You want to brew better coffee? There are tons of ways to do it but the basics stay the same. Here’s what you need to make good coffee at home.
To brew good coffee at home you need; Fresh beans; a good burr coffee grinder; some kind of brew equipment like a French press, pour over, espresso machine or Moka pot and; water. Good coffee starts with good beans. Treating those beans the right way after that brings out the best in the beans.
Below you can find a more detailed explanation of the four things you need for good coffee below.
If you want to brew good coffee, there is no real other option than using fresh beans. Using fresh beans will result in much better coffee than using pre-ground coffee powder or even cups.
The two main benefits of using fresh beans to brew coffee are: Freshness and quality. Let’s look at those two benefits.
Roasted coffee beans contain hundreds of different compounds. Many of those are volatile which means they basically evaporate into air. Other compounds can oxidize and the oils can go rancid. That’s why coffee goes stale: All those compounds in the coffee beans simply disappear into the wind and the chemical composition off many of the different compounds in the coffee beans change over time.
A lot of those compounds are changed into what we like to taste during the roasting process. After roasting, the beans are supposed to rest a few days and from there, they’re at their best for 4-6 weeks. That’s with whole beans.
Now what happens when you grind the beans, suddenly the surface area increases dramatically. This is what you want so the water can extract the coffee more easily but it also makes it much easier for all the volatile compounds to escape into the air. So ground coffee goes stale much faster than whole beans. Within 30 minutes of grinding, a lot of the aromas are gone if left to the open air. You can delay the process a little by vacuum packing the grounds but once you open the bag, it goes downhill rapidly.
This is why using whole beans is going to make much better, more fragrant coffee. The beans keep their taste for longer and by grinding them shortly before use, you get all of the taste into your water which brews coffee.
Quality and variety
Freshness is the main benefit why most people start using fresh beans. However, another benefit is the quality and variety of the coffee using whole beans opens up. Many specialty coffees are only sold as whole beans.
Maybe you don’t want to get into specialty coffees and just want to improve your cup of morning coffee without thinking too much about it. Whole beans are still a definite improvement and you get the option of extra choice as well.
But while you might not want to get into the specialty coffee, good coffee needs good beans. If you start with bad beans, all the stuff that comes after can’t make a bad bean taste good. Good equipment can bring out more of the taste in the beans, if that taste is bad, you’re just getting more of the bad taste.
So if you want to make better coffee, getting good beans is the starting point. Going to your local coffee roaster and buying a bag of high quality fresh beans is a good place to start. If your local roaster isn’t too busy, talk to them and let them know what you like. They’ll be able to help you with getting something you like. Yes, that might cost a bit more than coffee at the supermarket but it’s worth it.
If you don’t have any good local options, check out some of the options below.
If you want to use whole beans, you need a coffee grinder. Throwing whole coffee beans in water doesn’t work all that well. The beans have to be turned into a powder to actually work.
To do this right, you need a coffee grinder. You could try to use a hammer but that probably won’t have the results you’re looking for. A good grinder makes a world of difference in the final result. Besides looking nicer and being easier to work with, better grinders have more adjustment options and produce more uniform grounds which brews better coffee. If the coffee particles are too different in size, the larger particles will be under extracted which leads to weak sour coffee while the smaller particles are over extracted leading to a harsh bitterness.
Better grinders grind the coffee beans more uniformly which means the final cup of coffee has a more balanced taste.
For people who’re just starting to grind their own coffee and aren’t sure if they want to invest in their coffee equipment, you can start off with a relatively cheap hand grinder. A workable hand grinder can be bought from about $30. A good hand grinder starts at about $80 while a decent electric grinder can be bought for $150 and up.
Good grinders are not cheap but they do make an impact on the quality of the cup of coffee. Whatever you buy, avoid blade grinders. These are basically just glorified spice grinders and produce very uneven grounds. They also have no control over the grind size which is an issue. Any type of burr grinder is better than a blade grinder. If you plan to spend less than $100, go for a manual grinder. You’ll get a much better quality for your money.
The grinder gives you the chance to get the best taste from your coffee beans.
3. Brew equipment
This is where things get interesting. There is so much different brewing equipment out there, it can be difficult to see the forest for the trees. While beans of course have a big impact on the taste of the final coffee, brew method has a big impact on other parts that make up a cup. How strong it is, the mouth feel, body, etc. The same coffee beans give a different experience depending on if it’s brewed as an espresso, French press, pour over or one of the other methods.
Here are the most popular brewing methods.
- Espresso machine
- Pour over cone
- French press
- Moka Pot
- Drip coffee machine
Of course there are more ways to brew coffee but the ones above are the most popular. They all have their pros and cons. Any of the brew methods above is good to start except an espresso machine. An espresso machine and grinder that can grind well for espresso costs easily over $1000. So if you’re not sure what you like, that’s not a good place to start. It also takes a bit of skill to brew good espresso. Automatic machines that only need to be filled with beans and water are super easy to use but expect to pay $1500 and up.
Using freshly ground coffee in an automatic drip coffee maker will improve the taste quite a lot if you’re upgrading from pre-ground supermarket coffee. If you want something very easy and can brew large amounts, an automatic drip coffee maker is useful. The drip coffee maker is the easiest to use but is also the most limited in the quality of coffee it’ll produce. If you want to make better coffee with an automatic drip coffee maker and not use another brew method, it’s worth getting a good brewer like one from Breville or Technivorm.
A French press comes in different sizes and is easy to use as well. It tends to make better coffee than a basic drip coffee maker. Just put enough coffee grounds in the press, fill it up with hot water, wait for four minutes and push the plunger down. Easy.
If you like a more hands on experience and brew smaller batches, a pour over cone like a v60 is a good choice. It does require a bit more technique to get the best cup but if you get it right, you’ll be rewarded with a very nice clean and bright tasting cup of coffee.
Moka pots have been around for so long and last a long amount of time that many people will have on laying around or you can find them for very cheap. Moka pots can brew very strong coffee in smaller quantities. The coffee that is brewed in a Moka pot is close to espresso without actually being espresso. It’s a simple piece of equipment that works just as well in your home kitchen as while camping.
It will take some trial and error to find out what you like. It can be really worth it finding a good (specialty) coffee shop that brews coffees in a range of different ways. Just try them all and see what you like best.
There are of course more brewing methods. But if you’re just starting out on your journey to better coffee, pick one of the ones above. They’re easy to use and don’t require crazy techniques and knowledge to make work.
Ok, here is where it gets a bit weird but, the water you use does make a difference on the final taste of the coffee. Coffee consists of 99% water so getting something that tastes good makes a difference. Can you taste the differences in different waters? That taste will make a difference in the taste of the coffee.
Tap water usually tastes very different from bottled water (in places where you can drink the tap water). Bottled waters taste different depending on the brand and filtered water tastes different again. Maybe if you just drink a glass of water you don’t really notice it but try drinking a cup of tap water (if safe) and a bottled water after each other. You’ll likely find it’s actually quite different.
Now unless you’re a real coffee nerd, there is no need to get special conditioned water to get the best tasting coffee possible. For normal people, just use water you have available that tastes pleasant when drunk as water.
Also if you live in an area with very hard water that contains a lot of calcium, this can create scale in your brewing equipment quicker. Using a softer type of water can reduce the cleaning needs in your coffee brewer. This is only really a concern in espresso machines and automatic coffee makers since those are the machines that are sensitive to scaling.
The minerals and other things in the water actually do make a difference in the extraction of the coffee grounds but for most normal people that just want to drink coffee, this doesn’t make enough of a difference to put time and effort into changing the water they use.
Other Coffee Accessories
Above are the four basic items you need to make coffee. If you have those things, you can make good coffee. They’re the basics you can build on.
There are a few other things you can use to improve your coffee making from there. Some items are specific for a certain brew method but others are general accessories that can help you make better coffee. Here are some of the general ones that can help you. They’re not necessities but if used correctly can help you make better tasting and more consistent coffee.
Coffee scales are a bit geeky but they’re very useful for pretty much every brewing method. To brew coffee, you follow a certain recipe. That recipe is often a ratio of coffee grounds to water. It’s very difficult to get the right ratio by eyeballing it. You can measure coffee grounds in scoops and that’s pretty effective as long as you keep using the same scoop but it’s not a very precise method.
Water is a bit more difficult to measure. Especially for a pour over brew, the amount of water you already poured and how much more you need is very difficult to eyeball. A scale helps massively here.
But small differences in grounds and water used can throw off the ratio quite a bit. If you feel you want to brew more consistently a coffee scale is a must have. Scales also make it much easier to make small changes in the recipe to fine-tune the brew exactly how you like it.
Coffee scales can be bought pretty cheaply although expensive smart scales are also available. Most people really don’t need the expensive smart scales. A simple one will do fine. As long as it can zero out, time and change units and is accurate to 0.1 gram, it’s fine.
I’ve been using a cheap Apexstone scale (Amazon) and it works fine. It doesn’t look great but it’s just as accurate as the more expensive Timemore scale (Amazon). The Timemore scale looks a lot better and does react faster though. The faster reaction time helps you not to overshoot measurements because the display hasn’t caught up yet. The Timemore scales are also USB rechargable which means one less thing you have to buy batteries for.
Fresh coffee beans brew better coffee. Coffee beans degrade over time but how you store them does make a big difference. Leave coffee beans out in the open and they’ll be stale in about a day. In a dark, airtight container they stay fresh for much longer and vacuum packed is even better.
If you get your coffee in non-transparent zip-lock bags, that’s actually pretty good. Just make sure to get as much air as possible from the bag after opening and close the zip carefully. That will work just as well as an air tight container.
There are a few containers that can create a vacuum. They have a mechanism to get some air out of the container. You won’t get a perfect vacuum but less exposure to oxygen means the beans go stale slower. The Fellow Atmos is the best vacuum coffee container on the market at the moment. Check it out on Amazon