Whether you prefer an automatic drip coffee maker or the meditation of a perfect...
1. Keep your coffee maker clean. No matter what kind of coffee maker you use, you’ll get the best coffee out of it if you keep it clean. That brownish film you see on the inside of your glass coffee carafe is made up of coffee oils. They build up inside your filter cup and around the drip spout of your drip coffee maker as well as anywhere else brewed coffee touches. The oils quickly go rancid, and will ruin the taste of your coffee.
2. Descale your coffee maker regularly. Lime and other minerals can build up inside the tubes and inner workings of your coffee maker. Follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for descaling, or failing that, run a cup of vinegar through your coffee maker about once a month. Follow it up with plain water through the brew cycle two or three times until it there’s no vinegar smell.
3. Brew your coffee with spring water if your tap water has a lot of chemicals or minerals in it. Avoid distilled water, which will make your coffee taste flat. Natural spring water if filtered of its impurities, but keeps enough minerals to help draw out the flavor of your coffee rather than masking it.
4. If possible, use coffee that’s been roasted within the last 5 days or so. Once coffee beans are roasted, they lose flavor quickly. Coffee beans are at their best 24 to 48 hours after roasting. Many coffee roasters package their coffee in airtight, opaque bags shortly after roasting to preserve the flavor as much as possible. Once you open it, though, you should use it up within a few days or you’ll be drinking stale coffee.
5. By the same token, get yourself a coffee grinder and buy your coffee in whole beans. The flavor difference between fresh ground coffee and pre-ground coffee is nothing short of amazing. You’ll taste the difference even if you use a cheap blade grinder — about $20 at any department store — but if you really want fresh coffeehouse taste in your coffee, invest in a burr grinder.
6. For the absolute freshest coffee, roast your own coffee beans. It’s nowhere near as complicated as some of the complex machinery would lead you to believe. All you really need to roast coffee beans at home is green coffee beans and a frying pan, air corn popper, stovetop popcorn popper or rimmed cookie sheet. It takes about 15 minutes to roast enough coffee for several days, and you’ll always know that your coffee is as fresh as it can be. Best of all, when you roast coffee at home, you can play with coffee blends and create your own custom coffee blends to please your own palate.
7. Brew your coffee with water that’s just off a boil. The best temperature for brewing coffee is between 195 and 205 F. (88 to 93 C.). If you use a French press, for example, heat water to boiling and immediately remove it from the heat. Let it sit for two to three minutes, then brew your coffee. It’s trickier with a drip coffee maker, which seldom has a thermometer for you to measure temperature or a way to adjust it. Consumer Reports magazine tests coffee makers every couple of years and checks how well they heat water and retain the heat for brewing. Their report, usually available on the website, can help you choose the best coffee maker.