The Coffee

Start with coffee that's been roasted in the last few weeks.  Coffee should never spoil (unless it's exposed to moisture) but it can go stale over time.

Storage

People are always asking if they should store their coffee in the refrigerator, DON'T DO IT!!  A lot of condensation forms in the refrigerator moisture is a big killer of coffee.  There are also many cross-over flavors that can be absorbed by the coffee.  If you put last night's garlicy pizza in the fridge next to your coffee, guess what's going to have unwanted garlic notes the next morning?  

Many people also ask if the freezer is a good place to store coffee, we don't recommend it but there's also more debate around this subject.  It goes back to the same two issues with the refrigerator, moisture and cross-over flavors.  Even tough there is not as much moisture in the freezer, if you store a bag in there and then take it out while you and make coffee, condensation is probably going to form on the coffee.  And then there's that garlicy pizza from a couple night ago that you now want to freeze.  I guess there's a scenario out there where you have nothing else ever stored in your freezer and you are able to pre-portion coffee so you only take out what you need, but that's a lot of hassle.

Here's what we recommend:

  • Only buy coffee in an amount that you'll use in a few weeks.
  • Store it in the bag you bought it in and out of the sun
  • If you want added protection, store it in an air tight container or one with a one way gas valve (preferably nothing made of plastic).  Make sure you wash it often, coffee oil can go rancid quickly and affect the taste of fresh coffee [a side note, this is why you should by wary of buying coffee from those bins in grocery stores, unless they are cleaned often you might be buying fresh coffee with old rancid oil on it - if you see a lot of build up on those bins, run!].

Portioning

When brewing coffee at home it's very important that you use the proper amount of coffee for your brew. In order to achieve consistency between cups it's best to weigh your coffee, we have found this ratio to work well for us:

  • 5 grams coffee per 3 ounces of water, or
  • 1 tablespoon of coffee per 3 ounces of water (slightly more with a darker roast)

Using a scale can really make a big difference because of the different volume and densities between coffee beans.  Because of the roasting process, darker roasts will cause the beans to expand and take up more room in your measuring scoop, this will result in a weaker cup.  Using a scale levels the playing field between beans and will give you the consistency people are always looking for.  Use a kitchen scale you already have or you can pick one up at Bent Tree or here.

Whichever way you portion, always adjust to taste.  These are just recommendations and starting points, everyone's palate is different, just jot down your perfect ratio and you'll always have a great cup!

The Grind

Not all grinds are the same. A coarse grind is recommended for brewing with a french press, while a finer ground will stand up better in a standard drip coffee pot (about the size of granulated sugar) . Grind your coffee immediately before brewing (whenever possible).

There are two basic types of grinders, blade and burr:

Burr grinders are what what you usually see in coffee shops and grocery stores, but there are great burr grinders for home use too.  They work by crushing the beans between two metal burrs.  The closer the burrs are to each other, the finer the grind.  The big advantage of burrs over blade grinders is they offer a very consistent grind.

Blade grinders grind coffee by spinning metal blade, and are also commonly used to grind spices.  They tend to be more affordable that home burr grinders but the grind is much less consistent.  

The Water

Most cities treat their water with a lot of chemicals, many of which you can still taste.  If you live outside the grid, you're probably already filtering your water.  Either way, make sure you use filtered water to make your coffee (when possible).

Cleaning

One of the cheapest and easiest things you can do to greatly improve your brewing process is to keep things clean!  Wash and clean everything weekly.  You will definitely notice a difference.  Here's what we recommend (obviously, follow the manufactures recommended method of cleaning all machines, but if you don't have them...):

  • Brewers:
    • French presses: these are easy because they're typically made of glass or stainless steel and you have to wash them between uses anyhow, just use a mild soap and water.
    • Automatic coffee machines: clean the glass or stainless urn with a mild soap and water between uses; don't forget about the basket where the filter is kept, coffee oils like to hide here and are often overlooked.  Once a week clean the machine with vinegar, it's cheap, it works well and it's a natural cleaner.  To do so, add one cup of white vinegar to the urn, fill the rest will water and run the machine through it's normal brewing cycle.  When it's done, empty the vinegar water, rinse and run again with just water.
    • Keurig machines: we never really use these, but they probably need cleaning, look online for directions.
  • Grinders (unplug before cleaning!):
    • Burr grinders: cleaning methods can vary greatly between models so it will behoove you to find out the recommended cleaning instructions.  Most burr grinders are made to be easily taken apart and cleaned.  At the very least, vacuum or wipe clean old grinds weekly.
    • Blade grinders: unplug, wipe clean with cloth or vacuum weekly.