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Drip coffee makers are the single most popular small kitchen appliance in the US. You can buy an automatic drip coffee maker for as little as ten dollars, or go all out for one with all the bells and whistles – including its own coffee grinder – for over two hundred dollars. And despite the growing love (and resulting culture of) espresso, even espresso lovers sometimes admit that they just want a good cup of joe.
A couple of years back, I worked in an office where coffee was the lubricant that kept the wheels humming. We ran round the clock, and the coffee pot was always on and always full. It was also more often than not, barely drinkable. The standing rule of the coffee pot was “If you drink the last cup, put on another pot”. From the day that I started working there and made my first pot of coffee, there was a new rule. “If you drink the last cup of coffee, let Deb know so she can make another pot.”
Whenever I put on a fresh pot, people would drift from the far side of the building, and by the time it was finished dripping, there was a line at the coffee pot, waiting for that first cup.
There’s no big secret to making good coffee with a drip coffee maker. It’s simple and straightforward – but there are a few things to keep in mind.
1. Invest in a coffee grinder.
It’s amazing what a difference that one single thing makes. When you grind coffee, you increase the surface area of the coffee bean that is exposed to air, hastening the release of the oils that give coffee its rich flavor. If possible, grind coffee right before you use it. If you don’t have a coffee grinder, buy at a store that sells whole beans that you can grind yourself. Buy just enough for a few days at a time, and store it in an airtight container at home.
2. Buy good coffee.
The better the coffee you start with, the better the coffee you’ll end up with. Of course, good coffee is a subjective thing. The one big suggestion I have here is that you avoid those big supermarket displays with plastic bins of coffee beans – the kind where you scoop or pour out beans into a bag. The bins aren’t airtight, and you have no idea how long they’ve been sitting in those bins getting stale. Vacuum-sealed bags or cans of coffee beans are better. Even ground coffee in a vacuum sealed bag is a better choice.
3. Keep your drip coffee maker and coffee pot clean.
Coffee oils cling to everything, and once they’re deposited they start growing rancid. Wash out your pot and filter basket every time you make a fresh pot, and clean your coffee maker once a week. Descale it once a month. And do remember to clean the shower heads up under where the filter basket goes. That’s an area most people never think to clean.
4. Use a paper filter.
You’ve probably seen ads for “permanent coffee filters” in gold or nylon. They sound like a great idea, but see #3 above. Coffee residues tend to collect in hard to clean places on them. It’s better and easier to buy good quality paper coffee filters and have a fresh one for every brew.
5. Use enough coffee.
The biggest mistake that people make when making coffee in a drip coffee maker is using too little coffee. So, how much coffee for one cup of coffee? You should use a full tablespoon of ground coffee for each 8 ounces(about 227 grams) of water. Measure it out the first few times and you’ll be surprised how much coffee that actually is.
6. Use fresh, cold water.
I’ve heard people recommend using distilled water with all the minerals and impurities removed. Frankly, distilled water is good for your machine, but it makes flat tasting coffee. If your tap water is good for drinking, it will make good coffee. If it’s not, use a water filter or use spring water.
7. Avoid the temptation to use the brew pause.
The first cup or so of coffee will carry most of the coffee flavor. If you pour that off and return the pot to fill the rest of the way, the first cup of coffee will be very strong, and the rest of the pot very weak. Practice patience, grasshopper.
8. Take the coffee off the warming plate when it’s done brewing.
Coffee left on the warmer plate will continue to “cook”. Instead, pour any coffee that’s left over into a thermal pot, preferably one with a vacuum seal.
That’s all there is to it. Follow that advice, and you’ll have the entire office lining up to drink your coffee, and skipping the afternoon run to the nearest Starbucks.