The “perfect” cup of coffee is the one that tastes good to you. Some like their coffee stronger than others. Here are some generally accepted standards to begin with that will help in your quest to know how to make coffee taste good.
Start With Good Water
If you want to know how to make coffee taste good, Water, is the single most important ingredient for a perfect cup of coffee. Also, it is the most often overlooked. The average cup of coffee contains over 98% water.
Never use: hot tap water, water that contains chemicals (chlorine, fluoride, etc.), artificially softened water, sparkling water, mineral water, water that has been standing, or any water that has any undesirable taste or odor.
Aerated, naturally soft water is the ideal. More readily available, bottled spring water is a good second choice.
If you must use tap water, install a good commercial type chemical, taste & odor filter in the line. These cost anywhere from about $70.00 to $150.00 but the benefits are well worth the investment. No matter how efficient your brewing device or how fresh your coffee, you will never get more than a mediocre cup of coffee without good water.
The amount of soluble solids dissolved in water, is usually expressed as a percentage of the weight of the coffee grounds. Optimum extraction of 19% can be obtained by using one Approved Coffee Measure (1 ACM = 2 tablespoons or more precisely one third ounce) of coffee per six ounce cup of water, using proper brewing procedures of course.
Grinding coffee too fine for your brewing method (to make it go farther, make it stronger, etc.) is probably the most frequent abuse of good coffee today and only results in over-extraction and a bitter cup of coffee.
Grinding too coarse results in less than 19% extraction, producing a weak, light-bodied coffee. See our Grinding Guide. Even properly brewed espresso does not exceed 19% extraction.
Always use freshly roasted, fresh ground coffee. No matter how it’s packed, coffee beans begin to lose their peak flavor one week after they are roasted and three days after ground.
Whenever possible, purchase your coffee from a small, experienced, discerning, local, specialty coffee roaster. They usually buy the best grade of green coffee beans, do not roast more than they can sell in a few days and you will get a better grade of coffee for less money.
If there is no local roaster, ask your coffee merchant when the coffee was roasted and be sure that he will guarantee his coffee. You gain no advantage over ground, vacuum packed or canned “store” coffee by grinding beans from a “gourmet” store that are more than a week out of the roaster.
Never store ground coffee in the refrigerator
coffee stored in a refrigerator will sweat from condensation resulting from taking it out and putting it back, will lump up and the flavor will be altered.
Coffee is best stored in the bean form in specially designed laminated foil, one-way valve bags. The materials are designed to keep the coffee fresh while keeping foreign odors out.
If you are not going to use the beans in a week, place the bag in a freezer and grind only what you need right out of the freezer. Make sure you turn the top of the bag down to the unused portion of the beans, and close it with the attached tin-tie, to remove all possible air (something you can’t do with a rigid container).
A rigid container will leave an air space when beans are removed, allowing “freezer burn” when returned to the freezer. Never use a polyethylene plastic container as it breathes and will allow foreign odors to contaminate the coffee.
Preparing the Brew
There are many methods of brewing coffee: percolator, drip, French press, vacuum, espresso, cold water, etc.
Never use a percolator as they only boil the coffee over and over resulting in over-extraction. Automatic, programmable coffee-makers are fine if gadgets or gimmicks are your thing, but water that sits overnight looses oxygen, becomes stagnant and will alter the taste of the coffee.
Even the ones that grind the beans are more for the person who has everything, not the serious coffee gourmand. Because the “drip” (Melitta or filter) method is generally accepted as the most efficient (the design allows you to use a fine grind), that is the one we will discuss here.
Even this method is improperly referred to as “drip,” but that is another story.
Appropriately grind the correct amount of coffee beans for your brewing method (fine grind for Melitta type filters) and place it in your filter. If you use an electric coffee-maker, you may have to do some experimenting with different grinds as that will be your only means of controlling extraction.
Boil the proper amount of cold, fresh, spring water (boiling aerates the water – not possible in an electric coffee-maker). By the time you remove the water from the burner it is no longer boiling and will be the proper temperature when you pour it over the ground coffee.
Notice that the coffee grounds adhere to the sides of the filter. By design your filter cone has small ribs that allow the water to pass through the sides of the filter as well as the bottom, thus insuring proper brewing time for optimum extraction.
Never make more coffee than will be immediately consumed as coffee left on a warmer more than one-half hour will oxidize and lose its flavor. If you must keep it warm for longer periods, pour it into a pre-heated vacuum thermos.
Remember, the measurements discussed above under “Extraction” apply no matter what brewing method you use. Using the optimum extraction of 19%, all coffee is the same strength. If you want a stronger flavor, use a different variety of coffee. If you require a weaker coffee, make it regular strength and add hot water.
How to Find Quality Beans
Specialty coffees require special care to ensure a rich, flavorful reward. One of the most important considerations in buying coffee beans is the length of time the beans have been stored after roasting. Find out what day the store you shop in gets shipments from its wholesale roasters, or better yet, if possible, buy direct from an experienced, discerning, specialty roaster. Coffee begins to stale right after roasting and it really becomes noticeable after two weeks. Stale beans will have a musty or dusty scent to them.
Pay attention to how the beans are displayed. Can foreign particles get into the coffee? Are customers allowed to handle or smell the coffee? Is smoking allowed? Are the employees allowed to smoke around the coffee? Is ventilation adequate to remove strong cologne & perfume odors?
Coffee is best displayed in disposable containers. Stale oils left in re-usable containers will contaminate the next batch of coffee stored if not cleaned regularly. Is the storage air-tight? Does the package they sell the beans in provide adequate protection after leaving the store? Air, dampness and foreign odors are the enemies of freshly roasted coffee.