How to Brew the Perfect Cup of Coffee
The perfect cup of coffee is nearly as elusive as the Holy Grail, and far more important. After all, the Holy Grail is a mythical artifact that might grant eternal life. Coffee, on the other hand, is a part of your everyday life — and, if the latest research into the effects of coffee on health are even halfway accurate, it just may help you live longer. One would think that after more than 500 years of trying, coffee lovers would have perfected the art of brewing a cup of coffee.
Alas, that hasn’t happened. In fact, there seems to be more confusion about how to brew the perfect cup of coffee than there is about how to make perfect 3-minute eggs. That’s why we’ve gathered all the information we could find about how to brew the perfect cup of coffee using various coffee makers and coffee making methods and put it all together in one place.
- General Tips
- Automatic Drip Coffee Maker Instructions
- Manual Coffee Dripper Instructions
- French Press Instructions
- Percolator Instructions
- Moka Pot Instructions
- Espresso Maker Instructions
- Vacuum Pot Instructions
- Cold Brew Coffee Instructions
- Coffee Urn Instructions
- How to Make Coffee in a Chemex Coffee Brewer
- Ibrik (Turkish Coffee) Instructions
- Phin (Vietnamese Coffee) Instructions
- Coffee Sock (Puerto Rican Coffee) Instructions
Before we get into specifics of various methods of making coffee, though, there are some things that apply no matter how you make your coffee. Here are some general rules to follow if you want to brew a perfect cup of coffee every time.
Whether you use a $10 automatic drip coffee maker or a $1,500 superautomatic espresso maker, there’s one vital element: cleanliness. Coffee flavor comes from the oils extracted from coffee beans. Those oils cling to everything — you’ve seen coffee rings on cups, right? — and they get rancid quickly. Nothing spoils the flavor of a fresh cup of coffee faster than old coffee residue in the coffee maker.
After coffee, water is the main ingredient in brewed coffee, so it only makes sense that the taste of your water will affect the taste of your coffee. If you use tap water, filter it to remove impurities, or use spring water. Avoid distilled water, though. Most coffee experts say that distilled water makes coffee that tastes “lifeless”.
The ratio of coffee to water is one of the most important factors in determining the flavor and strength of the brewed coffee. Based purely on its performance, you would think that it would be an easy thing to figure out. For a number of reasons, though, it can be the trickiest part of getting your coffee right. Here’s why.
Most people are used to measuring dry ingredients like coffee by volume. We expect our measurements to be given in tablespoons and cups. The volume of coffee, though, varies greatly depending on the size of the grind. That’s why most coffee experts measure coffee by weight — specifically, in grams. But even that doesn’t take everything into account. Two different coffees ground to the same fineness and measured by volume can still be markedly different in weight because of a difference in moisture content, for example.
Finally, people have different tastes. One person may prefer a strong cup of coffee while another likes his coffee lighter and brighter. That’s why most coffee experts suggest a starting point for brewing coffee to get maximum flavor from a bean, but add a caveat that you should adjust the amount of coffee used to your own taste.
That said, the general rule of thumb for most methods of coffee is 1 to 2 tablespoons of coffee to 6 ounces of water by volume, or 7 to 9g of coffee by weight to 6 ounces of water. For espresso, the general rule of thumb is 7 to 10g for a single shot of espresso and 14 to 20g for a double shot of espresso.
The coarseness or fineness of the grind makes a major difference in the flavor of your brewed coffee, and specific grinds work best with different coffee brewing methods. If you buy your coffee ground from a coffee roaster, tell them which method you’ll use to brew your coffee so they can grind it to the right fineness. If you order from a larger roaster online, such as Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, you’ll usually have a choice of drip or espresso grind. Choose drip grind for anything but espresso or moka pot brewing.
If you grind your coffee yourself at home, these guidelines can help you determine the grind.
|Fine||Table salt or sugar|
|Extra Fine||Finer than table sugar|
|Turkish||White flour or talcum powder|
The ideal temperature for maximum coffee extraction is generally just off boil — about 92 to 96 C. or 192 to 200 F. There’s a lot of discussion among coffee aficianadoes about the best way to get there. For many manual methods, experts recommend bringing the water just to a boil and letting it sit for about 15 seconds before adding it to the coffee grounds.
Enjoying Your Coffee
Enjoy your coffee immediately. The longer it sits, the more likely it is to develop bitter or off flavors.
Now that we’ve gone through the general information about brewing the perfect cup of coffee, lets get down to specifics with some of the most popular coffee brewing methods.
How to Make Coffee in a Drip Coffee Maker
Automatic drip coffee makers are the most common type of coffee maker sold and used in the United States. They range in price from $10 to $500. Some come with lots of bells and whistles, including timers so that you can set your coffee maker to have your coffee ready when you get up in the morning.
Making coffee in an automatic drip coffee maker is usually simple. You put a coffee filter, either paper or a permanent filter made of mesh, into the coffee filter basket, add ground coffee, pour water into a water tank and turn the coffee maker on. For coffee makers with special features, follow the manufacturer’s instructions.
How to Make Coffee with a Manual Dripper
Manual coffee drippers became one of the hottest coffee trends of 2010, and they just keep right on being popular because they make such great coffee. Unlike automatic drip coffee makers, manual coffee drippers give you a lot more control over water temperature and water/coffee contact time. To make coffee with a coffee dripper — or manual drip coffee — you’ll need a coffee filter holder, a coffee filter and a pouring kettle.
- Bring the water to a boil in a pouring kettle.
- While the water is boiling, fit a coffee filter into the filter holder. Wet the filter thoroughly with hot water.
- Put measured coffee into the coffee filter.
- Rinse your coffee cup with hot water to warm it. Place the filter holder on top of your coffee cup or mug.
- When the water boils, remove the kettle from the heat and let it sit for 15 seconds.
- Slowly pour hot water over the coffee grounds, using a circular motion to wet the coffee grounds thoroughly and pour until the water is just above the level of the grounds.
- Wait about 30 seconds for the coffee to “bloom.” The waiting period is essential. It gives the coffee a chance to absorb some of the water and begins the brewing process.
- Resume pouring the hot water over the coffee, moving the kettle in a slow circular motion to wet all the grounds evenly. Take your time — let the coffee drip out as you are filling the filter cone.
- When the coffee has finished dripping, remove the cone and dispose of the filter and grounds.
- Grind: Medium
- Coffee-Water Ratio: 17g : 175ml – 2tbsp: 6oz
- Brewing Time: 3 to 4 minutes
- Water Temp: 90-95 C. : 195-205 F.
How to Make Coffee in a French Press
The French press, also called a cafetierre or plunger pot, is a favorite way to make coffee around the world. It requires no filter and no equipment other than the coffee press pot and something in which to boil the water for coffee. Many coffee lovers swear by the French press as the only real way to make coffee. It consists of two pieces — a carafe, usually made of glass, and a filter that fits closely inside it.
- Fill the press with hot tap water to pre-heat it. Do the same with the mugs you’ll be drinking from.
- Bring water to a boil in a separate kettle or pot. As soon as it starts to boil, remove the water from the fire and let it sit for 15 to 30 seconds.
- While the water is boiling, empty the water from the cafetierre and spoon in pre-measured ground coffee.
- After the water has rested for 15-30 seconds, pour it over the coffee grounds in the French press. Stir gently with a metal spoon to immerse all of the grounds in the hot water. Begin timing the brew as soon as you pour the water into the coffee grounds.
- Place the filter cover on the cafetierre. Gently depress the plunger just enough to immerse the coffee completely. Finish timing the brew.
- Gently but firmly depress the plunger to force the coffee grounds to the bottom of the cafetierre. Pour the coffee out of the cafetierre into the cups.
How to Make Coffee in a Percolator
Percolators somehow acquired a bad reputation among coffee gourmets in the early 90s, but for decades, percolator coffee was the standard of excellence by which all other cups of coffee were measured. While many self-proclaimed coffee gourmets turn their noses up at percolated coffee, there are still plenty of coffee lovers who prefer it to coffee made by any other method.
A coffee percolator consists of five pieces: the coffee pot, a filter basket, a hollow stem with a perforated cover and a lid. There are stove-top percolators and electric percolators. The stove-top percolators require a bit more babysitting than the electric ones, but the secret to great percolator coffee is the right coffee:water ratio.
- Fit the stem of the percolator into the depression in the bottom of the coffee pot.
- Measure water into the percolator.
- Measure coffee grounds into the filter basket. Fit the cover onto the filter basket. Slide the filter basket into place on the stem. Place the cover onto the percolator.
- Place the percolator on the fire or plug it in and turn it on.
- Start timing the brew when the coffee begins percolating. At the end of the brew time, remove the percolator from the fire or unplug it to stop the percolation.
- Remove the filter basket from the coffee pot as soon as it is cool enough to handle.
- Grind: Coarse
- Coffee-Water Ratio: 1-2 tbsp: 6 oz/7-15g :1.75ml
- Brewing Time: 4-5 minutes
- Water Temp: 95 C./205 F.
How to Make Coffee in a Moka Pot
Moka pots, called macchinettas in Italy, are nearly ubiquitous in Italy. The modern stovetop coffee maker consists of three parts: a bottom chamber, a top chamber and a center piece that combines a filter basket, central column and filter plate. There’s a pressure valve in the bottom chamber to prevent steam pressure from building too high in the pot. Moka pots come in several different sizes, ranging from a 2-cup moka pot to an 8-cup moka pot, though “cups” can be deceptive. A 2-cup pot, for example, will make enough brewed coffee for a standard American mug of coffee. You can buy electric moka pots that regulate the water temperature a bit more carefully than the classic stovetop moka pot, but if you pay close attention to the sounds and smells as your coffee is brewing in a moka pot, you’ll make a perfect cup of coffee in a moka pot every time.
- Fill the bottom chamber with water to just below the pressure valve.
- Fill the filter basket to the rim with finely ground coffee. Level the coffee, but do not tamp it.
- Run your fingertip around the rim of the filter to remove any stray grains of coffee or coffee powder.
- Place the filter basket assembly and place it into the bottom chamber.
- Inspect the bottom of the top chamber and remove any coffee grounds that may not have been cleaned off the filter or rubber gasket last time it was used.
- Screw the top chamber onto the bottom chamber and place the pot over a low flame on the stove. On an electric stove, use a medium setting. On a gas or propane stove, the flame should just reach the edges of the pot and not go up the sides of it.
- Listen for the first gurgle of coffee rising in the tube to fill the top chamber. You’ll also just start to smell coffee brewing at this point. Wait 15 to 20 seconds and then remove the moka pot from the flame. The coffee will continue to fill the chamber for another 20 to 30 seconds.
- Pour the coffee into cubs and enjoy.
How to Make Coffee in an Espresso Maker
Espresso has a very specific definition in the coffee world. It is coffee made by forcing hot water through densely packed coffee grounds at about 130 psi. While there are steam “espresso makers” that don’t use a pump, most experts agree that it’s practically impossible to get enough steam pressure to make a proper shot of espresso without overheating the water. Espresso machines with pumps start at about $100, and a high-quality machine can easily cost $10,000 or more.
There are many factors that go into making the perfect shot of espresso — and the definition of “perfect shot” varies from person to person because it is so dependent upon the tastes of the person drinking the coffee. The factors include:
- Coffee: Most coffee experts prefer espresso made with a blend of coffee beans that includes as much as 10 percent robusta coffee, which aids in the formation of crema, gives the espresso a slightly bitter edge and adds a little caffeine kick to the brewed coffee. Aside from that, the variety of coffee you choose will greatly affect the flavor of the coffee.
- Roast: You’ll often see very dark roast coffees billed as “espresso” roasts. This is deceptive. In fact, there’s no such thing as an “espresso roast,” and darker roasts notoriously make bitter, flat espresso. In fact, a medium roast coffee seems to result in the most fully developed espresso which displays a full range of the flavors in the coffees.
- Grind: The grind is of vital importance in making good espresso. The right grind is very fine, with coffee grains smaller than granulated sugar. Smaller grains of coffee expose more surface and allow the water to extract more flavor. More importantly, finer grounds pack well, providing the necessary resistance to slow the water and fully develop the flavors in your chosen coffee. That said, the perfect grind can vary from one coffee to the next, and you’ll hear a lot of talk among espresso lovers about “dialing in the grind” for each new coffee to get the maximum flavor from the bean.
- Grind again: Fresh ground coffee is always a major factor in the quality of the coffee, but it seems to make even more difference with espresso. The coffee for espresso should be ground immediately before brewing for best flavor.
- Warm every part of the machine that will come into contact with the coffee. Many baristas pull a “blind shot” — a shot of coffee without the coffee — to heat the group head, filter holder and filter before making the first shot of espresso.
- Grind and measure the coffee grounds for a single or double shot.
- Put the ground coffee into the filter basket. Place the basket on a flat surface and tamp the coffee with a coffee tamper using about 30 pounds of pressure(try tamping it on a bathroom scale until you get a feel for what 30 pounds of pressure feels like). The coffee grounds should be packed into a hard surface that doesn’t powder or move when you shift the basket.
- Fit the filter into the portafilter handle.
- Fit the portafilter into the machine, following the instructions for the espresso machine.
- The process from here depends upon the espresso machine. In some, you simply flip a dial or press a button when an indicator light tells you that the water is at the right temperature. Other machines allow you to monitor the temperature and decide when to start pulling the shot. There are lever espresso machines that require you to actually “pull” the shot by pull the lever down to force the water through the grounds and fully automatic espresso machines that do everything from grind and measure the coffee to expelling the spent puck — the name for the coffee grounds after the espresso is finished brewing.
- Grind: Very fine
- Coffee-Water Ratio:
- Single shot: 7-10g : 30-44ml / 2 tbsp: 1.5-2 oz.
- Double Shot: 14-20g: 60-90ml / 4 tbsp: 3-4 oz.
- Brewing Time: 20-28 seconds starting when espresso begins flowing from portafilter
- Water Temp: 92-95 C. / 195-205 F.
How to Make Coffee in a Vacuum Coffee Brewer
Making coffee in a vacuum pot or a vacuum coffee brewer is a dramatic, flashy affair that’s the perfect end to a dinner party. Very popular in the 1920s, vacuum pots, also called siphon pots and siphon coffee brewers, faded away as percolators became more available and more popular. They never completely disappeared, though, because frankly, they make wonderful coffee and there’s nothing a coffee lover loves quite so much as a dramatic presentation.
The vacuum coffee brewer works on the principles of simple physics. Cold water in the bottom chamber is heated to near boiling. As it heats, the water is forced up through a vacuum tube into the top chamber. As the water in the top chamber cools, it drips back down into the bottom chamber through a filter basket filled with ground coffee, filling the bottom chamber with hot, delicious coffee at just the right temperature for serving.
Generally, follow the instructions that came with your vacuum pot. If you acquired one at a yard sale or have lost the instructions, use the following instructions as a base.
- Place the filter into the bottom of the top chamber of the siphon coffee brewer.
- Fill the bottom chamber of the siphon brewer with water. If you want to speed things up, you can preheat the water on the stove and start with hot, but not boiling, water in the siphon. Otherwise, start with room temperature or cold water.
- Place the bottom chamber of the brewer over a heat source. The exact heat source you use will depend on the type of siphon pot you’re brewing in. Some are designed to be used on the stove top. Others come with a stand and are meant to be suspended above a spirit lamp or burner.
- While the water is heating, grind the coffee (a little finer than drip grind) and add it to the top chamber.
- Place the top of the siphon brewer gently into the bottom chamber and ensure that it fits tightly. A rubber gasket serves as both a cushion and a seal.
- As the water moves into the top chamber, give it a slight stir to make sure all of the grounds are evenly wet.
- Continue stirring gently as the water fills the top half of the siphon pot. The water should not actually come to a boil.
- Let the coffee brew for 60 to 75 seconds, depending on the size of the vacpot. At the end of the brewing time, remove the pot from the heat source.
- As the bottom glass cools, the coffee will be drawn back down into the bottom chamber of the siphon pot through the filter. As it reaches the end, you’ll see some gurgling and turbulence in the pot and the aroma of coffee will intensify significantly.
- Carefully remove the top chamber from the bottom chamber and pour your coffee.
How to Make Cold Brew Coffee
Cold brewed coffee is smoother and less acidic than coffee brewed with hot water, according to its aficianadoes. It requires no heat source and no electricity for brewing. It is, at its simplest, the pure essence of the coffee bean released into water with no outer pressures or factors.
As little as five years ago, if you wanted to make cold brew coffee, your only commercial option was the Toddy, a nifty little cold coffee brewer that turns ground coffee and cold water into a super-strong, richly flavored coffee elixir overnight. Today, there are a number of cold coffee brewers on the market, including some beautiful options that are as much a treat for the eye as for the tastebuds. If you’re using a commercial cold coffee brewer, follow the manufacturers instructions to get the best results. If you just want to make cold brew coffee without any kind of fancy equipment, try the instructions below.
- Measure coarsely ground coffee into a 2-quart pitcher.
- Add cold, filtered water to the pitcher.
- Stir the contents of the pitcher to wet all of the grounds well.
- Cover the pitcher and place it in a cool place or in the refrigerator overnight or for about 8 to 12 hours.
- Line a wire-mesh strainer with a fine cloth or a double thickness of cheesecloth.
- Strain the coffee through the lined strainer into a clean pitcher. Store in the refrigerator for up to a week.
- To serve, mix cold-brew coffee with hot water at a 1:1 ratio, or adjust to taste.
How to Make Coffee in a Coffee Urn
Coffee urns are essentially very large percolators designed for making large amounts of coffee at one time. The procedure for making coffee in a coffee urn is about the same as the procedure for making coffee in a percolator, but it takes a lot longer. In general, you should follow the instructions that came with the coffee urn to figure out amounts of coffee and water to use, but it’s not unusual for the instructions to have been lost over time. The chart below can help you figure out how much coffee and water to use in a coffee urn.
|12 cups||1 3/4 cups||1 cup|
|25 cups||2 1/4 cups||1 1/2 cups|
|40 cups||3 1/2 cups||2 1/2 cups|
|60 cups||5 cups||4 cups|
|80 cups||6 1/2 cups||5 cups|
|100 cups||8 cups||6 1/4 cups|
- Fill coffee urn with COLD water to desired amount. Do not use hot
water or coffee urn will not brew.
- Pour coffee into basket
- Insert wide end of stem into heating well at the bottom of coffee urn
and insert opposite end of stem into center of basket.
- Plug coffee urn into a standard electrical outlet
How to Make Coffee in a Chemex Coffee Brewer
The Chemex is a classic coffee brewer that has never quite fallen out of favor with its fans. Designed by a chemist who was determined to brew the perfect cup of coffee, the Chemex is a perfect example of functional design elegance: form follows function and results in beauty. It’s such a classic of functional design, that it has taken its place in the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.
The method of brewing coffee in a Chemex will be familiar to anyone who has ever brewed a cup of manual drip coffee using the pourover method. The most complicated part of the whole process is learning to control the pour so that you distribute the hot water evenly over the coffee grounds in the filter.
- Put water on to boil.
- Open out a Chemex coffee filter by pulling one layer to the side, leaving three layers on the opposite side.
- Fit the paper filter into the Chemex cone with the thick side of the filter toward the spout.
- Wet the filter with hot water. Pour out any accumulated hot water before adding the coffee to the filter.
- Place ground coffee into the filter.
- Remove the water from the heat just as it reaches a boil. Let it sit off the heat source for 30 seconds. This should bring the boiling water down to the correct brewing temperature.
- Pour about 2 ounces of hot water into the filter, using a circular motion to wet all the coffee grounds. Wait about 15 seconds to allow the coffee to “bloom.” The pre-wetting soaks the coffee grounds so that they swell and release more coffee flavors during brewing.
- Continue pouring water over the coffee grounds in a slow, steady stream, using a circular motion to wet all the grounds evenly. Try to keep the water level even without overflowing the filter top. If the coffee is ground to the right consistency, the water will drip through steadily and take about 2 to 3 minutes to filter through completely.
- Remove the filter from the Chemex pot and dispose of it. Place the glass lid onto the Chemex to help keep the coffee warm if you’re not drinking it all at once.
- Grind: Drip/Medium grind
- Coffee-Water Ratio: 7.25g : 175 ml / 1 tbsp : 5 oz (Chemex instructions)
- Brewing Time: 3-4 minutes
- Water Temp: 90-95 C. / 195-205 F.
How to Make Turkish Coffee with an Ibrik
The art of making Turkish coffee in an ibrik is considered a basic skill for any Turkish host or hostess. The process of bringing water and coffee to just below the boiling point repeatedly results in strong, rich coffee that many Westerners consider bitter. Turkish coffee is nearly always brewed with sugar to take the bitter edge off.
Learning to make — and pour — good coffee with an ibrik is both a housekeeping and a social skill in a traditional Turkish household.
- Place sugar into the ibrik. Use about 2 teaspoons per cup of water.
- Add water to ibrik just to the bottom of the neck.
- Measure coffee into the ibrik and let it float on top of the water. Do not stir the coffee into the water at this point.
- Hold the ibrik over a heat source until the coffee starts to foam and foam nearly reaches the top of the ibrik.
- Remove the ibrik from the heat and stir the coffee gently until the foam subsides.
- Return the ibrik to the heat and wait for the foam to build again. Remove it from the heat and stir the foam down again.
- Repeat one more time.
- When the coffee foams for the last time, scoop out some of the foam and spoon it evenly into each cup.
- Let the ibrik sit for about 30 seconds to let the grounds settle to the bottom.
- Carefully pour the coffee into the cups, avoiding the grounds as much as possible. Do not pour the last of the coffee from the ibrik, since it consists almost completely of grounds.
How to Make Coffee with a Vietnamese Phin
The Vietnamese coffee brewer, called a phin, is a delightful little gadget that brews rich, flavorful coffee that is about midway between hand-dripped coffee and espressso on the flavor and texture scale. The device consists of three pieces: a cup, a filter that screws into place inside the little cup and a top that fits on top of the cup. It’s designed to sit on top of a coffee glass or cup and drip brewed coffee directly into your mug.
Of course, to get the full effect of Vietnamese coffee, or ca phe, you should make it as it is commonly made in Vietnamese restaurants around the world. Simply start by measuring sweetened, condensed milk into the glass before brewing, and let the coffee drip over it to create a beautifully layered glass of rich, sweet coffee.
- Remove the cap and the filter from the phin. Place the brewer on top of a cup or glass.
- Spoon finely ground coffee into the phin.
- Place the filter into the phin and screw it down lightly to compact the coffee slightly.
- Pour water just off boil into the phin.
- Place the cap on top of the phin and wait until the water has finished dripping through the filter into cup.
How to Make Puerto Rican Coffee with a Coffee Sock
Puerto Rican coffee is simple to make and difficult to make well. It requires only a saucepan or pot and a cloth coffee filter, though you can purchase beautiful stands to hold the coffee filter and leave your hands free.
- Measure cold water into a saucepan and place it over medium heat.
- Measure coffee into the water and stir steadily until the coffee foams. Do not allow it to come to a boil.
- Remove the coffee and water from the heat and allow it to steep for 2 to 3 minutes.
- While the coffee is steeping, heat milk in a saucepan until it begins to simmer around the edges. Stir in sugar until the sugar dissolves.
- Strain the coffee through a coffee sock into mugs or a coffee carafe.
- Add the heated milk to each mug, aiming for a 1:1 ratio.