The Five Golden Rules of Coffee Brewing

Full disclosure: I'm a bit of a coffee snob. I brought coffee beans, a grinder, and a brewer to work for years. I roast my own beans, and I only consume bad coffee in the direst of circumstances. I've read dozens of coffee books, and hundreds (or thousands) of articles online. In short: I take my coffee seriously. Perhaps a little too seriously.

What does all of this get me? Honestly, not a lot. After many years of roasting, reading, and experimenting with brewers, I've come to the conclusion that making great coffee isn't that complicated. If you make coffee at home, you can easily make a better cup than your local barista by following a few simple rules.

I call these the Five Golden Rules of Coffee Brewing.

Buy fresh, whole beans #

Coffee is like bread, it goes stale after a while. Coffee is at its best 5-20 days after it was roasted, and ideally it should be consumed within that time frame. There are some tricks you can use to keep coffee fresh longer (or you can roast your own, for ultimate freshness), but as a rule of thumb, buy small batches and drink shortly after purchasing.

Keep the coffee on your counter or in a cabinet, preferably in a dark airtight container. No fridge or freezer: these devices can make your beans wet, which can make them moldy.

Grind fresh #

The more you process coffee, the more fragile it gets. Once ground, coffee starts to lose its flavor in 30 seconds or less! You don’t want that to happen. So purchase a decent burr grinder and grind only when you’re about to brew. If you aren’t already doing this, you will be shocked to see how much better your coffee becomes.

My first burr grinder was this cheap Mr. Coffee grinder. It’s not the best, but it gets the job done. A few years ago I upgraded to a Baratza Encore, and I noticed a huge improvement in the taste my coffee: the grinder really does make a huge difference. Buy the best you can afford.

If you don’t mind using a little elbow grease, you can also buy high quality hand grinders for cheap, like this Hario grinder. I used that exact grinder for many years, and had great results with it.

Weigh your beans #

This is all about repeatability. If you brew a really good cup of coffee one day, are you sure you can repeat it the next day? If you aren’t weighing your beans, then no, you can’t.

Coffee beans vary drastically in density. Some beans are heavier, some are lighter, so measuring by volume (tablespoons or teaspoons) won’t get you a consistent result. Instead, you should purchase a small scale and weigh your beans before you grind them.

I like this Hario scale. It’s a good price, and big enough that you can brew a Chemex on it. It also has a built in timer.

Use good-tasting water #

This may seem obvious, but coffee is 98% water. If your water doesn’t taste good, your coffee won’t either. You need good-tasting filtered water (or mineral water) to have good-tasting coffee.

Nail your technique #

Now that you have a strong foundation, it’s finally time to brew! There are hundreds of different ways to brew coffee, and which technique you use is ultimately up to you. But no matter what technique you use, you should do some research, experiment with different ways to use your equipment, and find a technique that works well for you. There’s no right or wrong way to do this, but it’s a good idea to try a few different things and compare/contrast. Practice with your chosen technique until you find the way that works best for you.

My favorite way to brew for one or two people is to use an Aeropress. It’s also a very affordable brewer. But you can use anything, even that old Mr. Coffee drip brewer in the closet. As long as you keep the previous four steps in mind, your coffee will taste great.

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