Coffee Maintenance

Like any food or drink, good coffee depends on general cleanliness and maintenance of the process. Coffee leaves behind a unique oily residue that itself goes stale and affects what it contacts. Your cup of coffee will consist of everything that's been in contact with the process, so stale residue is in your drink unless the process is maintained and kept clean.

It's as simple as using soap and water to clean every part of preparation and brewing. It's an easy step that keeps the system clean and makes sure your coffee is fresh every time.

Let's Get Started

Clean brewer

A clean brewer is an important part of making good coffee. Coffee residue is a natural by-product of brewing since there are oils in coffee and oils are sticky. For this reason, coffee residue allowed to sit for any length of time will become stale. Beyond stale, it will begin to discolor and grow fungus. Coffee residue in your brewer can and will affect the taste of the coffee that you make.

Vinegar cleaning

Occasionally or as often as you sense a change in the quality of your coffee, you should run a 'cleaning cycle' through your brewer of two parts water and one part vinegar. Following that, a couple plain water cycles to make sure the vinegar is rinsed out. Vinegar is a powerful cleaning agent.

To be sure, I've whitened coffee using whipped cream because there was some in the fridge and I would take that (generally 20% dairy) over powder whitener any day.

Self Clean Function

If your brewer has a self-clean function, USE IT as often as the manual advises that you do. While you can easily clean the filter compartment yourself with a wet paper towel, the water compartment isn't always so easy. Some are wide enough to allow your hand in to clean it manually. You should do so whenever you see a hint of brown on the inside of your brewer. As an experiment, wipe that brown 'stain' with a wet paper towel and then, look at the paper towel. You should see that you've wiped coffee residue right off of the surface. That residue is what starts going stale after sitting for a couple of hours. If you have any of that residue inside your brewer, it isn't fatal to your health, but it's fatal to making the perfect cup of coffee. That stale residue will get inside your cup and affect the flavor of your coffee.

Clean mug and spoon

Always have a clean mug and spoon for the coffee, and clean coffee pot.

The Basics

Soap and water. That's how you clean all of the components that the coffee comes in touch with

Freshly-Cleaned Spoon

A freshly-cleaned spoon should be used every time. Some people clean their coffee spoon less frequently than each time they use it to stir coffee. It only takes a couple of hours for coffee residue to begin going stale. As a result, a spoon that's been in coffee and isn't clean can be considered to have stale coffee residue on it after a couple hours.

When using a mug

If you re-use a mug of coffee, you don't want it to have been sitting for more than a couple hours. After that, any coffee residue left in the mug has started going stale and WILL affect the taste of your next cup.

The COffee Pot

The coffee pot should be washed with soap and water after every use. It doesn't have to be immediate, but it has to be washed.

Clean water into the brewer

This cannot be overstated. Your delicious cup of coffee is 99% water. Although it will be heated when brewed, it pays to pour clean water into your coffee mug. With the way people are conscious about drinking clean water, it's surprising if some of the same people use tap water when making coffee. Tap water contains its share of chemicals and minerals, some of which will affect the quality of the coffee that you're making.

Home Purified Water

It's an easy step to get right. Most of us have access to fresh water. The first option is a simple water purifier like Brita. This is much better than drinking water from the tap, and makes for good coffee water.

Commercial Spring Water

Another option is commercial spring water, but now, you're paying quite a bit of money. That may sound like a strange comment when you read about investing enough money on whole fresh coffee beans, because I believe in spending more on whole coffee beans than coffee grinds. But, I believe the price premium between home-purified water and commercially-purified water is more substantial related to how much of a better-tasting coffee it will give me. No doubt, it will be a coffee with purer water. How much extra effect that has on flavor to justify the price premium is different than with beans.

Residue of coffee flavor

For those that drink flavored coffees, there is an added concern. Because of the 'stickiness' of coffee and its residue, the unique aroma and qualities of flavored coffee will also 'stick' to the system where it has been in contact. One of the biggest traps for this flavor is your coffee grinder. If you never clean out your grinder, you will be mixing in the flavors of previously-grinded coffee into your current grind. If you last ground a Raspberry coffee and you're grinding Mocha Java this time, beware of mild raspberry flavor in your otherwise gourmet coffee.

Check out Marc's posts on coffee maintenance