How to Make the Perfect Cup of Coffee

 

coffee-twin-peaksThe old adage says, “write what you know.” As you can see from my profile picture, I know coffee. As a little kid, my Finnish uncle would roust me before dawn to go fishing, then serve us the morning’s catch with heavily sweetened java. I started guzzling the stuff in earnest as a 13-year-old paper boy. Over time, I used less cream and sugar, so by the middle of high school I was slamming down black coffees before trig class. (I was also very ADD, so I apologize to my mom and teachers for being such an annoying spaz.)

There are a zillion ways to make coffee, many of them complicated and insanely expensive. But after trying most, I can tell you that simple and cheap is the best way to brew the finest damn cup of joe you’ve ever tasted.

coffeeBeans

Get the good stuff. Now the good stuff doesn’t need to be expensive. Jamaican Blue Mountain is great, but $50-a-pound great? Nah. And if you drop $150 on beans crapped out of a civet, your lower GI deserves everything it gets.

There are two types of bean, Arabica and Robusta. Always go for the former; the latter is what you find in instant coffee and bucket-sized tins. If you have a good coffeehouse nearby that roasts in-house, buy there (it’ll always be Arabica). Look at the roast date and make sure the beans are fresh. If they’ve sat around for a month or more, the flavor takes a big hit.

As far as country of origin and roast level, explore a bit to see what you like. Medium roast is a bit sweeter and a lot of times dark roast is used to pass off inferior beans. And make sure you get whole bean. The grinding should be done at home.

brevilleGrinding

There are two types of grinders: blade grinders and burr grinders. Blades are cheaper, but they heat up the beans and make an inconsistent grind. Both of these hurt the flavor in a big way. So you need a good burr grinder, which will be your most expensive purchase.

After shopping around for months, I highly recommend the Breville Smart Grinder Pro. It’ll set you back $200, but it’s built like a tank and grinds like the gearbox in a used Fiat. A hand grinder works too, but I don’t need that much exercise.

Hot Water

I use filtered, but my palate isn’t sophisticated enough to tell the difference from tap water. Feel free to boil the water on the stovetop if you like, but it’s quicker to use a simple electric kettle. When you need caffeine, every second counts.

81vmqlemdal-_sx522_Brewer

Above, I linked to a $7,000 espresso maker. You know what the best brewer costs? Twelve bucks. Making coffee isn’t a high-tech endeavor, and your best bet is a modified plastic funnel called the Hario V60. If you want to get fancy, get the ceramic version for $10 more, but that one’s prone to breakage when you’re stumbling around the kitchen at 6 am. And remember to pick up some filters while you’re at it.

Now, the Hario is designed for brewing one cup at a time. If you want a potful, get the little piece of modern art known as the Chemex for $40. The process is identical to the V60 — just water pouring over ground coffee.

what-exactly-is-a-coffee-bloom-2It’s Time to Brew Some Coffee

Now that you have all the gear, it’s time to wake up.

  1. Set your burr grinder to a somewhat-fine grind and select the number of cups you want to make. I have a big mug, so I set mine to three cups, or 24 oz.
  2. Fill up your electric kettle with that amount of water (24 oz. in my case).
  3. Place a filter in your Hario or Chemex, then run some hot tap water over it. This wets the filter and gets rid of that raw paper taste you don’t want in your coffee (my palate is sophisticated enough to pick that up). Dump that nasty water out.
  4. Pour the ground beans in the filter.
  5. Once the kettle is boiling, take it off the heat for a few seconds. The optimal temperature for brewing is 205° F, or just off the boil. A big reason your auto-drip coffee tastes crappy is because it often only heats the water to 160° or so. This creates bitterness, both in your mug and your mood.
  6. Pour a little bit of hot water over the coffee, just enough to soak the grounds without dripping through. Then wait 60 seconds. This steeps the coffee a bit and releases the CO2 created during the roasting process.
  7. Slowly pour in the rest of the water. Again, the idea is to soak the grounds instead of letting the water race through. This will draw out all those flavors that make coffee so great.
  8. Drink the best cup of coffee you’ve ever made.

By controlling every part of the process, you get the best quality coffee, grind, water, and temperature, and it doesn’t take much longer that setting your Mr. Coffee to “Brew.”

damn-fine-coffee

If you have any tips, tricks, or blasphemous dissent, please let me know in the comments.

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  1. cdor Member
    cdor
    @cdor

    Excellent advice. I have been using a drip through paper filter with fresh ground beans for over 40 years. Every time I have guests, they always compliment the coffee. I have an instant hot device at my sink that has filtration built into it. It does improve the water, which in Kansas City, is excellent right out of the tap anyway. By the time I heat my already hot water to boil in a tea pot, I have just finished grinding my beans. I can make a full thermos of delicious coffee in five minutes. I believe the paper filter is key to removing acid bitterness.

    This:   

    and this:

     

    • #1
  2. ParisParamus Member
    ParisParamus
    @ParisParamus

    I’m intrigued by the water temperature variable. I just bought an electric kettle for Brit wife’s tea and may just pour its water through the top of my electric coffee maker (over the grinds) to see if it tastes better)

    • #2
  3. Chris Campion Coolidge
    Chris Campion
    @ChrisCampion

    After I complete an 11-mile run, drink a lot of water, and weep to myself where I hope no chicks can see me, I like a mocha.  I grab it from Starbucks.  I wait in line with obvious loads who look at my salt-caked visage with a certain animalistic loathing, and the furtive glances to my running shirt that’s from a half-marathon I ran 5 years ago indicate that I Am The Other.

    What were you talking about again, Jon?  Oh, that’s right.  Not me.

    The methodology (fresh grind, drip through a filter) is pretty standard.  What really matters are the beans, the actual ingredients.  It’s just beans and water.  Bean juice, really.  If you say that fast 3 times Michael Keaton appears and improvises “Birdman” for 3 hours in your living room.  You’ve been warned.

    So:  If you really want good coffee, or the “best”, seek out a roast you like.  Get recommendations from friends.  Go to a farmer’s market – I’ve found some small shops selling their own home-roasted coffee that way.  Travel to Costa Rica and bring back as much as you can without alerting the cartels of your presence.

    But you do need to sample.  I used to work at Green Mountain Coffee Roasters.  They take the flavors and aroma to an extreme, in terms of evaluations, because they have to, but I learned quite a bit.  Mostly, though, it all starts and ends with the bean, and the roasting.

     

     

    • #3
  4. civil westman Inactive
    civil westman
    @user_646399

    As a dedicated caffiend, I appreciate your thorough overview. At times, I have gone so far as to buy green beans, roast them myself in small batches, grind them with a very good burr grinder and make filter coffee. Tired of all the rigamarole, I now make it simpler and make only two kinds of coffee.

    My wife likes Dunkin Donuts coffee, so I make that each morning in a French press. It is not great coffee, but, as we let it sit for a long time before pressing, it has lots of caffeine. My usual dose is two six-ounce cups with half a teaspoonful of turbinado sugar and some half and half. After that mission is accomplished – i.e. wakefulness – I am ready to actually taste the  next cup.

    That one is the best cup I have been able to come up with in North America: Nespresso. There are numerous blends using the finest coffees. All I do is use reverse-osmosis water. The pods cost about 75 cents each. I often cheat and make larger volumes than Nespresso calls for. For instance, they say an espresso should be 30 cc. I will use that capsule to make a 110cc cup which tastes fine.

    The machines can be had for under $100 for the simplest. You can spend more, but it is optional, as far as I am concerned.

    • #4
  5. MLH Inactive
    MLH
    @MLH

    My young-ish colleague, JM, was introduced to coffee around the age of 10 or 12 by his Polish grandfather. J roasts his own beans and thinks percolating is the best way to brew!

    J also told me that darker roasts have less caffeine.

    How did you survive Navy coffee, Jon?

    A college friend, of Italian heritage, married a roaster (his shop being on Comm Ave in Vancouver). She told me that you can tell how bad coffee is by how much sugar it needs (Starbucks, anyone?).

    • #5
  6. RightAngles Member
    RightAngles
    @RightAngles

    “If this is coffee, please bring me tea. If this is tea, please bring me coffee.” —Abraham Lincoln

    • #6
  7. Tom Davis Member
    Tom Davis
    @TomDavis

    We use a French press and a burr grinder.  The coffee is pretty good.  While the water heats on the stove top, I feed the dogs.  By the time they are fed, the water is hot.  After putting the coffee and the water in the press, let it sit for 5 minutes, push the plunger, and drink coffee.

    • #7
  8. PHCheese Inactive
    PHCheese
    @PHCheese

    I go toMcDonald’s get a senior coffee  50 cents plus tax. Have it in 30 seconds. Never even been carded, dammit .

    • #8
  9. Daniel Adam Murphy Reagan
    Daniel Adam Murphy
    @DanielAdamMurphy

    I made fun of all the San Francisco hipsters who ordered cups of drip Blue Bottle coffee that take like 20 minutes to make. And then I had one and I could ridicule them no longer. Certain things in life just live up to the hype.

    But I still want someone to shoot me if I ever start listening to music on vinyl because it’s “warmer.”

    • #9
  10. MLH Inactive
    MLH
    @MLH

    Daniel Adam Murphy:I made fun of all the San Francisco hipsters who ordered cups of drip Blue Bottle coffee that take like 20 minutes to make. And then I had one and I could ridicule them no longer. Certain things in life just live up to the hype.

    But I still want someone to shoot me if I ever start listening to music on vinyl because it’s “warmer.”

    Well, it is!

    • #10
  11. Scott Wilmot Member
    Scott Wilmot
    @ScottWilmot

    Interesting stuff Jon. I didn’t know the difference between a blade and burr grinder. I always use a french press – why do you prefer the drip method?

    The best cup of coffee I have ever had was in Bali at a coffee shop in a botanical garden. It was kopi luwak and only set me back 50 cents – it was incredible.

    Right up there though was the coffee at Losari Plantation in Central Java. My wife and two youngest took a trip there in October of 2010 when we were living in Jakarta. It was one of the most fabulous resorts I have ever been to – a stunningly beautiful place. This is a view walking in the main gate looking out across the lawn:

    losari1_volcano

    It was a working Dutch coffee plantation turned into a resort. One day we took a tour of what was left of the plantation:

    tour

    losari3_dirt

    losari9_greenbeans

    The roaster and beans:

    losari6_roaster

    losari7_thebeans

    Relaxing over a cup:

    losari5_relaxing

    The two dishes in the middle of the table are freshly roasted beans and shaved gula merah (red sugar – coconut palm sugar). It was the signature snack there. One mixed a shave piece of sugar with 2 or 3 beans and popped them into your mouth – tasted like some of the best chocolate you have ever had!

    losari4_beanssugar

    • #11
  12. Boomerang Inactive
    Boomerang
    @Boomerang

    After a few years of buying expensive drip coffeemakers with what turns out to be a lifespan of 2 to 3 years, in exasperation I bought the cheapest Mr. Coffee I could find last summer. Within a week of bringing it home, both Mr. B. and I lost our appetites, and felt sort of like we had a stomach bug.  After two weeks Mr. B. accused the cheap Chinese coffeemaker of poisoning us and we stopped using it.  We recovered right away — it WAS the coffeemaker!

    The solution is a ceramic version of the Hario shown, which we pour over a glass carafe from one of the deceased coffeemakers.

    I like to set the timer on a coffeemaker so that there is a fresh cup of coffee waiting the minute I stumble out of bed and into the kitchen, so actually making coffee in the morning is still an adjustment. However, it is preferable to being poisoned.

    Dear Santa, all I want for Christmas is a Breville Smart Grinder Pro!

     

    • #12
  13. Jon Gabriel, Ed. Admin
    Jon Gabriel, Ed.
    @jon

    civil westman:As a dedicated caffiend, I appreciate your thorough overview. At times, I have gone so far as to buy green beans, roast them myself in small batches, grind them with a very good burr grinder and make filter coffee. Tired of all the rigamarole, I now make it simpler and make only two kinds of coffee.

    My wife likes Dunkin Donuts coffee, so I make that each morning in a French press. It is not great coffee, but, as we let it sit for a long time before pressing, it has lots of caffeine. My usual dose is two six-ounce cups with half a teaspoonful of turbinado sugar and some half and half. After that mission is accomplished – i.e. wakefulness – I am ready to actually taste the next cup.

    That one is the best cup I have been able to come up with in North America: Nespresso. There are numerous blends using the finest coffees. All I do is use reverse-osmosis water. The pods cast about 75 cents each. I often cheat and make larger volumes than Nespresso calls for. For instance, they say an espresso should be 30 cc. I will use that capsule to make a 110cc cup which tastes fine.

    The machines can be had for under $100 for the simplest. You can spend more, but it is optional, as far as I am concerned.

    I love Dunkin Donuts coffee. When I don’t have time to run to my third-wave hipster roastery, I’ll pick up a bag at the Safeway next to my house. Again, it doesn’t need to be cloying and expensive to be good.

    • #13
  14. Jon Gabriel, Ed. Admin
    Jon Gabriel, Ed.
    @jon

    MLH:My young-ish colleague, JM, was introduced to coffee around the age of 10 or 12 by his Polish grandfather. J roasts his own beans and thinks percolating is the best way to brew!

    J also told me that darker roasts have less caffeine.

    How did you survive Navy coffee, Jon?

    A college friend, of Italian heritage, married a roaster (his shop being on Comm Ave in Vancouver). She told me that you can tell how bad coffee is by how much sugar it needs (Starbucks, anyone?).

    Navy coffee is the most appalling thing on earth other than genocide or Nickelback CDs. And it’s true that the darker roasts have less caffeine. Espresso has even less than that.

    As far as Starbucks, their financial model is based on selling whipped cream and flavorings, not coffee.

    • #14
  15. Fricosis Guy Listener
    Fricosis Guy
    @FricosisGuy

    Great advice, in particular  re: grinding. Just a couple of quibbles: Robusta can be interesting, especially if roasted where it’s grown. The Brazilians do it well. It also has more of a caffeine kick.

    I also believe 205 degrees is a bit too hot, especially if you’re stuck with marginal beans. I’d go with 190 or so.

    • #15
  16. Jon Gabriel, Ed. Admin
    Jon Gabriel, Ed.
    @jon

    Tom Davis:We use a French press and a burr grinder. The coffee is pretty good. While the water heats on the stove top, I feed the dogs. By the time they are fed, the water is hot. After putting the coffee and the water in the press, let it sit for 5 minutes, push the plunger, and drink coffee.

    My French Press was the first good brewer I ever owned. A solid choice.

    • #16
  17. Jon Gabriel, Ed. Admin
    Jon Gabriel, Ed.
    @jon

    PHCheese:I go toMcDonald’s get a senior coffee 50 cents plus tax. Have it in 30 seconds. Never even been carded, dammit .

    As with Dunkin Donuts, McD’s makes a solid cup of basic joe. Both are far better than Starbucks.

    • #17
  18. Mister Dog Coolidge
    Mister Dog
    @MisterDog

    I’m halfway there I guess. We’ve been using the funnel and filter method for years, but I don’t grind my own beans. I did at one time but I got lazy. I will try the trick of pre-wetting the filter.

    • #18
  19. Jon Gabriel, Ed. Admin
    Jon Gabriel, Ed.
    @jon

    Scott Wilmot: Interesting stuff Jon. I didn’t know the difference between a blade and burr grinder. I always use a french press – why do you prefer the drip method?

    Gorgeous photos, Scott. I enjoy French Press coffee, but the coarser grind necessary doesn’t allow the water to extract all the flavors. Also, it leaves a bit too much of the oils in the cup, as well as the few stray grounds. It’s not at all a bad option, just not my favorite option.

    • #19
  20. Jon Gabriel, Ed. Admin
    Jon Gabriel, Ed.
    @jon

    Fricosis Guy:Great advice, in particular re: grinding. Just a couple of quibbles: Robusta can be interesting, especially if roasted where it’s grown. The Brazilians do it well. It also has more of a caffeine kick.

    I also believe 205 degrees is a bit too hot, especially if you’re stuck with marginal beans. I’d go with 190 or so.

    Most list the optimal temp as between 195 and 205. Intelligentsia, my favorite coffeehouse, recommends 208, if memory serves. But as long as you’re in that ballpark, you should be fine.

    The big problem comes when the Mr. Coffee dumps out lukewarm water at a temperature far below that range.

    • #20
  21. MitchCardwell Coolidge
    MitchCardwell
    @MitchCardwell

    For a little variety get an Aeropress to go along with the Chemex or French Press.

    it makes an outstanding shot of Espresso for $14 and is portable.

    • #21
  22. Quietpi Member
    Quietpi
    @Quietpi

    I buy green beans, and roast them myself.  I like dark roast and it’s smokey taste, maybe because I was a fire fighter. But there’s a local coffee house that eschews dark roast, and I’m trying to find out how they get their exquisite, fruity flavors.  Blade grinder because that’s what I have.  Then a cone.  I use half Sumatran and half Ethiopian beans.  Exquisite.  Softened tap water works fine here as long as the kettle is clean.  Sometimes a French press, which I think is also really good.

    It’s true that the darker the roast, the lower the caffeine.  Doesn’t seem to make any difference for me.

    For the life of me, I don’t see what people like about Dunkin’ Donuts “coffee.”

    • #22
  23. EJHill Podcaster
    EJHill
    @EJHill

    Jon Gabriel, Ed.: Navy coffee is the most appalling thing on earth other than genocide or Nickelback CDs.

    I have it on good authority that the java at Twentynine Palms doubles as hydraulic fluid in certain armored vehicles.

    • #23
  24. Fred Houstan Member
    Fred Houstan
    @FredHoustan

    Thanks, @jon, I love coffee so much I give it up every Lent and I always enjoy different takes on how to brew coffee. Having tried various varieties, our 12 cup Cuisinart remains our standard for 20-some years now (granted, three appliances, but same maker)

    Oh, and great pictures, @scottwilmot.

     

    • #24
  25. Flapjack Member
    Flapjack
    @Flapjack

    I’m not nearly as “high-tech” of a coffee brewer as many fellow Rococheti are, but…

    The one purchase that upped the quality of my daily pot of coffee significantly has been a thermal carafe, which sits underneath a “standard” drop machine.  The carafe keeps the coffee hot for a good while without any burner heat added.

    So, if you’re not up to going all hipster (or if time doesn’t allow for it), get a thermal carafe drip coffee maker.

    • #25
  26. Doug Kimball Thatcher
    Doug Kimball
    @DougKimball

    I am a coffee gourmand.  I actually like Starbucks Lattes, even though the beans are way overdone.  Their regular coffee is too dark and bitter.  McDonalds coffee is drinkable, but not good.  Dunkin’ Donuts coffee, freshly ground, is pretty good and makes a nice espresso.  As sold in the donut shop, perhaps the first cup of a fresh pot is good, but otherwise, it is only a slight improvement over  MickyDs.  French roast remains a terrible idea.  I tend to like Colombian beans, medium dark.  It’s the most aromatic of beans.  The best cup of Joe I’ve ever had was a latte from a little coffee shop two blocks from the beach in La Jolla.  I will go back.  Soon.  My old blade grinder smells of ozone and needs to be replaced.  I have a small two cup fast drip maker that does a decent job each morning.  My wife and I also have a fancy, pump style espresso machine.   It does a good job.  I microwave my milk for my lattes.  It’s faster than steaming and doesn’t dilute the milk.  Whole milk is best but my wife buys 2%, which is OK.

    • #26
  27. Michael Farrow Inactive
    Michael Farrow
    @MichaelFarrow

    I prefer to roast my own green beans.  I know where and what plantation the beans came from.  I find the best coffee can only come from good beans, well roasted.  The rest is just support work.

    May I again suggest a (virtual) visit to Sweet Maria’s of Oakland?

    https://www.sweetmarias.com/

     

     

    • #27
  28. Freesmith Inactive
    Freesmith
    @Freesmith

    Jon,

    Between steps #6 and #7 do you maintain the 205-degree water temperature in the Bodum, or do you allow the water to cool slightly during that 60-second interval?

    I ask this because I have never used an electric water heater for coffee and wonder if I should place my kettle back on the burner and keep it at full boil after soaking the grounds or let it sit off the flame.

    • #28
  29. Jeff Petraska Member
    Jeff Petraska
    @JeffPetraska

    EJHill:

    Jon Gabriel, Ed.: Navy coffee is the most appalling thing on earth other than genocide or Nickelback CDs.

    I have it on good authority that the java at Twentynine Palms doubles as hydraulic fluid in certain armored vehicles.

    In that service it only needs to be incompressible, not indigestible.

     

    • #29
  30. Bereket Kelile Member
    Bereket Kelile
    @BereketKelile

    I whole-heartedly endorse the burr grinder recommendation. Other grinders really aren’t grinder because they’re not actually doing what they’re supposed to do. You will not want to go back once you’ve crossed that bridge. My current grinder was $40 from Target and works well for me.

    One question on my mind lately is the difference between paper filters and metal ones. Which do you prefer and why? I started out with paper and so I’m partial to it. I find the other kind is a maintenance hassle and doesn’t do much for the taste.

    • #30

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