Had enough of cruddy tasting coffee at home? Whether you’re brewing at home to save money or because you’re now working from home and your kitchen is both your office and coffee shop, we’re here to help.
Find a Coffee You Really Like
Things will get a bit more technical later, but first, let’s talk about the raw materials you need to make some good java: coffee beans. Coffee isn’t just an interchangeable-commodity bean, roasted till it’s black in an industrial manufacturing line, then sold for $3 a bag at your local grocery store.
On the contrary, there’s an entire world of specialty coffees out there, for which high-quality beans are sought and carefully processed to bring out their best flavors. It’s these beans that sell for $10 or $20 per bag online and in the best cafes.
So, what else sets these specialty coffees apart?
In our previous guide on finding a good coffee, we noted the following factors that contribute the most to different coffee flavors:
- Varietals: Like apples and roses, coffee has these, as well. Coffea arabica and coffee canephora (robusta) produce entirely different cups of coffee. And that’s even before you dive into the more niche varieties, like bourbon, caturra, SL28, and so on.
- The terroir: Like wine, coffee gets its character from where it’s grown. What’s the soil like? At what altitude is it grown? Are the summers wet or dry? Just labeling a coffee “Colombian” isn’t enough when there are different growing regions throughout the country.
- Farming practices: Coffee doesn’t teleport from seed to cup; it has to be tended. How carefully a farmer looks after his crop, when he picks it, and which pest-control and fertilizing methods he uses are just a few of the things that matter the most.
- The processing method: Generally, coffee is either processed naturally or washed. Naturally processed coffees have a fruity, “fermenty” taste that people tend to either love or hate. Washed-process coffees tend to have a crisper, clearer taste.
- The roast level: Coffee has to be roasted to bring out its flavor. Bake any bean until it’s a smoking husk, and it’ll taste the same—awful. Instead, good roasters try to find the perfect level for the raw beans they’re using.
As you can see, just grabbing the cheapest bag of beans you can find at the store isn’t the best way to stellar java. Still, you don’t have to pay crazy money to get delicious coffee, either. One of my favorites is a house blend that only costs about $12 for an 8 oz. bag.
Just keep in mind that all the technical stuff we’re going to talk about below doesn’t matter if you use terrible beans or really expensive ones you don’t like. Even if you improve how you brew your coffee, you can only extract the flavor that’s already there.
Your brewing method can’t make bad beans taste good. However, you can make good beans taste bad.
Grind Your Coffee Fresh
Now, let’s talk about turning those beans into ground coffee, and what happens when you do it. Each coffee bean is a potent nugget of caffeine and deliciousness, but its outer shell protects the interior. If you drop a few beans in a cup, you’re not going to have much to drink.
When you grind it, though, you massively increase the surface area of the coffee. The water absorbs the compounds you want much more easily from a few thousand tiny granules than a whole bean. Then, boom! It’s brew time!
Just as the increased surface area from grinding makes it possible to brew, it also exposes the coffee to the air. It doesn’t matter if you brew it immediately, either—if your coffee came pre-ground, then it will seriously affect the flavor.
Tip: Grind coffee on demand. The moment you grind it the coffee begins losing flavor.
Ground coffee goes stale in a matter of hours or days, while whole beans can remain good for a few weeks. This is why, if you want incredible coffee, you have to start with quality beans and grind them just before you brew. Which means you also need a coffee grinder.
Baratza Encore Conical Burr Coffee Grinder
The Baratza Encore is a phenomenal value in the burr grinder market.
If you don’t want to buy or mess with a grinder, that’s okay—the tips we cover below will still apply. Your coffee will just taste a bit less fresh than it would otherwise.
Different brew methods require different grind profiles, so it’ll take you a few days to find the perfect grind, but trust us, you’ll never go back!
Experiment with Brewing Methods
Ready for the biggest coffee secret? If you use tasty, freshly ground beans, you can get hot, tasty coffee with any brew method. French press? Yep. Moka pot? Of course. Pour-over? Without a doubt.
Still, not all brew methods are equally easy or convenient. However, below are the pros and cons of some of the most popular options:
- French press: Almost everyone has one of these lying around—and if you don’t already have one they’re super cheap. You don’t need filters or anything special, and it’s also really easy to get your brew right. The biggest downside is the cleanup.
- AeroPress: The AeroPress is so good at making coffee, there’s even an AeroPress World Championship. There’s a bit of a learning curve with this method, though. It’s also a struggle to make enough coffee for more than one or two people.
- Pour over: This is, arguably, the best way to brew coffee. It’s also, inarguably, the easiest method to get wrong. Pour over is awesome if you learn to do it right. If not, give it a hard pass. Thankfully it’s not expensive to get started with pour over.
- Drip machines: These brew the coffee for you, which is both good and bad. You have less control over the finished product, but it also requires much less effort. Cheap drip machines are a dime a dozen, but if you want consistent results there are some really premium options on the market like the Technivorm Moccamaster.
Note: We’ve skipped over espresso for a simple reason. Espresso is expensive and tricky to brew at home. If you want to go that route, be prepared to spend hundreds to thousands of dollars and turn it into a hobby.
The best way to find the right method for you is to experiment with a few of them. You don’t have to pledge your soul to just one, either. For example, you might brew a pour-over with a Hario V60 to start the day, then use an AeroPress to keep you topped up for the rest of the day.
Use a Brewing Recipe
Whichever brew method you choose, try to avoid charging in like the proverbial bull in the china shop. Just using as much ground coffee and boiling water as you like is unlikely to deliver the taste you want.
Sometimes, you might get lucky and accidentally brew something tasty. Mostly, though, you’ll just be making undrinkable sludge. Instead, put your chef’s hat on and use a recipe.
For most brewing methods, the ideal ratio of ground coffee per liter of water is between 60-70g. And no, you shouldn’t convert that to tablespoons, barleycorns, or quarts. If you’re serious about your coffee, invest in some accurate scales and work only in grams.
Check out a few recipes for your favorite brew method and go from there. Don’t be afraid to experiment and put your own spin on things. Just make sure it’s repeatable so you can keep that good coffee consistently flowing.
Drink It Daily
If you start with good beans and grind them fresh and then nail your brewing recipe, we guarantee you’ll have tasty coffee every day for a fraction of what you’ve been paying at the coffee shop.
There’s just one final tip: Drink it daily! There are three reasons why you don’t want to sit on your hands when it comes to daily coffee preparations:
- It goes bad: Coffee, even as whole beans, goes stale over time. Even if you store it properly, it will still eventually go bad. The only way to prevent that is to drink it.
- Practice makes perfect: The more you brew your own coffee—especially if you use the pour-over method—the better you’ll get at it. Brew it daily, and you’ll be a master in no time.
- It’s delicious: So, why wouldn’t you want to drink it as often as possible?
After trying some different coffees, methods, and preparation techniques, you’ll dial in your favorite way to drink coffee. No more slogging down to the local shop to get a cup of joe brewed just right! You’ll start every day with a cup prepared just the way you want, right at home.