I consider myself very much an in betweener, where I have adopted some methods to improve my coffee skills (freshly grinding beans for example) but eschewing others because of cost, time, or let’s be perfectly honest here, laziness (no pour overs for me). Over the years, I think I’ve prioritized for me the most impactful ways to maximize coffee pleasure with the minimal amount of extra work. Work smarter, not harder, right? So for my fellow inbetweeners and aspiring inbetweeners, what can you do to up your coffee game with the minimal amount of extra effort or cost?
Let’s find out.
One perk of living in the 2020s is that there’s no shortage of truly excellent resources out there on how to prepare a truly delicious cup of joe. Just google “how to make coffee” and you will find full Youtube series on coffee making tips and tricks. For me, these are the five things I do when I make coffee nearly each and every day with my preferred method, the French Press. However, all of these tips apply no matter what coffee brewing method you prefer.
As a sidenote, why is coffee sometimes called joe? This article by excellent Kansas City coffee roaster The Roasterie lays it out wonderfully. Anyways...
1. Freshly grind your coffee before brewing
This is probably the one most important thing you can do to step up your coffee game. Buying whole coffee beans and grinding them fresh means all the volatile oils and flavors of the coffee are present, strong, and ready to make your nose and tongue sing with glee. It does not matter whether you like dark, smoky coffee or a bright, fruity light roast, any coffee will be more flavorful if you grind it fresh versus buying it pre-ground.
On grinding it fresh, you will likely hear coffee aficionados extoll the virtues of burr grinders vs blade grinders. I am not going to go into the depths of it here (this article also by The Roasterie explains the pros and cons of each well) but in my opinion, for most at home coffee brewers, either will work just fine. I bought this Krups blade style grinder for under $20 back in college and have used it nearly every day since. By grinding fresh, you’ve already made a big leap forward, no matter the machine you use to get there.
2. Use fresh water - filtered if you have it
This is pretty self explanatory - use fresh water whenever you can. If your local tap water tastes clean, crisp and nice, go ahead and get it right from the faucet. If it tastes kinda funky or smells slightly off, it may be worth getting a filter pitcher and keeping filtered water in your fridge for when you brew your next pot.
3. Brew with water just off the boil
This is something that requires so little effort but can make a surprisingly noticeable difference in your coffee experience. When you boil water, don’t go pouring it still bubbling and at 212 degrees onto your coffee. Coffee is best brewed between 195 and 205 degrees, but you don’t need to go out and buy a thermometer. My general rule of thumb is if you’re boiling about 1 liter of water (about enough for 3 cups of coffee), after it comes to a boil, I let it sit in my kettle for about 30 seconds to 1 minute (just enough time for me to pour and grind my coffee beans), and after that, it is ready to go. If you are using a drip coffee maker, most should hit the range just fine.
4. A pinch of salt goes a long way
I got this trick from Alton Brown in an old Good Eats episode, but it stuck with me ever since I first saw it on TV. Whenever I brew a pot of coffee, I always add a pinch of salt with the coffee grounds. The magic behind the salt is that it helps nullify some of the bitter flavors in the coffee. This helps make for a smoother cup of coffee which for me at least is a good thing.
5. Time it out
Like when you brew tea, you don’t want to over or under brew your coffee before serving. Too little time when brewing and it will end up weak and bland. Too long and it can end up harsh and overly extracted. For my French Press, I aim for the 3-5 minute range which usually yields a great brew. Occasionally I forget and it goes longer, but even if it ends up brewing for 6, 7, or even 8, it’s not disastrous. Of course, if you use a drip machine or other method, these timings may be less applicable.
Set forth and brew
Again, this is not nearly an end all be all of coffee tips. However, if you’re looking to step up from the can of Folgers and to something a little fancier, these are five easy changes you can make to make your coffee into a daily treat worth waking up for.