The Art of Making a Great Cup of Coffee

The Art of Making a Great Cup of Coffee

There’s something really satisfying in having a great cup of coffee.

If you want to make the best coffee possible, consider buying coffee beans rather than pre-ground coffee. The outer layer of the coffee bean seals and protects the interior bean, preserving all its natural compounds. Once the outer layer is breached through grinding, the interior of the bean is exposed to the air and begins to oxidize. Ground beans can start to lose flavor in as little as a 15-minute exposure to air.

The Coffee Bean

Grinding the beans immediately before brewing ensures a fresher, better tasting cup of coffee. Grinding to the correct degree of coarseness makes a big difference in taste.

Your local coffee shop will have fresh beans (and, as a side benefit, it’s also good for the local economy). Coffee purists insist that beans should be used up within a month of roasting. Although this may not always be possible, buying just enough beans to last a few weeks at a time and storing the beans properly will help ensure great tasting coffee. 

Storing Beans

There are four major things to avoid when storing coffee:

  • Oxygen
  • Light
  • Heat
  • Humidity

It’s best to take the beans out of the bag they were purchased in and put them into a mason jar or some kind of vacuum sealed container. Opaque storage containers are best to keep out light. Store them in your cupboard away from any light source. Some suggest putting coffee in the refrigerator or freezer, but even well sealed jars and bags of beans tend to take on the taste and smell of the inside of the refrigerator. Putting them in the freezer may cause a problem of humidity which can ruin the flavor of the coffee. If you still decide you want to refrigerate or freeze coffee beans, it’s best to store very small amounts in an airtight container so that humidity and smells don’t have time to take hold.

The Big Grind!

Want to grind a week’s worth of coffee in one go? Hold on. Coffee grinds tend to lose flavor pretty quickly. It’s best to grind just for coffee you want to drink now. If that’s just too fussy for you, or too time consuming, then do a small amount and store the remaining grounds, again, in an opaque vacuum-sealed container. Try to use them up in a couple of days. 

Coarse, Fine, or In-Between? It All Depends…

The size of your coffee grounds will depend on the coffee appliance you use. Grind size and consistency matter quite a bit. Grind the beans too coarse and you will have a weak pot of coffee. Grind too fine and you could over-extract the coffee and it will taste bitter. 

What You Use to Grind Coffee Beans Matters Too!

Blade Grinder: A blade grinder is a machine that chops coffee beans while mixing it. Blade grinders are popular with people just starting to brew their own coffee because they are compact and generally low-priced. 

In the center of the grinder is a blade that looks like a propeller, similar to a blade in a blender. This grinder offers more power for faster grinding, but coffee grounds can be uneven in size. Blade grinders most often do not have settings for fine, medium, or coarse grinds. Uneven grounds can lead to a bad tasting cup of coffee because you will taste different flavors of the coffee. You’ll taste bitterness from the finely ground coffee paired with the bold flavor of the bigger pieces.

Generally, it’s best to use a pulsing action, rather than stop and starting the motor to achieve as even a grind as possible.

Burr Grinder: A burr grinder, also called a burr mill, is made up of two revolving burrs in between which the coffee is ground. The beans are crushed between a moving grinder wheel and a non-moving surface. Electric and manual burr grinders provide consistent grind sizes. 

Conical Burr Grinder: These are a popular choice. They use a cone-shaped center burr with an outer serrated burr that helps produce well-ground coffee. Conical burr grinders usually have settings for different grinds. Its design is naturally energy-efficient and heat resistant. 

Conical burrs don’t produce completely evenly ground coffee. But to see this, you need a microscope, so this shouldn’t impact the overall taste.

Flat Burr Grinders: These grinders feature two donut-shaped burrs that face one another with very sharp edges. These grinders normally have settings for fine, medium, and coarse grind. The design allows the beans to stay between the burrs until they are perfectly (and symmetrically) ground up. When all the coffee or espresso grounds are the same size, the flavor is very one-note.

Flat burr grinders are more expensive than the conical burr grinders, and they do use up a bit more energy.

Manual Burr Grinder: Manual burr grinders are turned by hand, rotating one grinding surface against the other. The ground coffee is collected in a container which is part of the mill. These hand grinders are easy to use, are less expensive than electrically powered burr grinders, and generally produce a very consistent grind size. 

How to Measure Your Coffee

The standard ratio for brewing coffee is 1-2 tablespoons of ground coffee per 6 ounces of water. Use 1 tablespoon for lighter coffee and 2 tablespoons for stronger coffee. That 6-ounce measure is equivalent to one “cup” in a standard coffee maker.

For those who want another way of measuring, a ratio of 1:20 (that’s one part coffee to 20 parts water) makes a fairly strong cup of coffee. Some people go as high as 1:14 or as low as 1:30. 

What’s the Best Water?

Hard water often found in tap water tends to mute the flavor of the coffee. It also causes limescale buildup in your machine. 

Generally, lightly filtered water should suffice for good tasting coffee. It should remove chlorine, odors and some minerals. 

Don’t Forget the Water Temperature

The hotter your water, the more quickly it pulls the flavor from the coffee grounds. Near-boiling water only takes 2-4 minutes to produce a balanced extraction. Cold water can take anywhere from 3-24 hours to produce cold brew coffee.

The ideal temperature range for hot brewing is 195 to 205 degrees Fahrenheit.

  • Coffee over 205 degrees Fahrenheit tends to over extract, producing bitter coffee.
  • Water under 195 degrees has a difficult time extracting, producing sour, underdeveloped coffee.

Once the water has boiled, remove the water’s heat source and wait at least 30 seconds before using the water for your coffee. 


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