The 5 super-simple things that'll help brew the perfect cup of coffee

December 15 | Guest post by Thomas Bell
Photo submitted by the author
Photo submitted by the author

Several years ago I moved to a small town and found myself in a bit of a predicament. Although there are two cafes in the town, I quickly discovered that they typically served up flavored coffees. Although I like a wide variety of beans, I absolutely cannot stand flavorings in my coffee. (I'm not saying that there's anything wrong with them, but that I'm just a bit of a purist in that I like to savor a good bean, not cover up its flavor.)

So I bought a coffee pot, and got to brewing. I thought to myself… How hard can it be? Measure out the right amount, throw in some water, hit the switch and you're good to go. Boy was I wrong. I think the first week's worth of brew was even worse than what they're schlepping down at the local gas station, blech!

After trial and error, here are the five simple things that'll help you brew the perfect cup of coffee…

Keep it fresh

I keep all my beans and grounds in the refrigerator. The biggest difference I notice is more in the strength of the brew, although the subtle overtones of more exotic beans tend to diminish with age as well. A cool cupboard area may work as well, but I wouldn't recommend it.

Get your grind right

If you're a coffee enthusiast there is no excuse not to buy your own grinder. They're cheap, easy to use and clean up, and offer a great amount of control over the coffee brewing experience. The problem is, if you're like me, you just rip open the box and get to grinding. In order to produce the perfect brew, you need to take into consideration how much grinding is needed.

Generally, for faster brewing coffees, like espresso, you will want a finer grind. But for longer drip brewing, you will want a coarser grind. It's always good to experiment a bit to find the perfect balance for the bean and your tastes.

Get the proportion right

Two heaping tablespoons per cup will make a full-bodied coffee. My main mistake in this area was expecting the proportion to the taste of the bean. Believe me that no amount of light roast is ever going to give the flavor of a dark roast. Know your beans and roast, and keep the proportion right, to avoid heart attack-inducing levels of caffeine.

I've also found that cheaper pre-ground coffees can be made suitably palatable simply by keeping the proportion right, which can be useful if you're on a tight budget.

Use cold filtered water

I'm not sure why this makes the coffee taste better, but it certainly works. In my area the tap water also tends to have too much chlorine in it, frankly I think it's like drinking pool water. Well, maybe not that bad, but adding a filter onto my kitchen faucet has certainly helped.

Wash your machine and pot once in awhile

I say "once in awhile" for a reason here. Your coffee pot will build up a patina that actually produces a better tasting cup o' joe. I think of it like a charcoal grill, or a cast iron skillet. Some patina is good, but if you aren't brewing everyday it will get nasty.

I find that using regular dish detergent leaves an undesirable aftertaste, no matter how well I rinse the pot. So I like to use a mixture of ice cubes and salt instead. Just throw in around half a tray of ice cubes (Make sure not to do this with a hot glass pot!) and about a tablespoon of salt. Swish it around, and voila, a nice clean coffee pot without the aftertaste you get from dish detergents.

Feel free to leave your tips for brewing the perfect cup of coffee!

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  1. Everything I have ever read about storing coffee is to NEVER keep it in the fridge or freezer, that the condensation that occurs by taking it out to prepare your pot will deteriorate the flavour faster than anything else. A cool cupboard has always served us well.

    13 agree
    • Agreed. Condensation is light in the few minutes the bag or jar is out of the fridge but that's all it takes. Coffee, beans or ground, should be kept in an opaque, air-tight container in a cool cupboard.

  2. I'm surprised there was no mention of a French press. I initially got one because it takes up less space, but it tastes SO MUCH BETTER than any drip coffee I've ever had. I have a tendency to prefer some sort of creamer/flavoring to help with the bitterness of drip coffee, but with my French press there's nothing but delicious savory and smooth coffee that I wouldn't dream of flavoring

    3 agree
  3. I love my cuisinart drip machine with the gold filter – I brew coffee everyday so it's easy just to tap out and rinse the filter. The salt trick sounds good, I'll have to try that the next time the pot needs a cleaning.

    1 agrees
  4. I only just started drinking coffee 6 months ago at the age of 31, and I am incredibly intimidated by most coffee articles and websites. So thankyou so much for this!!! I have learnt how to make an ok coffee using a stovetop… metal thing… italian percolator? Its very simple. And I am ok with instant. But I do worry that I am missing some magic by not knowing little tricks. Our coffee bean jar sits next to a huge sunny window, so I will change that now!!

  5. For me, the biggest difference comes from fresh-ground versus pre-ground coffee. Fresh ground means less of the volatile organic compounds (VOC's) are still in the coffee, which means there's a higher chance of them sticking around through the brew process. I love my grind-and-brew pot for that reason, it's an automatic bean-to-coffee process with no down time.
    The second thing that makes a difference is the brew time or brew "strength". I like a longer/stronger brew for decafs, and a short/light brew for light roasts, to bring out their natural flavors. And just say "no" to glass pots that sit on a warming plate, more than a few minutes can burn the coffee and turn the flavor off. If you like to make a lot of coffee and keep it hot for a while, I recommend an insulated pot. (Or just keep your coffee in a pre-warmed thermos.)

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