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How to Make Good Coffee: Tips on Bean Selection, Grind Size, Brewing Method and More

Looking to take your coffee-making to the next level? Our guide reveals how to make the best cup of coffee every time

If you find yourself consuming several cups of coffee a day, then it makes sense to put some effort into learning how to do it well. Master making flavorful coffee tailored to your taste, and your morning brew will become more rewarding to prepare and consume. Plus, there’s nothing quite like the swell of pride you get upon being told that you make a great cup of coffee.

What may appear simple on the surface, is actually anything but; there’s an incredible amount to know about making coffee. From your choice of coffee bean, the coarseness of the grounds and the temperature of the water, to the brewing method and tools you use that affect the ultimate flavor of your coffee – experimentation will see you develop your perfect-tasting cup. Below, we reveal our favorite tips and tricks, as well as the pitfalls to avoid, so that you can master the art of making the perfect cup of coffee every time.

How to make the best cup of coffee for you

You don’t need to do everything we suggest below to make a good cup of joe, but if you follow the advice that seems relevant to you and your tastes, we guarantee you’ll be pleased with the outcome. Here are all the components that go into making a top-drawer cup of coffee:

1. Selecting your beans/grounds and roast profile

The first step to making good coffee is making your choice of coffee bean, alongside the roast profile. The two most common varietals of coffee beans are Robusta and Arabica:

  • Robusta coffee beans have a strong, bitter flavor and are high in caffeine.
  • Arabica coffee beans are the most common and tend to have a smooth, balanced flavor profile and medium-high caffeine content.

The above descriptions are broad because the flavor profile of both can vary significantly based on the region in which they’re grown, being affected by soil quality, altitude, and climate, for example. Central and South American coffee-growing regions such as Brazil, Colombia, and Guatemala produce beans that commonly display nutty, chocolatey, and caramel-forward flavor profiles, while African countries such as Ethiopia and Kenya grow coffee that tends toward fruity, floral and citrussy flavors. Across Asia, growers in places such as Indonesia and Malaysia are known for coffee beans with notes of dark chocolate, spice, and smoke.

The next thing to understand after you’ve looked at bean varieties and growing regions is roast profiles. The three most common roast profiles are light, medium, and dark:

  • Light roasts have a bright, acidic flavor with low levels of bitterness, tending towards fruitiness.
  • Medium roasts have a balanced flavor, with some acidity, relatively low bitterness, and sweeter, chocolatey notes.
  • Dark roasts have a robust flavor, losing acidity and gaining bittersweet, dark chocolate, caramel and toasty notes.

Whatever beans you choose, make sure you store your coffee away from light, heat, and moisture. An airtight container in a cool, dark kitchen cupboard will be the best place to store coffee beans for most people.

2. Grinding and weighing out your coffee correctly

If you’re serious about your coffee, it’s worth investing in a quality grinder to grind your beans at home. Freshly ground coffee is more aromatic and flavorful than pre-ground coffee – plus, when you grind your own coffee, you can better control how coarsely or finely you grind the beans. Controlling the coarseness of your grind is important, since different brewing methods require different levels of fineness to extract at the correct rate.

Our favorite manual grinder is the nicely affordable and adjustable Hario Skerton Pro, while the Sage Dose Control Pro is our top automatic option, offering a whopping 60 grind settings while keeping the heat low as it grinds so as to better preserve your coffee’s flavor.

Whether you grind at home or use pre-ground coffee, a sensitive weighing scale will be another good addition to your coffee-making arsenal. Different coffee beans have different densities, so going by weight rather than volume will allow you to grind for a more consistent cup of coffee and better manage your coffee-to-water ratios.

3. Choosing between immersion, gravity, and pressure brewing

Now that we’ve selected our coffee, we need to brew it. There are many ways to brew coffee, but they can be largely divided into three categories: gravity, immersion, and pressure.

Gravity brewing, or filtration brewing, involves pouring hot water over your grounds and allowing gravity to pull the water through them; the water passes through a filter into a receptacle waiting below. Common gravity brewing methods include drip coffee and pour-over. On the whole, these methods tend to be fairly user-friendly and produce light, clean-tasting coffee.

Immersion brewing involves steeping the grounds in water for a period of time. The two most common immersion brewing methods are French press coffee and cold brew coffee – both of which, while a little tricky to master, are straightforward in concept. In general, immersion-brewed coffee tends to have a rich, full-bodied flavor and a distinctly thicker texture.

In pressure brewing, water is forced through your coffee beans at high pressure levels, to produce coffee or espresso with a sharp and strong flavor. Espresso machines are by far the most common means of pressure brewing, followed by stovetop coffee makers and AeroPresses. Of the three, pressure brewing is probably the most difficult method to set up and master, but probably the most rewarding for tinkerers.

4. Picking the right appliance or tool for your method

There are a hundred and one tools and appliances for making coffee out there. For this article, we’ll narrow our focus to just three, or one per method. For gravity brewing, we’ll look at pour-over coffee makers; for immersion brewing, the French press; and for pressure brewing, we’ll focus on espresso machines.

Pour-over

Pour-over coffee makers are conical devices into which you insert paper filters and your coffee grounds. Then, as the name suggests, you pour water over your coffee grounds, allowing the coffee to filter into your cup via gravity. There may be some experimentation involved however, pour-over coffee makers are generally easy to use and can produce a healthy 8-10 cups of bright, smooth coffee.

Suggested roast: Light to medium
Grind: Medium-fine
Brew time: 3-4 minutes
Intensity: Light
Our favorite models: Clever Dripper, Chemex Pour-Over, Hario V60

French press

A French press is made up of a cylindrical carafe, a plunger and a built-in mesh filter. To use one, you immerse coffee grounds in hot water in the carafe for a number of minutes, after which the filter allows you to strain out the grounds as you pour. French presses are simple to use, easy to store and can produce a respectable volume of bold, strong-tasting coffee.

Suggested roast: Medium
Grind: Coarse
Brew time: 4-5 minutes
Intensity: Medium/strong
Our favorite models: Bodum Chambord, Le Creuset Stoneware

Espresso machine

Espresso machines use powerful internal boilers and spring-loaded pistons to force hot water through coffee grounds at high pressure, producing a concentrated form of coffee that has a strong, complex flavor. Espresso machines are favored for the great-tasting coffee they produce, their highly finished and aesthetically pleasing exteriors and their wide-ranging adjustability. Some of the downsides of espresso machines include their high price, the low volume of coffee they produce and their complexity. To learn more about how espresso machines differ from regular coffee makers, check out our espresso machine vs coffee maker guide.

Suggested roast: Medium to dark
Grind: Fine
Brew time: 20-30 seconds, once your machine has heated up
Intensity: Strong
Our favorite models: De’Longhi Dedica, Gaggia Classic Pro, Breville Dual Boiler

5. Avoiding the common mistakes

One of the most obvious ways to make good coffee is to simply avoid making bad coffee. There are a few common areas where people make mistakes when making coffee that can be easily sidestepped:

Unfiltered water – Coffee is mostly water, and so all your efforts to get the ideal beans and brew them to perfection can easily be undone if your water is going to muddy the flavor. Filtered water will remove this risk and allow your coffee’s flavor to shine.

Water temperature – If you’re using one of the manual methods suggested above, you’ll need to consider water temperature. Using freshly boiled water will result in a burnt-tasting, overly bitter brew. A temperature between 195°F and 205°F is the sweet spot and can be achieved with a variable temperature electric kettle, or by waiting and measuring using a thermometer.

Coffee to water ratio – When making coffee manually, ratios are important. If your coffee to water ratio is off, the taste of the resulting coffee can range from insipid to overly bitter. The ratios you’ll want can vary from method to method and are largely dependent on taste. For pour-over and French press coffee, start with a ratio of 1:16 and see how you go from there.

Brew time and grind size – If your coffee is tasting too sour or bitter, one problem could be that you’re allowing it to brew for too long. An overly long brew time gives more time to extract the bitter-tasting flavor compounds. Similarly, using the wrong grind size for your method can cause your coffee to be under or over extracted. For example, using fine grinds for French press coffee will cause over extraction due to the large surface area of the small particles and the longer brew time, while using coarse grounds for espresso will cause the opposite problem.

6. Tweaking your recipe and following your palate

The final thing to note is that, for the most part, the instructions above are mainly guidelines. Outside of the mechanical advice, you should tweak your coffee-making routine based on how much you enjoy the results of your different attempts. If you find that you enjoy a French press coffee made with dark-roasted beans and a more concentrated coffee-to-water ratio, by all means, go for it. A big part of the fun about taking up coffee brewing as a hobby is experimentation, so keep on striving to make that perfect cup and you’ll be sure to learn how to make good coffee along the way.

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