There is not a right or wrong method for brewing coffee. The basics of brewing are largely based on personal preference and desired results. Achieving desired results begins with selecting the proper coffee. The flavor and strength of a coffee will vary based on the roasting of the beans, the country of origin, and even the different regions within a country where coffee is grown. Sampling coffees of different origins and roasts will provide a good idea of the nuances between varieties. Once you’ve determined your preferences, follow some basic steps to brew the perfect cup.
Grinding the Coffee Beans
When at all possible, you should grind the coffee immediately before brewing. Roasted coffee begins to deteriorate soon after roasting and whole beans will remain fresh longer than ground coffee. A quality coffee grinder is essential, and choosing a burr grinder over a blade grinder will result in more uniformity. The beans may be ground very coarsely or very fine. You should base this decision on the method you’re going to use to brew the coffee. For example, for a French press, a very coarse grind is essential for the plunger to filter all of the grounds from the coffee. On the other end of the spectrum, very fine grounds are necessary for brewing espresso due to the minimal water and concentrated pressure involved in the brewing. Traditional drip and percolated brewing methods fall in between these two, and many coffee grinders have instructions or settings on the machine.
The Water is Key
The quality of a cup of coffee is greatly affected by the water that goes into it. Poor tasting water that has a high concentration of chlorine or other elements will result in an unfavorable cup of coffee. Do not use distilled of softened water; filtered or bottled water usually return the best results. Between one and two tablespoons of coffee per six ounces of water is a good guideline, but can be adjusted to accommodate personal preference. Most brewing machines will have an recommended method for measuring the coffee to water ratio.
As far as temperature is concerned, 195-205 degrees Fahrenheit is the ideal range for brewing coffee. Water that is too hot when it comes in contact with the coffee grounds will lead to a poor tasting cup. The amount of time that the coffee spends in contact with the water is also a factor. Drip coffee should be in contact with the water for a maximum of 5 minutes, while a French press only needs 2-4 minutes. Espresso should only be in contact with the water for 30 seconds or less. Thoroughly clean the equipment between uses to ensure that stale coffee and other contaminants do not interfere with the taste.
Enjoy your freshly brewed coffee immediately after, as the optimal flavor will begin to fade right after brewing. Try not to leave coffee on a burner for more than 15 minutes as this will adversely affect the flavor as well.