Turning water into caffeine isn't quite alchemy, but there are plenty of secrets to making a golden cup of coffee. And unless you're a professional, odds are your equation has some errors in it.
So, to find the most common coffee-making mistakes, we asked for tips from a cast of industry experts including Geoff Watts from Intelligentsia, Joel Shuler from Casa Brasil, Lorenzo Perkins from Cuvée Coffee, and Greg Lorance from Cumberland Farms. Take these to heart, and the best part of waking up will be even better.
1. You're not buying fresh coffee
Serious coffee nerds might look for specific farms, regions, or elevations, but don't worry about that. According to Intelligentsia's Geoff Watts, the best move is to look for coffee that's been harvested within the last six months and roasted within the last couple weeks.
2. You're buying bad coffee
"Great-quality ingredients are the real secret behind all culinary arts," says Geoff. Coffee is no exception. It should be an excellent adventure, not a bogus journey, so avoid these 11 coffee-buying pitfalls.
3. You're not measuring
If you're baking a cake, you'd measure the amount of flour. Same goes for coffee. "If you want to make great coffee at home, one of the best things you can do is get yourself a small digital scale," says Geoff. They're cheap, fun to use, and will take out much of the guesswork. Geoff suggests a 1 to 16 ratio of coffee to water, which Cuvée's Lorenzo Perkins helpfully translated to 60g per L or 2tbsp per 6oz.
4. You're using a crappy brew method
You don't need a crazy-expensive espresso machine, but Lorenzo says a percolator isn't going to cut it. Even a decent drip machine will work, but if you want to level up, try a French press or a pour-over method.
5. You use pre-ground coffee
"Grinding the coffee greatly increases the surface area. This is needed for brewing, but also causes the coffee to stale quickly if it sits around. Buy whole-bean coffee and grind just before brewing. You will be amazed at the difference," says Joel Shuler of Casa Brasil. Furthermore, Greg goes so far as to claim that beans go stale just five minutes after they've been ground.
6. You're not starting with hot water
If you're going to use a drip machine at home, odds are it's not heating the water to a high enough temperature. To hack it, Greg suggests starting out with water as hot as your tap will supply.
7. You're not grinding properly
"If you've got a limited amount to spend on coffee gear, I'd recommend using most of the budget on a grinder," says Geoff. It's counterintuitive, but that's just how important it is to get an even grind.
8. You're storing the beans wrong
"First off, don’t store your coffee in the refrigerator or freezer. The cold temperatures can dry it out, which is never a good thing," says Greg. Lorenzo proclaims the five enemies of coffee storage to be "heat, light, oxygen, moisture, and age."
9. You're not using filtered water
"Coffee is 99% water. If you use poor-quality water, you’ll make a poor-quality cup of coffee. It’s that simple," says Greg.
10. Your water is the wrong temperature
Our experts unanimously pointed out water temperature is very important. Between 195 and 205℉ seems to be the magic range, with most everyone saying hotter is better. If you don't have a thermometer, bring water to a boil, remove it from the heat, and let it sit for a minute before pouring.
11. You're not rinsing your filter
Geoff suggests rinsing your paper filter with hot water to keep from tainting the flavor.
12. You don't know what you like
Do you like fruity Ethiopians? Or milky Brazils? Or just a hearty cup of chewable working-class coffee? Lorenzo reminds us that the best cup is the one you like to drink, so get yourself an opinion.
Dan Gentile is a staff writer on Thrillist's National Food and Drink team. He swears he will use filtered water from now on. Follow him to replacement Brita filters at @Dannosphere.