Coffee is a daily ritual for many of us, myself included (obviously!). It might surprise some people to know that I typically don’t drink very much coffee each day; each morning I’ll have 8-12 oz of a brewed coffee or a double espresso if I’m pulling espresso shots. That’s about it. If I’m drinking such a small quantity, I want it to be GREAT. Life is too short for bad coffee!
For anyone that is a beginner at home coffee and would like to know some general rules to follow for maximum coffee quality, I present the following:
1) Buy whole beans and grind them directly before brewing.
Coffee loses its best flavor and aromas within 15 minutes of grinding. Yes, that quickly! It’s certainly tempting to buy pre-ground coffee at the store, but the difference between pre-ground and freshly ground is astonishing. Do yourself a favor and get a grinder.
2) Buy coffee beans with a ROAST date (not a BEST BY date) within 15 days.
Go to the supermarket and look for a bag of whole bean coffee (that in itself is hard to do at some stores!). Look for a date on the bag. Most mass-market coffees will have a “best by” date of several months to a year out. These are lies. Coffee is food, and the clock starts ticking the moment it is roasted. I’ve seen roasters printed a “best by” date anywhere from two months to a year after the day it was roasted. Recently I spotted coffee that had a “best by” date of January 11, 2015 (this was in April 2015). This means that bag of coffee could have been up to 15 months old!!!
For most coffees, you’ll get the best flavor within the first month after it’s been roasted, with a drop off in flavor once the coffee is more than a couple months old. This still applies whether you keep the coffee in the original bag, move it into an airtight container, etc. NEVER keep coffee in the refrigerator. Freezing coffee is a controversial topic which I discuss more in depth here.
Let’s say that the grocery store is your only option and all the beans on the shelf are months old. Does this mean they won’t have any flavor? No. Grinding whole beans at home directly before brewing will still be much better than pre-ground bags, even if the whole beans are several months old. But for the best possible flavor, try and buy beans that are as fresh as possible.
Here in North Texas, I’ve had decent luck finding fresh (<2 week old) coffee at Whole Foods. I typically mail-order beans directly from roasters or visit local coffee shops to get beans, though.
3) Use good-tasting water.
If your water tastes bad, your coffee will taste bad too. I use a Brita filter pitcher at home. If you choose to use bottled water, go for a spring water rather than reverse osmosis or distilled.
4) Is your coffee bitter? Make sure you aren’t using boiling water. Coffee likes water between 195-205 degrees Fahrenheit.
If you use an automatic drip machine, this might be hard if not impossible to change, since the machine is preset. If you use a manual method, though (like a french press), don’t use your water from a rolling boil – let it cool for about 30 seconds before starting to brew.
5) Is your coffee too strong? Don’t be tempted to use a smaller quantity of grounds when brewing.
This will lead to bitter coffee because the grounds will get overextracted. Use the “right” amount of coffee (usually 2 tbsps per 6-8 oz of water) and add water at the end if you want to dilute it.
6) Keep your equipment clean.
Coffee has oils and oils go rancid. Does your coffeepot smell like fish? Wash that sucker.
You don’t have to spend a lot in order to get a great cup of coffee. A simple grinder, fresh beans, and a little attention to detail will yield a great start to your morning (or afternoon, or whenever you’re enjoying your java)!