Coffee is a very personal enjoyment. The right way to make it is how you like it best and there’s not really one way to make the perfect coffee. However, there are some general basics and guidelines that go into brewing the perfect cup of coffee.
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Brewing a great cup of coffee depends on a number of things such as the quality of the coffee bean, the quality of the water being used, the type of brewing being done, and the grind of the coffee.
No matter how you brew, always make sure your tools are thoroughly cleaned after each use. Check that no grounds have been leftover and there’s no build-up of coffee oil, which can make your coffee taste bitter and rancid.
Choosing Coffee Beans
When it comes to coffee, there are many different varieties of beans, just as there are different grapes for wine making and different plants to grow tea leaves.
Coffee beans from different regions have distinctive characteristics such as flavor, caffeine content, body or mouthfeel, and acidity. Learn more about the different types of coffee around the world.
These are dependent on the local environment where the coffee plants are grown, the processing method, and the genetic subspecies or varietal of the plant.
Some well-known arabica coffee beans include:
- Colombian – When Colombian coffee is freshly roasted it has a bright acidity, is heavy in body and is intensely aromatic. Colombia produces about 12% of the coffee in the world, second only to Brazil.
- Colombian Milds – Includes coffees from Colombia, Kenya, and Tanzania, all of which are washed arabicas.
- Hawaiian Kona – grown on the slopes of Hualalai in the Kona District on the Big Island of Hawaii. (Buy 100% Kona Coffee here)
- Costa Rican Tarrazu – from the Tarrazu Valley in the highlands outside of San José,.
- Guatemala Huehuetenango – Grown at over 5000 feet in the northern region, one of the most remote growing regions in Guatemala.
- Ethiopian Harrar – from the region of Harar, Ethiopia.
- Ethiopian Yirgacheffe – from the area of the town of Yirga Cheffe in the Sidamo (now Oromia) region of Ethiopia.
- Jamaican Blue Mountain – From the Blue Mountain region of Jamaica. Due to its popularity, this coffee is quite expensive.
- Java – from the island of Java, in Indonesia. This coffee was once so widely traded that “java” became a slang term for coffee.
Some coffee bean varieties are very well-known and in-demand, making them a lot more expensive than others. Jamaican Blue Mountain and Hawaiian Kona coffees are two examples.
Be careful when purchasing these beans, because often they are blended with less expensive coffee beans with the suffix “blend” added to the labeling, such as “Blue Mountain blend” or “Kona blend”. Most of these only contain a small amount of the coffee bean mentioned.
Many of the best coffee beans can be purchased around the world, so you can try them yourself at home. All you’d need is to purchase the beans. You can then grind and brew the coffee yourself.
Great coffee starts with great beans. The quality and flavor of your coffee is not only determined by your favorite brewing process, but also by the type of coffee you select. Read more about coffee beans from around the world to make a choice.
If you buy whole bean coffee, always grind your beans as close to the brew time as possible for maximum freshness. This is why buying already ground coffee isn’t ideal, because the grind loses its flavor and aroma the longer you have it. Grinding your own beans right before brewing is ideal.
Investing in a good quality grinder will enable you to enjoy the full aroma and flavor of your coffee at home. A burr or mill grinder is best because the coffee is ground to a consistent size.
The quality of the water does matter. That doesn’t mean you need to run out and buy bottled, filtered water before you can make a decent cup of coffee. If you have a Brita pitcher, you can filter the water through that before using it. If you’re using tap water, let it run a few seconds before filling your coffee pot, and be sure to use cold water. Avoid distilled or softened water.
A general guideline for making coffee is to use the “Golden Ratio”. This calls for 1-2 tablespoons of ground coffee for every six ounces of water. This can be adjusted to suit your preferences, of course. But this guideline will help you avoid making a coffee that is too weak or too bitter.
How Long to Brew Coffee For
Brewed coffee is made by pouring hot water onto ground coffee beans, then allowing it to “brew” or steep.
There are so many ways to brew coffee at home, from a typical drip coffee maker to a fancy espresso machine, or a manual French Press. You can learn more about each of the various methods here.
The correct amount of “brewing’ time relates to how coarse the coffee is ground. Smaller coffee grinds need less contact with the water, and coarser grinds need longer contact.
In a drip system, the contact time should be approximately 5 minutes. The grind is extremely coarse for drip coffee. If you are making your coffee using a French Press, which uses a coarse grind, and the contact time should be 2-4 minutes.
Espresso has an especially brief brew time — the coffee is in contact with the water for only 20-30 seconds because it is made using extremely fine grounds.
Cold brew, on the other hand, should steep overnight (about 12 hours).
If coffee is left in contact with water for too long for its grind size, unwanted extracts emerge and make the coffee taste bitter. Also if the grind is too large and the water passes too quickly (like if you were using a coarse grind in an espresso maker), very little of the caffeine and flavors will get extracted and your coffee will have poor flavor.
Using Coffee Filters
Filters play an important role in managing the balance between over and under brewing your coffee. Not only do they keep the grind out of your cup, but they also control how fast the water passes over the grinds.
Paper filters are the most common, but there are also metal, reusable, filters you can use. Paper filters are good, but they can absorb some of the coffee flavor, and you may be able to taste the paper in the final product if you go with a cheap filter.
Metal filters are normally made from stainless steel or gold plated mesh. They have very fine weave which is great for keeping the grounds out of the coffee. The don’t alter the taste of the coffee, unless you don’t keep them properly cleaned. The best part is that metal filters are more environmentally friendly than paper.
Whichever you choose, be sure to buy decent quality. Cheap filters often clog or not allow the coffee to brew properly. A decent quality metal filter will last years and save money in the end.
How to Drink Coffee
Prepared coffee begins to lose its optimal taste moments after brewing, so only make as much coffee as you’ll drink. Otherwise, coffee can be poured into a warmed, insulated thermos to be consumed within an hour.
You might prefer to drink your coffee black. That is the purest form of coffee and will allow you to taste the true flavor and aroma of the brew. I like to add a bit of natural sugar and a splash of milk to my coffee. If you’re lactose intolerant, a non-diary creamer is a great alternative to milk.
There are many different types of coffee drinks you can make besides just a straight cup of black coffee. Try experimenting with different coffee drinks to find the ones you like the most.
No matter how you enjoy your coffee, one thing is for certain – coffee is a universally enjoyed drink that offers a pick-me-up burst of caffeine, as well as an enjoyable aroma and taste, when brewed properly.
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Laura is the founder and editor of the travel blogs Savored Sips and Savored Journeys. She is dedicated to sharing the best information about drinks found around the world.