The coffee shop where I used to work (Peet’s) trained us pretty thoroughly on how to make coffee, and I’ve learned some techniques that I don’t think are widely known and that result in very, very good coffee, so I thought I’d share them.
Here’s the short version of what I’ve learned:
- Use fresh beans (roasted less than 30 days ago).
- Use a Melitta filter cone set on a coffee pot or mug, not a drip coffee machine. (2012 update: We prefer ceramic filter cones these days.)
- Use fresh, filtered water 30 seconds off the boil.
- Rinse your paper filter before putting the coffee grounds in it.
- Grind your beans for about 15 seconds.
- Use 6 oz. of water for every 2 rounded tablespoons of ground coffee.
- Stir the grounds while the water is dripping through them.
And here’s the long version:
1. Use fresh beans.
Once they’ve been roasted, coffee beans have a shelf life of one month. Ground coffee has a shelf life of one week, so it’s better to buy coffee whole bean if you can. Roasting (and grinding) coffee beans releases the gases and oil that make coffee so good. Eventually the gases all escape and the oil can turn rancid, so buy beans as soon after they’ve been roasted as you are able to, and store them in an air-tight, moisture-proof container like this one in a cupboard away from light and heat.
I use Peet’s coffee beans. Peet’s stores will not sell beans more than ten days after they’ve been roasted, and if you order beans online, they are shipped the day after they are roasted. Peet’s beans make transcendently good cups of coffee. (And they are roasted by hand by six real live people who sample taste the coffee they roast every day. The roasters apprentice for several years, they sign ten-year contracts, and they can’t fly on the same airplane together.)
2. Use a filter cone over a coffee pot or mug. Don’t use one of these:
Don’t use a drip coffee making machine. The machine doesn’t heat the water enough, and the coffee is underextracted. The hot plate under the pot heats the coffee after it has brewed and cooks it which changes the way it tastes.
Instead, use a filter cone (pictures below) on top of a coffee pot, thermos or mug.
3. Use fresh, filtered water 30 seconds off the boil.
Boil a kettle of water and let it sit for 30 seconds (about the amount of time it takes to recite a sonnet) before pouring it over your ground coffee. If you use the water while it is still boiling, the coffee will be overextracted and will taste bitter.
Use filtered water that tastes good. Water taste affects coffee taste, so if you don’t like the taste of your tap water, don’t use it for your coffee.
Also, use fresh water. Don’t use water that you’ve boiled before; it will taste flat and it will make the coffee taste flat.
Usually, I put the kettle on the stove and then follow the rest of the steps below while the water is heating up.
4. Rinse your paper filter.
I like to use paper filters rather than goldtone reusable filters, because the goldtone filters let through more grounds and oil, and I don’t like the way that tastes. If you use a paper filter, though, be sure to rinse it and let water drain through it before you brew coffee in it. Otherwise your coffee will have a slight papery taste. If this sounds a little extreme (like it did to me at first), you might try tasting hot water 30 seconds off the boil that has run through an unwashed paper filter. We tried it in our training at the coffee shop, and it tasted and smelled more like paper than water should.
5. Grind and measure your beans.
I use one of these little coffee grinders.
Measure 2 rounded tablespoons of beans for every cup of coffee you want to make. (I usually measure 6 rounded tablespoons into my grinder.)
Grind your beans for about 15 seconds (about the amount of time it takes to recite a limerick) or until they look like this:
If the grind is too fine, the coffee won’t drain well, and if the grind is too coarse, the water will drain too quickly and the coffee will be weak. (If you are grinding fewer beans, you might need to shake the grinder quite a bit while grinding to make sure the grounds go through the blades enough; I always shake the grinder a little bit to mix things up.)
Measure the ground coffee into the filter. This is one of the most important steps; you can’t just measure the whole beans and be done with it. You want two rounded tablespoons of ground coffee for every six ounces of water. What I do is measure all my ground coffee, and then do the math to figure out how much water to add. (I usually get about seven rounded tablespoons of ground coffee for every six rounded tablespoons of beans, so I end up adding 21 ounces of hot water.)
6. Measure the water, pour it over the ground coffee and stir.
Use six ounces of hot water (30 seconds off the boil) for every two rounded tablespoons of ground coffee. Make sure you use a measuring cup; you can’t necessarily rely on the markings on the sides of coffee pots, and getting the proportions right makes a big difference in the taste of your coffee.
Stir the water and the ground coffee; get the grounds that stick to the sides of the filter and the bottom of the filter and that float on the surface of the water all mixed in. This exposes all the grounds evenly to the hot water and makes a big difference in the taste of the coffee.
Let all the hot water drip through the filter. Don’t drink it until it’s all done; you need the flavors from the beginning and the end of the brewing process to make a good cup of coffee. Put a lid on it to keep it warm (so you won’t be tempted to do anything crazy like microwaving your second cup of coffee*), and start drinking it. It’s good for 30 minutes. (After that, it’s better to throw it away and start over.) Enjoy!
*Disclaimer: I don’t know for sure if microwaving coffee that’s only a few minutes old makes it taste worse, but it seems wrong to me.
Originally posted at Jill’s Notebook.