Are you frustrated that you're not getting barista-level coffee at home? It's useful to know that there are a few things you can do to improve your daily brew to go some way to making a cup like the pro's, from the comfort of your kitchen. Follow these tips to never brew a bad cup of coffee at home again...
Buy fresh beans
Without question, coffee is best when used within days of being roasted. Buying from a quality roaster (or roasting your own) is the surest way to get the absolute freshest beans. Be wary of buying bulk coffee from supermarket display bins, this coffee won't be the freshest you can buy. Oxygen and bright light are the worst flavour busters for roasted beans too. Coffee beans packaged by quality-conscious roasters and sold in sturdy, vacuum-sealed bags are often a better bet.
Keep coffee beans fresh
Always store opened coffee beans in an airtight container. Glass canning jars or ceramic storage crocks with rubber-gasket seals are good choices. Never refrigerate (roasted beans are porous and readily take up moisture and food odours). Flavour experts strongly advise against ever freezing coffee, especially dark roasts. Optimally, buy a 5- to 7-day supply of fresh beans at a time and keep at room temperature.
Choose good coffee
Snobbism among coffee drinkers can rival that of wine drinkers, but the fact is that an astonishing world of coffee tastes awaits anyone willing to venture beyond mass-marketed commercial brands. Specialty coffees that clearly state the country, region or estate of origin can provide a lifetime of tasting experiences. 85% of the World's coffee are Arabica beans, and Robusta make up the rest.
Grind your own
Coffee starts losing quality almost immediately upon grinding. If you have the time and inclination, grind your own beans. The best-tasting brews are made from beans ground just before brewing. Coffee connoisseurs prefer to grind in expensive burr mills (e.g., Solis, Zassenhaus, Rancilio), but affordable electric “whirly blade” grinders (e.g., Braun, Bodum) will do a serviceable job, especially if the mill is rocked during grinding to get a fine, even particle size. (Scoop for scoop, finer grinds yield more flavour).
Use good water
Nothing can ruin a pot of coffee more surely than tap water with chlorine or off flavours. Serious coffee lovers use bottled spring water or filters fitted to taps or jugs (e.g. Brita). Note: Softened or distilled water makes terrible coffee—the minerals in good water are essential.
Avoid cheap filters
Bargain-priced paper coffee filters yield inferior coffee, according to the experts. Look for “oxygen-bleached” or “dioxin-free” paper filters (e.g., Filtropa, Melitta). Alternatively, you may wish to invest in a long-lived gold-plated filter (e.g., SwissGold). These are reputed to deliver maximum flavour, but may let sediment through if the coffee is ground too finely.
Don’t skimp on the coffee
The standard measure for brewing coffee of proper strength is 2 level tablespoons per 6-ounce cup or about 2 3/4 tablespoons per 8-ounce cup. Tricks like using less coffee and hotter water to extract more cups per pound tend to make for bitter brews. Remember too that the more coffee the higher caffeine concentration too, so if you like it strong add a little more.
Beware the heat
Water that is too hot will extract compounds in the coffee that are bitter rather than pleasant. The proper brewing temperature is 93°C / 200°F, or about 45 seconds off a full boil. Once brewed, don’t expect coffee to hold its best flavours for long. Reheating, boiling or prolonged holding on a warming platform will turn even the best coffee bitter.
Keep your equipment clean
Clean storage containers and grinders every few weeks to remove any oily build-up. At least monthly, run a strong solution of vinegar or specialty coffee-equipment cleaner (e.g., Urnex) through your coffee-maker to dissolve away any mineral deposits. Rinse thoroughly before re-use.