The Fundamentals of Great Coffee

If you should only read one blog post about coffee then let it be this one.
Here I lay out everything you need to know to make tasty coffee at home.

Most people surfing the web today suffer from attention deficit disorder.

So I wrote this post to boil every single thing I have learned about coffee down to something that can be read and digested in the time it takes to prepare (and eat) a cup of instant noodles. 

Are you ready to get your career as a superstar home-barista kickstarted? Then put down the fidget spinner down for five minutes and thirty seconds and read on. 

#1: The cherry trumps everything 

You can make great coffee if you have high-quality beans and cheap equipment. 

You can’t do the reverse.

What this essentially means, is that coffee cherry is way more important than the equipment.

The raw biological potential of the cherry (or bean as it later becomes) is the most critical factor in coffee.

 

Some ripe cherries I came across in Sumatra

If the bean is from a good cultivar and grown under the right conditions in fertile soil, it will be sweet and packed with flavors.

Unfortunately, most coffee on the shelves of the supermarket is grown at low altitude in farms lacking biodiversity. Even if you have $5000 espresso setup, you won’t be able to get a spectacular result with this kind of second rate bean. 

To reiterate: What happens at the coffee farm is the single most important thing when it comes to coffee quality.

#2: You need a fresh roast

Roasting shouldn’t be underestimated. It determines how the biological potential of the bean will be represented.

Time for an analogy: You can think of the green bean as the song and the roast as the band. There can be many great cover versions of the same song; each brings its own personality and interpretation to the table. The roastmaster’s job is to try many different profiles and then select the one that brings out the bean’s true potential.

Even though much of the taste is inherent in the green beans, the roast will also contribute with a range of additional flavors. Typically notes such as chocolate and hazelnut are developed during the roast as a result of the Maillard reaction as well as caramelization.

When we talk about the freshness of coffee, we also (typically) refer to the roasting. When the coffee comes out of the roaster, a timer starts. Coffee is best from one to six weeks after roasting. 

(Green coffee can go old too, but unless you’re a home roaster you shouldn’t be concerned about that).

#3: Water is essential

Let’s continue with our educational analogy: If the green bean is the song, and the roast is the band, then the water is your set of speakers.

I think we have all tried to listen to music on a set of horrible speakers where there is no sense of balance and the bass is non-existent or distorted. Coffee brewed with the wrong kind of water is similar – it’s hard to really appreciate.

Water is the most underrated aspect of coffee, but in fact, it’s vital. In my opinion, it’s more important than fancy brewing equipment and grinders.

In many places all over the world tap water just doesn’t cut it. If you want to educate yourself about water, then read my big article on the topic.

#4: How to brew coffee at home

A lot can be said about brewing coffee, and if you hang out among the more advanced coffee snobs, you’ll soon realize that some people approach extraction theory as it was a scientific experiment. 

While I personally like to tweak things and geek around, I think the vast majority of normal people will be able to get most of the rewards, if they just remember the following brewing heuristics. 

Tetsu Kasuya’s Hario V60-method might seem a bit eccentric  at first, but it’s one of the best ways to consistently make great pour over coffee at home.

Fresh and uniform grind

If you’re serious about making delicious black coffee at home, you’ll need a grinder. When coffee is ground, it starts to lose its aroma after a few minutes. For that reason, pre-ground isn’t a viable option.

A cheap manual grinder like this one or an electric burr grinder like the Baratza Encore will likely suffice for most people’s need. 

It’s essential that the result is somewhat uniform, so please avoid blade grinders.

Temperature

Ideally, you’ll want to use water that’s around 200 ℉ / 93℃.

Some respected people in the coffee industry suggest using boiling water, but I think it creates more bitterness.

Agitate and Aerate

An often overlooked step when brewing a top-notch cup is that the coffee should be adequately mixed. 

Also, coffee benefits from being aerated slightly. For that reason, I suggest that you brew into a range server and then pour the coffee over in a cup to drink from. That will give you sufficient aeration and agitation.

Serve at the correct temperature

Coffee should be brewed at 200 ℉ but be enjoyed closer to 170℉.

The way to achieve this is by following the same advice as above. Brew in a range server, and then pour to a cup.

Use the appropriate brew ratio

We coffee geeks usually call the relationship of coffee grounds to water ‘the brew ratio’. 

1:15 is a ratio that is almost always successful. It means that you use 1 unit of coffee per 15 units of water. 

However, it’s worth pointing out that not all brewing methods use the grounds equally efficiently. 

For coffee makers something in the range of 60 to 66 grams of coffee per liter of water. 

On the other hand, French press, and other types of infusion/immersion brew methods shine when using a stronger brew ratio. You can typically use 66-70 grams per liter when you’re steeping the coffee. 

Pro tip: I’d encourage you to brew coffee using a scale so you can get the ratio right every single time.

Coffee beans shouldn’t be measured with a spoon since they can have very different density depending on roast degree and varietal.

My favorite way to brew coffee

Pour over is an excellent way to brew coffee

Today there are hundreds of different types of coffee and brew methods out there. Not a day goes by without some new kind of coffee project popping up on Kickstarter.

While I love innovation, I also care a lot about one single thing: How to make coffee taste good consistently?

For that reason, I’d encourage you to try the pour over method. In my opinion, it tastes fantastic, is easy to make, and so cheap that more or less everybody can afford the equipment.

A cheap starter kit from Hario, combined with some quality coffee beans, and a proper coffee filter (they are important, too!), and you’re on the right path.

If you want to get a bit more serious a dedicated gooseneck kettle and a scale, will get you going.

I salute you and your decision to start taking coffee seriously. Cheers in great coffee!

You’ll be rewarded with some excellent taste experiences if you follow my coffee tips. 

If you want to take it a step further, then read some more of my essential articles.

enjoy better coffee

about the author

about the author

Hey, I'm Asser Christensen from Denmark – the founder & editor of this site.

I have been crazy about caffeine for almost as long as I can remember. Today, I'm a licensed Q Arabica Grader and full time coffee writer.

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