Expert Coffee Tips for Great Coffee

With the incredible variety of coffee and coffee makers on the market, anyone can make a good cup of coffee. Making a great cup of coffee is a different story. These coffee tips from experts can lift your coffee making prowess from good to superb.

Clean Your Coffee Machine

Clean coffee equipment is essential to good coffee, but it’s not enough to run a cup of white vinegar through your machine once a month to get rid of mineral buildup. The volatile oils that give coffee its flavor cling to everything they touch, and go rancid quickly. Every few weeks, pull out your filter basket and give it good cleaning. If it’s dishwasher safe, pop it in the top rack, or use dishwasher detergent and a toothbrush to scrub away the coffee oils from all the little ridges. Don’t forget to clean around the drip spout, and wipe the coffee maker surface above the filter basket — coffee oils often collect there unnoticed. Be as scrupulous about cleaning the coffee carafe, especially around the lip and the underside of the carafe lid.

Use Filtered or Bottled Water

Tap water nearly always has some off flavors from minerals and from the chemicals used to disinfect it for drinking. That off flavor will also affect the flavor of your coffee. While you might not notice it as a matter of course, once you’ve tasted the difference that filtered water makes, you’ll never be happy with unfiltered water again. If you can’t see the expense of buying bottled water just to make coffee, invest in a Britta filter pitcher or a filter for your tap. The difference in flavor is worth the few dollars a month you’ll spend on a filter cartridge. A number of newer coffee makers have a built in water filter, but make sure that you change the filter cartridge regularly.

Grind Your Coffee to the Right Consistency

The right grind for your coffee depends on the method you’re using to make it. Coffee flavor comes from the oils, sugars and proteins that are extracted from the ground beans. The water starts extracting those flavors the moment it touches the grounds and continues to extract oils and other compounds from the grounds until the grounds are removed from contact. One of the biggest coffee spoilers is overextraction, which happens when the water is in contact with the coffee grounds for too long, drawing out the bitter compounds that are the tail end of coffee flavor. When coffee is ground more finely, it reaches overextraction more quickly because more of the bean’s surface is exposed to hot water. In general, the longer the coffee grounds will be in contact with water, the more coarsely you should grind the beans. French press coffee, for example, requires a coarse grind, similar to cracked wheat or coarsely ground corn meal, because the grounds sit in hot water for several minutes. Espresso, on the other hand, requires coffee ground to powder because the water is forced through the grounds at high pressure, so they’re only in contact with the water for 25 to 30 seconds.

Keep Coffee Fresh After Grinding

Coffee is at its best about 30 to 48 hours after roasting. From that point on, its flavor degrades as the coffee oils oxidize. The more of the bean’s surface that’s exposed to light, the faster the flavor degradation happens. That’s why coffee experts recommend grinding the beans for your coffee just before you make it. To keep coffee as fresh as possible, store whole beans in an airtight, opaque container with as little air space as possible. If you buy roasted whole beans in bulk, break down your bulk packaging into packages that hold enough coffee for two to three days, and store it in your freezer. Once you remove a package from the freezer, don’t return it — freezing and thawing cause moisture condensation that will make your coffee taste flat. Store a few days worth of whole, roasted coffee beans in a cool, dark place in an airtight, opaque container. If you buy ground coffee in vacuum sealed foil bags, always reclose the bag immediately after use, rolling the top down to expel as much air as possible, and securing it with the attached strips.