Coffee is such a universal drink that at times, we don’t really give much thought to the coffee drink. Maybe we’re just too used to something, and never really sat to think about what could be. Going back to coffee as a beginner and starting all over again can be a very rewarding journey with a lot of deliciousness on the way.
Some time ago, I was in the same position. I would drink months-old ground coffee and think it was amazing, because at the time, the only thing I had to compare it to was instant coffee, which is, in most cases, eek.
Over the years I’ve learned quite a lot and attempted to share it with you here. This post will assume you’re a complete beginner to coffee(or you’ve been drinking coffee for a while but want to start from the basics).
I’ve tried to organize the post as logically as possible so you’re progressing from one step to the next in a meaningful way.
What makes a good cup of coffee?
Before getting into any details, we first have to understand what makes a good cup of coffee.
Essentially, there are three golden rules to making coffee:
- Use freshly roasted coffee beans
- Grind the beans to the correct consistency
- Brew for the intensity you want
It’s really that simple! There are a few steps involved within the three rules I’ve stated above, but if you’ve got those three covered to any extent, I can guarantee you’ll be brewing better coffee than you have ever tasted in your life.
With that said, let’s talk about the first rule:
Use freshly roasted coffee beans
Coffee beans have the most flavor when they’re freshly roasted. There is often a short resting period of 2 or 3 days immediately after roasting, but once that resting period is over, you have about 15-20 days of freshness in the beans.
After 15-20 days, you’ll notice that the flavors become a little dull and the bitterness and acidity begins to take over.
Freshly roasted coffee beans are pretty easy to find. If you have a local craft roaster, I highly suggest you pick up coffee from them. Otherwise, you can always order online. Shipping in the United States is pretty fast and you’ll have your coffee within a few days of ordering.
You have the choice of three kinds of roasts: light, medium, and dark. Medium roasts are generally the safest options as they have the best balance of flavor and intensity. You may find light roasts to be a little tasteless, or dark roasts to be too intense. But feel free to experiment and see which you like the best.
A good way to do this is by starting with medium, and upping or lowering the intensity depending on how it tastes.
Grind to the correct consistency
Now that you’re using the right kind of coffee beans(freshly roasted, of course), it’s time to grind right before brewing.
Grind just enough beans to make the amount of coffee you need. You’ll need about 10-14 grams of coffee beans for making a 6 ounce cup of brewed coffee or one shot of espresso.
Here’s how you can think about grinding coffee. Grinding allows the coffee to come into more contact with water, which enables a proper extraction of the oils and flavor compounds in the coffee beans.
If your grind is too coarse for your brewing method, you’ll end up with under-extracted coffee that doesn’t taste right.
If your grind is too fine for your brewing method, you’ll end up with over-extracted and gritty coffee.
Here’s a quick cheat sheet for grinding:
- Cold brew: Very coarse
- French press: coarse
- Drip/Chemex/Filter: medium
- Aeropress: medium-fine
- Espresso(includes cappuccino, macchiato, latte, flat white, mocha): fine
- Turkish coffee: very fine
The best way to grind is with a burr grinder. You can pick up a manual burr grinder for very cheap, and it’ll take you about 3 to 4 minutes to grind enough beans for one cup.
If you have the budget, get an automatic burr grinder.
Brewing for the intensity you want
As you saw above, there are quite a few methods for brewing coffee. Generally speaking, they can be split into three categories:
- Methods that utilize gravity
- Methods that utilize immersion
- Methods that utilize pressure
Drip coffee and filter coffee are examples of brewing methods that use gravity. You put coffee grounds in a filter, pour hot water over them in a slow, controlled manner, and gravity pulls the water through the coffee, through the filter, and into your cup.
French press and cold brew are examples of immersion methods. Here, you immerse the coffee grounds in water for a certain period of time, and then you separate the coffee grounds from the water using a filter. French press takes about 4 minutes to brew, and cold brew around 12-24 hours.
Espresso and Aeropress are examples of pressure methods. Here, pressurized air or steam is used to extract maximum flavor in a short amount of time. Pressure methods tend to produce the most intensely flavored coffees.
What if you don’t like black coffee?
Good coffee is best enjoyed black, and if you brew it using the methods above and using fresh beans, you actually won’t taste the typical bitterness or acidity normally associated with coffee.
Still, if you find black coffee too intense, you can always add things to the coffee to neutralize the intensity or enhance the flavors.
Cappuccinos and lattes are prime examples of what’s considered “traditional” coffee but still contains milk.
There are also a lot of sweeteners you can add, like sugar, honey, or even maple syrup.
Adjusting and fine tuning
There’s no bookish definition for a perfect cup of coffee. The perfect cup of coffee is what you enjoy. Once you’ve got the basics down, you can start making small adjustments to see which coffee you like best.
Perhaps you find that you prefer 9 grams of coffee instead of 10, or you prefer to steep french press for 5 minutes instead of 4. There are numerous small adjustments that you can make, most importantly, experimenting with different kinds of beans!
Feel free to experiment and remember to take notes whenever you do, so you remember what you’ve done right and what you want to change.