The grounds only spend a short time between the discs before falling through to the bin below. If you can see blades in the grinder, it is not a burr grinder. In a blade grinder, the grounds remain in contact with the blades until the grinder stops, and thus there is an opportunity for the grounds to be heated up from friction, damaging the coffee.

Another advantage of burr grinders is better control of the fineness of grind which is important for consistent coffee flavor. A blade grinder can give you a lot of variability in the particle size of the ground coffee.
A variety of burr grinders are available, such as the hand-cranked model shown or electric burr grinders available from name-brand small kitchen appliance manufacturers. It is important to clean the grinder bin regularly because the accumulation of stale coffee grounds can affect the taste of your coffee.

The cone filter method is even simpler. You just need a plastic support cone, a filter and a coffee pot. Most supermarkets have the support cone and paper filters in their coffee aisle. You can also use a metal mesh filter. Some people feel the paper filters absorb some of the flavor; and the metal mesh filters are easily cleaned for reuse, saving you the cost of the throwaway paper filters. Of course, you can spend more for an automatic drip coffee maker which works by the same method as a manual cone filter. It saves you the trouble of heating the water, so there is that convenience; but they are a bother to clean, so the coffee flavor tends to gradually get worse.

A French Press disassembled--pot and plunger.
A French Press disassembled--pot and plunger.
Coffee brewing in the French Press.
Coffee brewing in the French Press.
Coffee in the French Press ready to pour.
Coffee in the French Press ready to pour.

French Press or Cone Filter

These two brewing methods are quite different, but they share one characteristic—low cost equipment is readily available. The taste of coffee from the two methods will be different even with the same coffee grounds. Which one is better is a matter of individual taste or even the mood of the drinker, but our experience is that French Press coffee is bolder and the drip or filter coffee is milder.

The French Press has two basic parts, the pot and the plunger. It comes in a range of sizes, but they all share the same operating principle. The coffee grounds go in first, then the "off-boil" water. It's good to set a timer for four minutes, or just a little longer if you like bolder coffee.

If you get distracted and wait too long, the coffee may taste bitter. Also, you need to pour off or decant the coffee immediately after pressing the plunger down because you don't want to keep the coffee in contact with grounds after the brewing is done. One nice feature of the French Press is that the plunger can be disassembled to thoroughly clean out any remaining grounds that get caught in the mesh.

The Cone Filter method is even simpler. You just need a plastic support cone, a filter and a coffee pot. Most supermarkets have the support cone and paper filters in their coffee aisle. You can also use a metal mesh filter. Some people feel the paper filters absorb some of the flavor; and the metal mesh filters are easily cleaned for reuse, saving you the cost of the throwaway paper filters. Of course, you can spend more for an automatic drip coffee maker which works by the same method as a manual cone filter. It saves you the trouble of heating the water, so there is that convenience; but they are a bother to clean, so the coffee flavor tends to gradually get worse.


A simple cone coffee filter on a glass coffee pot.
A simple cone coffee filter on a glass coffee pot.
A vacuum-insulated coffee carafe--keeps coffee hot without over-cooking.
A vacuum-insulated coffee carafe--keeps coffee hot without over-cooking.

Serving your Coffee

Enjoying your coffee is not just about the coffee. You want to sit at the table and talk with family and friends while sipping, and you will probably want more than one serving. Of course, you can always make another batch; but if you don’t want to interrupt the conversation, you probably want to make extra. Leaving the coffee on a hotplate to keep warm isn’t the best way, however. Remember that coffee is a perishable beverage. The solution is a vacuum-insulated carafe. Fill it up with very hot water before you make your coffee, so the fresh coffee isn’t chilled by the carafe. Then empty out the hot water when the coffee is ready and pour the freshly brewed coffee into it and close up the top tightly until you need to serve it. That way it will stay hot without being cooked in the open air on the hotplate.

So now you know how to make great coffee at home, not just ordinary coffee but excellent coffee.

Enjoy!

© 2015 Discover the World

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