You’ve tasted the perfect cup of coffee before. You know the one I’m talking about. Just the right temperature, smooth on your tongue, complex flavor that develops as you drink it slowly. This is more than just cup of coffee or a caffeine. This is an experience.
On one hand, brewing the finest cup of coffee can be complicated. On the other hand, it’s so simple that almost anyone can do it. Seriously.
Partially science and partially art, the best cup of coffee is available to those who are willing to try it. And—just like art—keep trying until it is exactly how you like it.
When you want to brew a great cup of coffee, you obviously need to start with the best possible beans. The quality of coffee beans is affected by a variety of factors including:
- Type of plant
- Growing region
- Processing style
Choosing a coffee bean is often a matter of preference, which means trying many different varieties. You can learn more about the various options when trying them, but really you just need to find a quality roaster to source great specialty beans for you. (Anything you find at a grocery store is going to be old before it hits the shelves.)
Most preferred roasters will indicate the roasting date on the bag—not a “sell by” date. Typically coffee beans stays fresh for one to two weeks from the roast date. After this, all of the gases in the beans have been released, and the coffee begins to go stale. Storing it in an airtight container can be helpful but does not make it last much longer.
What? No buying coffee beans in bulk at a warehouse store?
Only buy the amount of whole bean coffee that you think you can drink in the next week or so. Your friendly local roaster can help you choose a variety to try, and advise you on how much you need to buy at a time. This relationship with a local roaster and coffee shop could turn out to be one of your most adored friendships of all time. They know everything you don’t and they’ll help you learn if you want.
Most importantly, they’ll get you the freshest possible beans for your Joe.
Developing the skill to brew a superb cup of coffee can be quite simple, but it does require some basic equipment. It really doesn’t have to be fancy. But because coffee making has a great deal of science to it, you’ll want to be precise. This means you want a few items to help you along:
- Kitchen scale for weighing beans prior to grinding
- Quality burr coffee grinder
- Water filter
- Stovetop or electric kettle
- Brewing device (this may or may not include filters)
Fresh is a word that has been used to describe good coffee for years. And the key is not only how recently it was made, but how well (and recently) the beans were ground prior to brewing. Owning a quality coffee grinder will yield joy every day for many years, so it’s completely worth the investment.
And seriously, though, go with a burr grinder. While a blade grinder may be a bit better than buying your beans pre-ground, the unevenness of the grind will cause your cuppa to suffer. Over the life of the grinder, the price comparison is not great, so it’s better to save up for a quality burr grinder than get a cheap blade grinder right away. Really, you’ll be glad you did.
Your grind will depend on the brewing method chosen:
Coffee Brewing Grind Chart
Extra Coarse = Cold Brew
Coarse = French Press
Medium Coarse = Chemex
Medium = Drip Makers (Bunn, etc.)
Medium Fine = Pour over, Siphon, Vacuum
Fine = Espresso or Moka pot
Extra Fine = Turkish Ibrik
Water – Quality and Temperature
Any impurities in the water used to make your coffee will affect its flavor. Because of this the water should be as flavorless as possible, without iron or other minerals to create a blur of taste. Using a water filter or bottled water will assure that you are using the cleanest possible “canvas” on which to paint your coffee art.
In almost all brew methods, the temperature of the water is critical to the resulting cup. This is why many inexpensive coffee pots do not perform well because they are not able to get the water temperature hot enough.
Ideal temperature for extracting the coffee flavors from the beans sits between 190 and 200 degrees. But you don’t need a thermometer. This can typically be accomplished by simply waiting 30 seconds after the water is removed from the boil.
Ratio –Coffee to Water
You’ll use your kitchen scale here, to measure out the beans prior to grinding. This factor will depend on the brew method you are using, the grind, and your preference. At Oceana, we prefer to use between 15 and 17 parts water to 1 part coffee. This means that if you are using 8 ounces of water, you would use ½ ounce of coffee. Of course, as an art form, this has to do with your personal preference so feel free to adjust and toy with what you find to be the perfect ratio for your favorite coffee taste.
This portion leaves a lot of room for flexibility based upon many factors. But that does not mean that you can expect to get a stellar cup of coffee with just any brewing method. As mentioned previously, water temperature is critical. This rules out a few of the more traditionally American mass brewing methods including standard drip coffee makers, percolation, and most steeping methods.
Filtration methods, including pour over (V60), Chemex, Clever-drip, have become extremely popular in recent years. These brewing methods result in smooth, clear tones by using the correct water temperature and proper grind, as mentioned above, as well as quality filter paper.
If any of this information intimidates you, don’t let it! Start with something easy like a French Press with coarsely ground freshly roasted beans. Pour in filtered water 30 seconds off boil. Stir. Wait three minutes. And press.
Voila! Your first cup of brilliantly brewed coffee.
See? Wasn’t that easy?
The rest of the exploration and creativity just waits for you!