12 Most Nerdy Tips for a Perfect Cup of Coffee
Science continues to unlock the secrets of what makes GREAT coffee. I’m a nerd at heart, and as I continually savor coffee with villagers, government leaders, coffee barons and coffee geeks in Africa and Asia, as well as here at home, I’ve picked up the following keys to fantastic coffee.
1. Start with great beans
The old saying is true, nothing can ADD quality to a coffee bean from when it’s picked to when you drink it. So start with the best. Beans differ hugely in quality. I love being in a coffee field in Yirga Cheffe, Ethiopia, smelling the soil and knowing WHY it keeps winning international awards.
2. Move toward lighter roasts
I grew up on dark French roasts, so that’s what my taste buds long-identified with “coffee.” But no longer. Light-to-medium roasts are proving to be best for maximizing the nuances and flavors of most beans. You want to taste the beans more than the roast.
3. Drink it fresh
Once your coffee is roasted it will keep for a few weeks if it’s unopened. But after you open it, drink it all within a week or two.
4. Store it wisely
Once you open your coffee, keep it in an air-tight container in a cool, dark place. But NEVER put it in the fridge or freezer. That ruins the oils.
5. Invest in a good grinder
Here’s a critical but little-known fact: How you grind your coffee affects the taste far more than most people ever realize. Inexpensive blade-grinders heat your beans with their fast-spinning blades, and chop your grounds into varying-sized pieces, negatively affecting taste. Get a conical burr grinder. I bought my Capresso Infinity grinder for under $100, and it’s WELL worth the money in the long run.
6. Use the perfect coffee-to-water ratio
Geeky secret: buy a simple digital food scale and measure 1/15th the weight of coffee beans as coffee you want to drink. Here’s how I do it: I know my french press makes 750 grams of drinkable coffee (I weighed the amount of needed water to fill it). So I simply weigh out 50 grams of coffee beans every morning (750/15), grind them on a course grind, put the grinds into the bottom of my french press, then fill with the heated water. Voila! The perfect ratio. The same ratio holds true for drip coffee.
7. Use good water
Start with bottled water (but not distilled water), or cold water fresh out of your tap. Your tap’s hot water will have some of the air boiled out of it, and possible extra minerals from your hot water heater, so avoid that.
8. Heat your water to 200 degrees
Don’t boil your water! That high temperature makes your coffee bitter. The Specialty Coffee Association of America advises using water that is 195-205 degrees fahrenheit. I have a Cuisinart electric kettle with varying temperature settings, so I just select “200 French Press” and it’s perfect. Or, you can heat your water to slightly below boiling.
9. Steep your coffee the right amount of time
When I use my french press I steep the coffee for 4 minutes. I pour the 200-degree water into the press, let it steep one minute, give it a quick stir, then let it steep the remaining 3 minutes. When I use my drip coffee maker I adjust the settings to steep it to my liking.
10. Keep your coffee-maker clean
Minerals build up in a coffee maker from the repeated water heatings. So clean out your coffee-maker every couple of months to prevent scaling.
11. Get a manual coffee dripper
This is a very inexpensive and BIG nerdy improvement. Get a one-cup manual dripper like the Hairo V60 (that’s what I use). Follow the 1:15 coffee-to-water ratio. Follow the dripper’s instructions about how to wet the filter first, then wet the coffee grounds, then steep the grounds in the hot water. You’ll be amazed at the taste you get.
What delights your taste buds is ultimately up to you, so experiment to discover what you like. Start by varying the simple things like your coffee-to-water ratio, steeping time, and grind size. Then keep going!
These tips are just a starting place. The world of coffee is a rich canvas, and you are the artist. Have fun, try your own ideas, then share what you discover. We all want to learn from YOU.
And if you’re REALLY adventurous, come with me on one of our volunteer trips to help poor villages, see some of the world’s finest coffee fields at the same time, and drink world-class coffee in the country it comes from!
All images courtesy of author Jeff Powers