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. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    Percival:Then grind it longer.

    But then the coffee will get hot …

    I think the best temperature for the water is 195F.

    Just coming off of boil is about as close as you’re going to get without going to a lot of work with little gain to show for it.

    By the time your pour of boiling water comes into contact with the press (even if you prewarm it) it will be somewhere in that range.

    And as RightAngles points out, there is such a thing as cold brewing, too.

    • #61
  2. wilber forge Inactive
    wilber forge
    @wilberforge

    MLH:

    The Reticulator:

    RightAngles:

    wilber forge:Find a diner at a truck stop where the sign says Eat. MultiUse Brew served there, end of story. And no stinkin Fo Fo barristas.

    Once on a road trip, we saw a diner with a giant sign that said EAT AND GET GAS.

    the first coffee I ever drank was “Insta Cafe” from Kenya. I have no idea if it was any good. Must have been mild, though.

    Eat and Get Gas is an old cultural joke as well as an undeserved catch phrase. Oh, You Bigots, you, Grinz.

    That being said, for some odd reason, folks wanted a walking tour of Art Galleries in Mexico City awhile back. Along the trek we got coffee from a local place. This crud had to be two days old and burnt to boot, promptly dumped the stuff on weeds. Mexican coffee is awfull.

    The best interaction however, was biz breakfast at a Howard Johnsons in Simi Valley. Sweet young server poured and took orders, returned and asked if I would like a refill. I quietly replied, Yes, But this time without that doing the backstroke in the cup. Starting  your morning with a cockroach in your cup never fit any commercial I had ever heard. Truly agast at such an event, fresh coffee arrived with an offer to comp the meal. I excused the error and, Poof, all things improved. Simple stuff that.

    • #62
  3. RightAngles Member
    RightAngles
    @RightAngles

    The Reticulator:And as RightAngles points out, there is such a thing as cold brewing, too.

    That was EB! @eb And I am going to look into this thing, because keeping a supply in the refrigerator and just having to microwave it for a minute is almost as good as a timer. I’m all about convenience. Okay I’m lazy.

    • #63
  4. Boomerang Inactive
    Boomerang
    @Boomerang

    RightAngles:

    The Reticulator:And as RightAngles points out, there is such a thing as cold brewing, too.

    That was EB! @eb And I am going to look into this thing, because keeping a supply in the refrigerator and just having to microwave it for a minute is almost as good as a timer. I’m all about convenience. Okay I’m lazy.

    That’s what I do, I do the Pour the night before and microwave it in the morning. The last thing I can handle at 6 a.m. is grinding coffee beans, GAH!

     

    • #64
  5. RightAngles Member
    RightAngles
    @RightAngles

    Boomerang:

    RightAngles:

    The Reticulator:And as RightAngles points out, there is such a thing as cold brewing, too.

    That was EB! @eb And I am going to look into this thing, because keeping a supply in the refrigerator and just having to microwave it for a minute is almost as good as a timer. I’m all about convenience. Okay I’m lazy.

    That’s what I do, I do the Pour the night before and microwave it in the morning. The last thing I can handle at 6 a.m. is grinding coffee beans, GAH!

    I know, right?! If  I had to mess with any kind of kitchen equipment before coffee, I’d injure myself.

    • #65
  6. wilber forge Inactive
    wilber forge
    @wilberforge

    Boomerang:

    RightAngles:

    The Reticulator:And as RightAngles points out, there is such a thing as cold brewing, too.

    That was EB! @eb And I am going to look into this thing, because keeping a supply in the refrigerator and just having to microwave it for a minute is almost as good as a timer. I’m all about convenience. Okay I’m lazy.

    That’s what I do, I do the Pour the night before and microwave it in the morning. The last thing I can handle at 6 a.m. is grinding coffee beans, GAH!

    Same here, when you add two dogs that expect to get out the door for a morning run, timing events is essential.

    • #66
  7. nandapanjandrum Member
    nandapanjandrum
    @

    All this makes me happy that I’m a tea drinker, er, tea snob (second Sunbeam Tea Drop machine in 10 years, filtered tap water, and mail order sachets.) If I were doing it myself, loose-leaf all the way…Stewing the bag in a cup from the microwave? Spare me…

    • #67
  8. Crow's Nest Inactive
    Crow's Nest
    @CrowsNest

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

    Navy coffee seems to cone in two flabored: burned tar sludge that’s been sitting in the carafe for too long or super thim grule made by a rookie FSA that doesn’t drink coffee and so doesn’t know any better.

    This is why I keep both a Keurig and a small French press and grinder in my stateroom  at all times. Keurig doesnt brew an amazing cup of coffee, but it is consistently fast and decent. If and when I have time, French press is preferred.

    • #68
  9. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    Crow's Nest: Navy coffee seems to cone in two flabored: burned tar sludge that’s been sitting in the carafe for too long or super thim grule made by a rookie FSA that doesn’t drink coffee and so doesn’t know any better.

    Rule: People who don’t drink coffee shouldn’t be allowed to make the coffee.

    • #69
  10. Evan Pokroy Inactive
    Evan Pokroy
    @EvanPokroy

    Jon Gabriel, Ed.: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.

    Allow me to disagree. Neither dark roasts nor espresso have less caffeine. What they have is less coffee. Espresso by way of less volume. A single shot of espresso has around an ounce vs. 8 oz. in a brewed cup. Obviously the brewed cup will have more, simply by volume. Espresso actually has more when measured ounce per ounce.

    Dark roast also only has less if you’re measuring it out by dry volume since the beans are less dense than lighter roasts. If you’re measuring by weight a darker roast will actually have more, since you’ll end up with more beans ergo more caffeine.

    For the record, I use an Aeropress, a burr grinder, and dark roasts. I take mine black with no sugar.

    • #70
  11. Paul DeRocco Member
    Paul DeRocco
    @PaulDeRocco

    Sometimes I like to make coffee in a French press by putting in about three times the normal amount, ground very fine. The result is almost like Turkish coffee, or cocoa. But I wouldn’t attempt this with anything but decaf.

    By the way, I keep beans in the freezer. I’ve heard claims that this is not a good idea, but it’s always seemed to me to preserve the fresh roasted flavor for a much longer time. I keep it in the original foil bag, closed tightly to keep excess air out, although not hermetically.

     

    • #71
  12. Lidens Cheng Member
    Lidens Cheng
    @LidensCheng

    Such complications. I just add cinnamon to my ground, the most fanciful I get with my coffee.

    • #72
  13. Vance Richards Member
    Vance Richards
    @VanceRichards

    So at what point do you add the pumpkin spice? Or have we moved on to eggnog flavor now that Thanksgiving is over?

    • #73
  14. Matt Bartle Member
    Matt Bartle
    @MattBartle

    “Coffee” story…

    A couple of years ago my wife and I were in Italy, and she wanted to get an espresso. So we went into a little place, and on the wall there was an enormous, complicated machine consisting of reservoirs, and hoppers, and tubes, and dials, and valves, and gauges, and nozzles. The guy behind the counter went through series of procedures with this device for several minutes, and at the end produced for her a thimble-full of espresso.

    Talk about a mountain straining to give birth to a mouse!

    I don’t think you can even say what you do with espresso is “drinking” it. There’s not enough of it to drink. I think you just hold this tiny cup to your lips an taste it. It seems pointless to me. I like to drink coffee. I guess I lack European sophistication.

     

    • #74
  15. Owen Findy Member
    Owen Findy
    @OwenFindy

    Does anyone know where I can get pure Kona coffee?  All I’ve found are blends.  (I remember liking it very much on a visit to the Big Island.)

    • #75
  16. MLH Inactive
    MLH
    @MLH

    Matt Bartle:“Coffee” story…

    A couple of years ago my wife and I were in Italy, and she wanted to get an espresso. So we went into a little place, and on the wall there was an enormous, complicated machine consisting of reservoirs, and hoppers, and tubes, and dials, and valves, and gauges, and nozzles. The guy behind the counter went through series of procedures with this device for several minutes, and at the end produced for her a thimble-full of espresso.

    Talk about a mountain straining to give birth to a mouse!

    I don’t think you can even say what you do with espresso is “drinking” it. There’s not enough of it to drink. I think you just hold this tiny cup to your lips an taste it. It seems pointless to me. I like to drink coffee. I guess I lack European sophistication.

    and had she asked for a latte she’d have gotten a glass of milk!

    • #76
  17. civil westman Inactive
    civil westman
    @user_646399

    As to caffeine content, I understand that light vs. dark roast depends on whether one dispenses beans by weight or volume. By weight, they are the same, as caffeine is not destroyed by roasting. The longer roasted beans however, are smaller in volume due to shrinkage.

    More important is brew method. The finer the grind and the longer the grind is in contact with the water, the more caffeine is extracted. Caffeine is among the less soluble components of what makes a good-tasting cup of coffee. The tasty components are most water soluble and come out quickest.

    The rationale for making pressure coffee (what most call “espresso”) is to make for a fast extraction – to limit the time of contact between grinds and water. This extracts less caffeine and less bitter-tasting components. The result is that, by volume, a very rich-testing 30 cc espresso usually has less caffeine than the same volume of drip, filter or french press. When someone says I need a boost, I need an espresso – that is placebo effect at work. The wonderful rich taste is not at all indicative of caffeine content. To  get the caffeine boost, one needs multiple  espressos (30 cc) get the amount of caffeine in the average cup (240 cc) of filter coffee. (I am assuming no one spikes their beans with more caffeine. Who knows?)

    • #77
  18. iWe Coolidge
    iWe
    @iWe

    I, too, keep my roasted beans in the freezer. They don’t age, and then when I use my very cheap grinder, there is no heating risk at all… at most the beans approach ambient temperatures.

    I don’t use paper filters. The awesome Black and Decker maker ($15 with mug!) uses a metal screen as the filter – just rinse and reuse. It really does make a super cup of coffee.

    • #78
  19. Doug Kimball Thatcher
    Doug Kimball
    @DougKimball

    When I worked in Coral Gables, FL, at around 2:00 PM just as the lunch carbs were demanding a generous nap, the Cuban ladies from my office would descend on the kitchenette, grind a batch of espresso beans as fine as flour and as dark as Maui lava, double filter the commercial coffee maker, add twice the fresh ground coffee as would be reasonably recommended, run it until there was about 1/2 inch of thick espresso at the bottom of the pot, add over a cup of cane sugar to the mix and beat it to a sugary froth, run the remainder of the cycle into the mix and then walk around the office with tiny porcelain coffee cups offering shots to those in need of a hit.  I was told it was more addictive than crack cocaine and I believe it still.  Two shots would erase the lingering effects of a two martini lunch.  (Yes, it was often a custom to drink at lunch in those days when meeting with accountants or lawyers.)  This sweet, thick brew went straight to the cerebellum while eroding the enamel from your teeth.

    It was awesome.

    • #79
  20. RightAngles Member
    RightAngles
    @RightAngles

    Matt Bartle:“Coffee” story…

    A couple of years ago my wife and I were in Italy, and she wanted to get an espresso. So we went into a little place, and on the wall there was an enormous, complicated machine consisting of reservoirs, and hoppers, and tubes, and dials, and valves, and gauges, and nozzles. The guy behind the counter went through series of procedures with this device for several minutes, and at the end produced for her a thimble-full of espresso.

    Talk about a mountain straining to give birth to a mouse!

    I don’t think you can even say what you do with espresso is “drinking” it. There’s not enough of it to drink. I think you just hold this tiny cup to your lips an taste it. It seems pointless to me. I like to drink coffee. I guess I lack European sophistication.

    It’s the same in France. Because if you drank more than a thimbleful of that stuff, you’d have a heart attack and die.

    • #80
  21. PHCheese Inactive
    PHCheese
    @PHCheese

    RightAngles:

    wilber forge:Find a diner at a truck stop where the sign says Eat. MultiUse Brew served there, end of story. And no stinkin Fo Fo barristas.

    Once on a road trip, we saw a diner with a giant sign that said EAT AND GET GAS.

    There was a  convenience store near Southport NC that had sign COFFEE and WORMS

    • #81
  22. wilber forge Inactive
    wilber forge
    @wilberforge

    PHCheese:

    RightAngles:

    wilber forge:Find a diner at a truck stop where the sign says Eat. MultiUse Brew served there, end of story. And no stinkin Fo Fo barristas.

    Once on a road trip, we saw a diner with a giant sign that said EAT AND GET GAS.

    There was a convenience store near Southport NC that had sign COFFEE and WORMS

    Red Wigglers to go.

    • #82
  23. RightAngles Member
    RightAngles
    @RightAngles

    wilber forge:

    PHCheese:

    RightAngles:

    wilber forge:Find a diner at a truck stop where the sign says Eat. MultiUse Brew served there, end of story. And no stinkin Fo Fo barristas.

    Once on a road trip, we saw a diner with a giant sign that said EAT AND GET GAS.

    There was a convenience store near Southport NC that had sign COFFEE and WORMS

    Red Wigglers to go.

    Ha! Reminds me of a place in Texas with a sign that said “VIDEO AND LIVE BAIT.” I guess nobody rents videos anymore. Maybe now it says something else.

    • #83
  24. nandapanjandrum Member
    nandapanjandrum
    @

    PHCheese: There was a convenience store near Southport NC that had sign COFFEE and WORMS

    A now-closed convenience store/gas station near me used to advertise: LIVE BAIT CAPPUCINO.  (Mom P. and I used to wonder what varieties that came in.)

    • #84
  25. RightAngles Member
    RightAngles
    @RightAngles

    Nanda Panjandrum:

    PHCheese: There was a convenience store near Southport NC that had sign COFFEE and WORMS

    A now-closed convenience store/gas station near me used to advertise: LIVE BAIT CAPPUCINO. (Mom P. and I used to wonder what varieties that came in.)

    EW unfortunate wording

    • #85
  26. Layla Inactive
    Layla
    @Layla

    Nanda Panjandrum:

    PHCheese: There was a convenience store near Southport NC that had sign COFFEE and WORMS

    A now-closed convenience store/gas station near me used to advertise: LIVE BAIT CAPPUCINO. (Mom P. and I used to wonder what varieties that came in.)

    Not a coffee sign…but we used to live beside a strip mall in which a vet and a restaurant were neighbors. The signs, put up by the strip mall, were exactly alike in font and size and etc and so they read as though they were one:

    CAT HOSPITAL CHINESE FOOD

    Uh…so when Fluffy didn’t make it…blue plate special next door!

    Sorry. Carry on with your highbrow coffee convo. ;)

    • #86
  27. wilber forge Inactive
    wilber forge
    @wilberforge

    Layla:

    Nanda Panjandrum:

    PHCheese: There was a convenience store near Southport NC that had sign COFFEE and WORMS

    A now-closed convenience store/gas station near me used to advertise: LIVE BAIT CAPPUCINO. (Mom P. and I used to wonder what varieties that came in.)

    Not a coffee sign…but we used to live beside a strip mall in which a vet and a restaurant were neighbors. The signs, put up by the strip mall, were exactly alike in font and size and etc and so they read as though they were one:

    CAT HOSPITAL CHINESE FOOD

    Uh…so when Fluffy didn’t make it…blue plate special next door!

    Sorry. Carry on with your highbrow coffee convo. ?

    Fortune Cookie Reads, ! Congratulations, You Just Ate Cat ! KungPow Kitty too.

    • #87
  28. Archie Campbell Member
    Archie Campbell
    @ArchieCampbell

    SParker:…the wooden grip and leather binding–the thing that separates it from a ring stand, funnel, and Ehrlenmeyer flask–will drive you nuts over time when cleaning the thing, which is about as much fun as cleaning an Ehrlenmeyer flask, really, and the grip gets scuzzy and the leather rots.

     

    True, but for a few more bucks you can get a Chemex with a handle: http://www.chemexcoffeemaker.com/six-cup-glass-handle-series-coffeemaker.html

    Much easier to clean and handle.

    • #88
  29. Archie Campbell Member
    Archie Campbell
    @ArchieCampbell

    Good stuff, Jon. I would add that you can use the filter-rinsing water to warm your coffee cups while you brew.

    • #89
  30. Casey Inactive
    Casey
    @Casey

     

    • #90
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