Friday, July 19, 2013

How to Make Great Coffee at Home

How to Make Great Coffee at Home

How to make a great cup of coffee
Source: Image Courtesy of Julius Schorzman CC-SA-20

If you want to make great coffee at home, you’ll need to make coffee differently than most people. You may need some additional equipment, for example a coffee bean grinder and a coffee maker with a cone filter basket and thermal carafe. The good news is that these items are not very expensive. You may also need to buy your coffee in a different way- whole beans rather than ground coffee. You may need to change the main ingredient in your coffee- the water you use. The better the water, the better the coffee will be. Making great coffee is not very difficult or expensive, but you need to know a few tricks to get the best tasting, freshest coffee possible.

Great Coffee Begins with Whole Coffee Beans

Great coffee beans make great coffee!
Source: Image courtesy of Nate Steiner CC-20

There are lots of high quality coffee beans available in stores and on-line. Look for Arabica coffee beans- not Robusta. Robusta coffee beans have a sour flavor and are not nearly as good as Arabica beans. Green coffee beans are roasted to develop flavor. During roasting, coffee beans will make a cracking sound as they transition from green coffee to light roast coffee (“first crack”). The beans will crack again as they transition from medium roast to dark roast (“second crack”). Light roast coffee tends to be more acidic. Medium roast is sweeter. Dark roast develops spicy flavors, and French roast (or double roast) takes on a smoky flavor. The darker the roast of the coffee beans, the more oily the beans will appear. My current favorite is medium to dark roast. I look for coffee beans that are just slightly oily.
I avoid “flavored” coffee beans. You can buy coffee beans flavored with hazelnut, caramel, and other flavors. I like the flavor of natural coffee much better. If you like flavoring, add a bit of flavoring syrup after you have brewed the coffee, but do not use flavored beans. I suspect that coffee companies use their stale coffee beans or low quality coffee beans in flavored coffee. You can cover up a lot of problems by flavoring the beans…

Unlike cheese, the more words used to describe the coffee beans, the better the quality of the beans. Some good attributes in coffee beans are single origin, shade grown, and organic. While these attributes alone do not ensure high quality coffee beans, if attention is being paid to how the coffee is produced and sold, it is likely to result in high quality coffee beans.
I buy enough coffee beans to last for about 1 week and keep them in an airtight container in a cool dark place. While it is important to keep coffee beans cool to protect flavor, I do not recommend placing coffee beans in the refrigerator or freezer. Coffee beans easily pick up flavors from their environment and could pick up stray flavors from your refrigerator or freezer. Exposing cold coffee beans to room temperature air also causes moisture to condense on the coffee beans. I prefer to store my coffee beans in a pantry or cupboard at about 75 degrees.

Grind Coffee Beans Just Before Brewing Coffee

Great coffee starts with whole coffee beans. For the best tasting coffee, you’ll need to grind the beans immediately before brewing. When coffee is ground, it starts to lose flavor. You can buy whole coffee beans at the grocery store and use a grinder at the store if you want to use coffee grounds at home. However, this is still not nearly as good as grinding whole beans fresh for every pot of coffee that you brew. For great coffee at home, you will need a coffee grinder. You can get good coffee grinders starting at around $30.

Blade coffee grinder- not as good as a burr coffee grinder
Image Source: Dr. Penny Pincher

The main varieties are blade grinders, disc burr grinders, and conical burr grinders. Avoid blade grinders unless you are on a tight budget. I found that disc burr grinders are a good value. Conical burr grinders provide the best tasting coffee, but these are the most expensive type of coffee grinder. This article describes the types of coffee grinders with pictures.

Use Filtered Water to Make Great Coffee

Since water is the main ingredient in coffee, you want to use the best quality water you can get. Using a water filer can remove unwanted minerals and flavors from your tap water. You can buy carbon filters that are built-in to a water pitcher. If you have a refrigerator that dispenses water, this is a great way to get water for coffee. Just make sure your filer has been changed recently- most refrigerators need a new filer every 6 months.

Use the Right Kind of Coffee Maker to Make Great Coffee

Basket Filter vs Cone Filter
Auto drip coffee makers are very convenient. They heat the water to the correct temperature and drip it over the ground coffee at the correct rate to extract maximum flavor from the ground coffee. The type of filter basket that your coffee maker has is important to flavor extraction. The main types of filter baskets in coffee makers are described as either cone filters or basket filters. Basket filters have a flat bottom, while cone filters are wider at the top and narrow to a point at the bottom.
Coffee makers with cone filters extract more flavor from your coffee beans. Water flows through more of the coffee beans in a cone filter than in a basket filter. In a basket filter, the water tends to flow down through the ground coffee directly below where the water drips out inside the coffee maker. This results in some of the coffee grounds being underutilized. In a cone filter, water is forced to flow through the coffee grounds more evenly, resulting in better flavor extraction. This article explains the differences between cone filters and basket filters.
Glass Carafe vs Thermal Carafe
If your coffee maker has a glass carafe that sits on a burner to keep it warm, you are not getting the best coffee that you can. Heating the coffee on a burner makes it taste stale very quickly. Instead use a coffee maker with a thermal carafe to keep the coffee warm without heating it on a burner. The ideal temperature for brewing coffee is between 195 and 205 degrees. Coffee should not be heated after it is brewed- this results in stale, bitter tasting coffee. This article reviews my favorite thermal coffee maker.

Where to Start to Make Great Coffee at Home?

There is a lot to learn and possibly some coffee equipment to buy. I would suggest the place to start would be to use filtered water with your existing coffee equipment.
The next step: get a coffee grinder and start grinding whole beans just before brewing. You'll notice a big improvement in the flavor of your coffee!
After that, consider getting a coffee maker with a cone filter and thermal carafe. This will help you to make great coffee at home. I like the coffee I make myself at home better than Starbucks or Intelligentsia coffee from a coffee shop.

Copyright © 2013 Dr. Penny Pincher. All Rights Reserved. Coffee Maker Journal


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