9 Rules for How to Make a Perfect Cup of Coffee
A good cup of coffee in the morning can set the mood for your whole day. But when the coffee shops are closed, relying on a barista to serve your daily cup may not be an option for you. If that's the case, you might be looking to brew a good cup yourself. And, depending on the amount of coffee you drink a day, it could also save you some cash. With these nine simple rules, you'll be able to make your own perfect cup of coffee every morning, right in your own home.
It's easier than you think—simple things like storing your beans correctly and using the best filters will prevent unwanted bitterness or off-flavors from your cup. Whether your morning coffee is made up of estate-grown beans and an elaborate brew process or you like a supermarket blend with a drip coffee maker, follow these basic rules for a delicious, satisfying cup of coffee—every single time.
How to Make Coffee
There are three common brewing methods for coffee at home. The long-standing favorite has been a classic drip coffee machine, but pour-over coffee at home is becoming increasingly more popular, and the French press is an easy favorite as well. Find out how to make coffee with all three methods with these easy steps.
Before you get started, you should know that weighing your ground coffee yields better results than using measuring cups, measuring spoons or coffee scoops to measure your coffee. A digital kitchen scale is very handy–we've provided the measurements by weight for accuracy, but we also provided the measuring-spoon equivalents. That said, as a general rule, we recommend about 15 grams (1 tablespoon) of ground coffee per 8-ounce cup of coffee. For 4 cups of coffee, that's about 60 grams (4 tablespoons) of ground coffee.
How to Make Pour-Over Coffee
Arguably the best method for a delicious, aromatic and complex cup of coffee, the pour-over coffee maker won't disappoint.
- First, bring cold water to a boil in a kettle.
- If using whole beans, grind the beans to a uniform consistency similar to granulated table salt.
- Meanwhile, put a filter in the brewer and rinse with hot water. This removes the papery residue on the filter and warms up the brewer, keeping your coffee hot for longer. Discard the water used for rinsing.
- Add the grounds to the filter, making sure the surface is level. When the water is between 195°F and 205°F (about a minute after removal from the heat), slowly and steadily pour just enough water over the grounds to saturate them completely, starting from the middle and working your way outward. Stop pouring before the coffee begins to drip through. This is called the "bloom" pour, which allows the coffee to de-gas.
- Slowly pour in the remaining water, keeping the water in the dripper between half and three-quarters full. This should take 3 to 4 minutes. Carefully remove the filter, then serve and enjoy.
How to Use a French Press
Caffeinate like a European and make your morning coffee with a French press.
- First, bring water to a boil in a kettle.
- If using whole beans, grind the beans to a consistency similar to breadcrumbs (coarser than you'd want for pour-over). The grounds should be uniform in size, without a lot of fine grit. Add the grounds to the French press.
- When the water is between 195°F and 205°F (about a minute after removal from the heat), add it to the French press and stir it vigorously into the grounds. The brew time is about 4 minutes, then slowly plunge the press, separating the grounds from the coffee.
- Serve and enjoy. Note: if you're not planning on drinking the coffee immediately, do not leave it in the French press, as it will continue to sit on the grounds and become bitter. Instead, pour the coffee into a carafe to enjoy later.
How to Make Drip Coffee
On a hectic morning, nothing beats the simplicity of a drip coffee machine. Depending on your machine, you could make up to 12 cups at a time!
- If using whole beans, grind the beans to a uniform consistency similar to regular table salt. Transfer the grounds into a filter-lined filter basket, then place it in the drip machine. Swivel the water spout over the center of the grounds.
- Pour clean water into the back of the machine (not over the grounds) and press the on button.
- Turn off the machine as soon as the coffee is done brewing (it will stop bubbling) to avoid a burnt taste. Be sure to clean your machine once a month by filtering through a mixture of water and vinegar, which removes any built-up residue.
Tips for Making the Best Coffee
Rule 1: Buy Fresh Beans
Without question, coffee is best when used within days of being roasted. Buying from a local roaster (but you can roast coffee yourself) is the surest way to get the absolute freshest beans. Be wary of buying bulk coffee from supermarket display bins. Oxygen and bright light are the worst flavor busters for roasted beans, so unless the store is conscientious about selling fresh coffee, the storage tubes get coated with coffee oils, which turn rancid. Coffee beans packaged by quality-conscious roasters and sold in sturdy, vacuum-sealed bags are often a better bet.
Rule 2: Keep Coffee Beans Fresh
Always store opened coffee beans in an airtight container. Glass canning jars or ceramic storage crocks with rubber-gasket seals are good choices. Never refrigerate (roasted beans are porous and readily take up moisture and food odors). Flavor experts strongly advise against freezing coffee, especially dark roasts. Optimally, buy a five- to seven-day supply of fresh beans at a time and keep them at room temperature.
Rule 3: Choose Good Coffee If It's Within Your Budget
Snobbism among coffee drinkers can rival that of wine drinkers, but the fact is that an astonishing world of coffee tastes awaits anyone willing to venture beyond mass-marketed commercial brands. Specialty coffees that clearly state the country, region or estate of origin can provide a lifetime of tasting experiences. There are two major beans on the market–Arabica and Robusta. Arabica beans are more widely produced, have a wider range of flavors and are generally considered the "better bean." By all means, look for 100% pure Arabica beans. The cheap alternatives may contain Robusta beans, noted for their higher caffeine content but harsh flavors. "Nasty" is a term commonly linked to Robusta coffees by Arabica devotees. But these types of coffee can be expensive. If your barista budget has taken a hit, there are plenty of good grocery store brands that deliver your morning buzz at half the price of fancy beans.
Rule 4. Grind Your Own
Coffee starts losing quality almost immediately upon grinding. The best-tasting brews are made from beans ground just before brewing. Coffee connoisseurs prefer to grind in expensive burr mills, but affordable electric "whirly blade" grinders will do a serviceable job, especially if the mill is rocked during grinding to get a fine, even particle size. (Scoop for scoop, finer grinds yield more flavor.)
Rule 5. Use Good Water
Nothing can ruin a pot of coffee more surely than tap water with chlorine or off-flavors. Serious coffee lovers use bottled spring water or activated charcoal/carbon filters on their taps. Note: Softened or distilled water makes terrible coffee–the minerals in good water are essential.
Related: Healthy Coffee Dessert Recipes
Rule 6. Avoid Cheap Filters
Bargain-priced paper coffee filters yield inferior coffee, according to the experts. Look for "oxygen-bleached" or "dioxin-free" paper filters (e.g., Filtropa, Melitta). Alternatively, you may wish to invest in a long-lived gold-plated filter (e.g., SwissGold). These are reputed to deliver maximum flavor, but may let sediment through if the coffee is ground too finely.
Related: How to Brew a Greener Cup of Coffee
Rule 7. Don't Skimp on the Coffee
The standard measure for brewing coffee of proper strength is 2 level tablespoons per 6-ounce cup or about 2 3/4 tablespoons per 8-ounce cup. Tricks like using less coffee and hotter water to extract more cups per pound tend to make for bitter brews.
Rule 8. Beware the Heat
Water that is too hot will extract compounds in the coffee that are bitter rather than pleasant. The proper water temperature for brewing is 200°F, or about 45 seconds off a full boil. (Most good coffee makers regulate this automatically.) Once brewed, don't expect coffee to hold its best flavors for long. Reheating, boiling or prolonged holding on a warming platform will turn even the best coffee bitter and foul-tasting.
Rule 9. Keep Your Equipment Clean
Clean storage containers and grinders every few weeks to remove any oily buildup. At least monthly, run a strong solution of vinegar or specialty coffee-equipment cleaner like Urnex through your coffee maker to dissolve away any mineral deposits. Rinse thoroughly before reuse.
Related: Healthy Coffee Recipes