I (really) love coffee, so I'm always testing new ways to make the best cup of coffee at home.
There are a few techniques that can immediately improve the quality of your coffee, no matter how fancy (or basic) your coffee machine is.
Here are seven tips for making your drip coffee taste a whole lot better.
1. Buy fresh, whole bean coffee
A cup of coffee is only as good as the beans you start with.
If you're buying bags of preground coffee, you're doing it wrong. Instead, start with fresh, whole beans.
There's a reason most coffee companies don't provide the date for when the coffee was roasted; the stuff you find on the shelf in the grocery store has probably been there for months. Coffee reaches its peak flavor just days after it has been roasted and should be consumed within a month of its roast date.
2. Properly store beans
To keep the coffee you buy fresh for longer, make sure you're storing it properly. While a vacuum sealed container with a one-way valve is recommended by many, a standard Mason jar will suffice for most people.
3. How and when you grind matters
Grind your coffee immediately before brewing for maximum flavor.
Experts say coffee begins to lose its flavor within 30 minutes of being ground. This being the case, it's best to grind on the spot, just before brewing a pot.
Grind size and consistency matter quite a bit, as well. Grind too coarse and you will have a weak pot of coffee. Grind too fine and you will over-extract the coffee and it will taste bitter. Most drip coffee makers call for a medium to medium-fine grind.
Unless you want to spend upward of $100 on a quality automatic burr grinder, a manual hand mill is the most affordable way to achieve a nice, consistent grind, though they do require a small amount of manual labor.
Blade grinders also work, but will produce inconsistent particle size, which can lead to over-extraction but still better than store bought preground.
4. The right way to measure your coffee
Measure coffee by weight instead of volume.
Making better coffee is all about eliminating variables, and one way to do that is to use the same amount of coffee per unit of water each time you brew. Using a digital scale to measure takes just a second and allows you to better compare how much coffee and water is used each time.
Ideally, a ratio of 1:18 (that's one part coffee to 18 parts water, or about 14g of coffee to 250mL of water) makes a fairly strong cup of coffee. That said, some people go as high as 1:14 or as low as 1:30. It's up to you to decide what tastes best, which is much easier to do (and replicate) once you remove all the guesswork.
5. Pre-infuse your grounds
Chances are, your drip coffee maker skips a crucial step.
Most automatic coffee makers don't properly prepare the coffee grounds for full extraction. Manual pour over cones (which are not unlike automatic drip machines) call for a preinfusion or the so-called "bloom." This preps the coffee by pouring hot water over the grounds to help release any remaining carbon dioxide gas left over from the roasting process. Skipping this step will allow the carbon dioxide to repel water during part of the brewing process, effectively making the brew weaker.
To preinfuse your coffee, insert a filter into the hopper and add your coffee grounds. Then use a kettle to preheat roughly 50 milliliters or quarter-cup of water to 200°F. Slowly pour the heated water over the grounds, making sure to thoroughly wet all of them. Let this sit for approximately 45 seconds before starting the coffee maker. Alternatively start your machine and remove the carafe for 45 seconds if your machine is equipped with a stopper, this will cause the water to saturate the grounds before you replace the carafe.
6. Brew at the right temperature
Many automatic drip machines don't reach optimal brewing temperature.
Another step many automatic coffee makers skip is reaching optimal temperature. The desired brew temperature for drip coffee is between 195°F and 205°F. Newer, high-end models sometimes have a manual temperature adjustment, but older, cheaper makers do not.
To make sure your coffee maker gets hot enough, run it without any coffee in the hopper and use a thermometer to measure the temperature. If you can, try to measure the temperature during the brewing process, as the water temperature will drop as it passes through the hopper and into the carafe beneath. If it never reaches at least 195°F, see if pre-boiling your water in a kettle helps.
Keep in mind, however, you do not want to exceed 205 degrees, as it will "burn" the coffee. If this doesn't work, you might want to consider upgrading your coffee maker.
7. Use the right water
The quality of the water you use is another often overlooked aspect of brewing coffee. Using hard water that's full of minerals won't bond well with the dissolved particulates from the coffee, leading to an under-extracted, weak coffee. Not only that, this higher mineral content is what also leads to buildups in your coffee maker, such as lime deposits. This will require you to descale your coffee maker more often.
On the other hand, heavily filtered or distilled water can be just as destructive for your equipment. While it doesn't cause as much buildup, Seattle Coffee Gear explains that its lack of ions and mineral content will force the water to "leach minerals out of the metal components and degrade the machine's performance over time." Plus, with more room for bonds, distilled water can easily lead to over-extraction.
You want water that's roughly in the middle of the spectrum, with a mineral balance of approximately 150 parts per million. You can achieve ideal water for your coffee brewing by using distilled water and adding capsules from Third Wave Water, but for the casual drinker lightly filtered water (from a water filter pitcher or a refrigerator's filtered water) will suffice.
These are very generic but a good guide to the variations in flavour from different beans from around the world.