How to Brew the Best Cup of Coffee of Your Life
By: Molly Apel
May 18, 2020
- Brewing more coffee at home? With a few simple steps, you can set yourself up for the best cup of coffee, ever.
- Find out how to brew coffee, no matter your method. Then, learn everything you need to know about grinding your own beans.
- Your water can make or break your brew. Get the details on why water quality matters below.
Welcome to the best cup of coffee, ever. Brewing the perfect cup every time may sound intimidating, but it really just comes down to having the right tools and ingredients. After all, when you drink something every day, you should enjoy it as much as possible. Read on for the details on how to brew coffee, from brew method to coffee grind.
An overview of coffee brewing methods
Whether it’s a basic drip machine, a French press or a high-end espresso maker, the way you brew your coffee boils down to preference. If you ask, you’ll find most folks are certain that their method is best. Some methods involve simple gravity, and others tap into high-tech physics.
When choosing a coffee brew method and coffee maker, consider your morning routine and the flavor profile of your ideal cup of coffee. Some people want their coffee as quickly as possible (hello, single-serve coffee pods). Others like a smooth, bold cup that takes a bit extra time to brew. Experiment with a few methods to see what you like.
Here are some of the more common brew methods to help you narrow down your options.
This method is similar to the French press, but in a more compact form. The airtight canister holds a cushion of air that pushes the hot water through the grounds. You’ll notice your coffee starts to transfer from the press to your mug before the plunger touches the liquid at all. That’s because the air does all the initial work. Although it’s made of plastic, the Aeropress is BPA-free, and you can opt for metal filters instead of paper to minimize waste.
- Grind: Fine
- Ratio: 17 grams of coffee to 220 ml of water
- Brew: 1-1.5 minutes
Cold brew is a crowd favorite set-it-and-forget-it coffee brewing method. You simply scoop grounds into a cup, jar or pitcher, add water to the top and refrigerate overnight (approximately 12 hours). That’s it. The low temperature results in slower coffee extraction, which results in a smoother cup of iced black coffee. (If you want cold brew with added benefits like quality fats and collagen protein, try Bulletproof Coffee Cold Brew.)
- Grind: Coarse
- Ratio: 1 cup of coffee to 4 cups of water
- Brew: Overnight (up to 12 hours)
The advantage of the humble drip machine is that you can set it and forget it. Just hit a button, then come back to a fresh pot. Some models allow you to set the machine to turn on at a certain time in the morning, so you are lured awake by the tempting scent of fresh coffee. However, if you want to elevate the nuances of specialty coffee beans or have more control over the brew method, opt for a manual brew method like a pour over or French press.
- Grind: Medium
- Ratio: 60 grams of coffee to 1000 ml of water
- Brew: Time varies, automatic after setup
The French press is one of the oldest coffee brewing methods around. You spoon grounds into the glass pitcher, pour water to the top and put on the sieve disc and lid with the plunger all the way up. Let it brew for about four minutes, then press the plunger down, which separates the water from the grounds. The stainless steel mesh filter allows the coffee’s natural oils to pass, which not only improves flavor, but also preserves beneficial polyphenols.
The French press brew method is non-toxic because most models have just metal and glass components. It’s also mostly hands-off aside from the final plunge, yet yields a full-bodied cup of coffee.
- Grind: Medium-coarse
- Ratio (3-cup): 36 grams of coffee to 660 ml of water
- Brew: 4 minutes
You may have noticed pour overs in action at your local coffee shop. Think of this brew method as a manual drip coffee maker. You pour hot water over coffee grounds, and coffee slowly filters into your carafe or cup. You get more control with a pour over, from the temperature of the water to the rate at which the water drips through the filter. And unlike drip machines, which include plastic parts, pour overs are usually glass or ceramic for a non-toxic brewing process.
The pour-over method takes time and attention, but you’ll be rewarded with a complex, smooth and flavorful cup of coffee. Opt for a cone-shaped metal filter instead of a paper one, which preserves the beneficial oils in your brew. If you must use paper, rinse it with hot water first to get rid of unwanted flavors.
- Grind: Medium-fine
- Ratio (2-cup): 22 grams of coffee to 400 ml of water
- Brew: 4-5 minute wait after you pour the water over the grounds
Percolator (moka pot)
This stovetop method is all metal, which means no paper and no waste. To brew coffee in a percolator, or moka pot, you pour water into the water chamber and fill the coffee funnel with fine coffee grounds. You then place the machine on a burner and bring it to a boil. As the water pressure builds in the bottom compartment, coffee slowly brews into the pot.
You have to keep an eye on your percolator when it’s brewing. It brews at boiling temperatures, which can extract bitter flavors from the coffee and potentially boil over. It might take a few rounds to figure out the best time to take your percolator off the heat, but you’ll be rewarded with a strong cup of coffee that drinks like an espresso.
- Grind: Fine
- Ratio: Full funnel of coffee and full chamber of water
- Brew: Varies depending on the size of your percolator
What difference does coffee grind make?
Pre-ground coffee is super convenient. But the ground coffee you find for sale in the grocery story usually comes as a medium grind, which isn’t ideal for all brew methods. Whole coffee beans also hold their flavor and aroma longer than ground coffee beans, which have been exposed to more air.
How you grind your coffee beans can also make or break your cup. The key to an amazing cup of coffee is using just enough water to extract delicious coffee compounds. If you under-extract your coffee, you don’t get the bean’s full flavor profile. If you go overboard, you might extract bitter compounds that overpower all the goodness that your carefully-chosen beans have to offer.
The coffee grind that works best depends on what coffee brewing method you use. Once you’ve chosen your method, use this list to nail down the perfect grind for your coffee beans.
- AeroPress: Fine grind. With the AeroPress, you use a small amount of coffee, and the fine grounds contribute to the seal on the bottom that creates the pressure needed to extract the oils.
- Cold brew: Coarse grind. Coffee grounds and water are in contact the longest with the cold brew method — usually overnight, and up to 24 hours. When coffee sits in the grounds for a while, you want a coarser grind.
- Drip coffee maker: Medium grind. Your drip coffee maker sends water through the grounds for brief contact, then brewed coffee seeps through the filter. If the grounds are too coarse, you won’t have enough surface area for full extraction. Too fine, and the water will stay in contact with the grounds too long, resulting in bitter coffee.
- Espresso machine: Fine grind. Some grinders have a specific espresso setting. If yours doesn’t, go fine, but not as fine as you would use with Middle Eastern coffee methods (below).
- French press: Coarse grind. In a French press, coffee stays in full contact with water for 4-5 minutes. That gives sufficient time for thorough extraction without over-extracting it to the point that it’s sour and bitter. Four minutes is enough to bring out the bitterness in fine- and even medium-ground coffee.
- Percolator (moka pot): Fine grind. When you use a coffee percolator, grounds steep in water for a few minutes before brewed coffee percolates into the upper chamber. You want an even, fine grind so the water can properly move through the coffee funnel and fill the pot with a rich, strong brew.
- Pour over: Medium-fine grind. Pour over coffee is in contact with coffee beans for about the same amount of time as with drip coffee. Use a medium-fine grind, and be patient with the pouring process.
- Turkish, Arabic and Greek coffee: Finest grind possible. As part of the appeal, Middle Eastern coffee methods skip the filtration step. Superfine grounds are prepared in such a way that they become part of the body of the final beverage. This coffee is thicker and richer than an American cup of coffee from a drip machine. For the most evenly mixed coffee, choose the finest grind you can get.
How to choose a coffee grinder
When you grind your coffee beans, you want even-sized particles. Going cheap with your grinder results in the dreaded “dust and boulders,” a pile of half-fine and half-coarse particles. When your grounds aren’t consistent, you end up with coffee that doesn’t play nicely with your chosen brew method, resulting in half-watery coffee and half-bitter coffee. Yikes.
There are two main types of coffee grinders: blade grinders and burr grinders.
Blade grinder vs. burr grinder
Blade grinders only work if they spin fast, and that can generate enough heat to start extracting oils before they even get close to hot water. Hello, bitter and sour compounds. That’s why burr grinders are far superior to blade grinders.
Burr grinders rotate and crush beans, resulting in an even grind. To maximize consistency, your burr grinder should be cone-shaped, not flat and round. A cone shape allows the beans to kick back up for multiple trips through the blades, which gives your final grind a consistent texture.
4 surprising things to consider about coffee
Improper storage can make your coffee taste stale or moldy. Storing coffee in your freezer can cause the oils to solidify, which can affect the flavor. To maintain the best flavor, store your beans in a cool, dry place, in a sealed container.
2. Water quality
Your coffee is made of mostly water, so naturally, the quality of your water can make your coffee taste even better. Good quality coffee shops know this, and filter their water so that the coffee shines through, instead of fluoride, chlorine and micro-sediment.
Getting a high-quality water filter for your house isn’t just a good idea for your coffee. You’re made of mostly water, and you should have the cleanest water source possible for your health and overall well-being. Here’s an article with everything you need to know about filtering your water at home.
3. Water temperature
According to the National Coffee Association, the coffee brewing temperature sweet spot is between 195°F and 205°F. Below 195°F, water does not extract every beneficial and flavorful compound from the grounds. Above 205°F, some of the benefits start to break down. Plus, at temperatures close to boiling, water begins to pull out the most bitter compounds, which ruins the taste of your coffee.
Most automatic brewing machines only get to about 175°F, which isn’t hot enough to get a good extraction. That’s why coffee aficionados prefer manual methods like the pour over — you get to determine the water temperature before it ever hits the coffee grounds.
To get the water at the perfect temperature for brewing, boil your water, then let it sit for about 30 seconds to one minute, which should bring it down from boiling to about 195°F to 200°F.
There’s lots of opportunity for mold to grow at several points in the coffee production process, from farm to cup. Is mold in coffee bad? Some people are more sensitive than others. Sometimes, your coffee takes on a mildewy flavor. Other times, it just makes you feel lousy.
There are several steps coffee producers can take to prevent mold.
- You’ll want your coffee producers to use careful washing methods that cut down on the amount of time the coffee is wet.
- Coffee should be dried thoroughly in the sun using mechanical dryers to reduce the risk of mold growth.
- After the coffee is roasted, it should be tested for toxins to ensure the beans are clean.
In case you were wondering where to find clean beans, Bulletproof Coffee Beans are independently tested for toxins. That way, you know you’re getting the cleanest cup of coffee possible.
Ready to get brewing? Find out how to choose coffee beans that taste delicious, even when you’re shopping for coffee online.
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This is an updated version of an article originally published July 2019.