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The Golden Rules of Coffee
Making a good cup of coffee at home is not a complicated thing. In fact, you only need to remember a small number of fundamental rules to make good coffee. How many of those rules you follow is up to you. The more you follow, the better the cup of coffee you brew. Follow them all, and you can make the best cup of coffee you've ever had, at home.
It's key to your whole process of making great coffee at home to plan in advance so that you cover the bases.
Golden Rule #1
Ground coffee expires at a faster rate than whole coffee beans.
What to do
Coffee goes stale for as long as it's not kept airtight. In addition ground coffee deteriorates at a different rate than whole coffee beans. Ground coffee deteriorates at a much faster rate. This even goes for grocery store-bought ground coffee which comes airtight in vacuum-packed packaging or a tin container, but begins to go stale as soon as you break the seal. Most North Americans seem satisfied with the quality of barely air-sealed ground coffee to get them up in the morning and get them through the day. But here, we're talking about good and fresh coffee. Keep coffee beans whole until you're ready to brew them. Then, grind only what you need to grind and brew it. Buy your coffee in whole bean form, and invest in a good coffee grinder. They're worth having for that perfect cup of coffee at home.
Golden Rule #2
Air is the enemy of coffee.
What to do
Coffee is perishable, and anything perishable goes stale as much as it's in contact with air. Think about investing in containers designed to be airtight, most commonly ceramic containers with latch-lids and a rubber band squeezed between the lid and container. "Tupperware" containers and sandwich bags are better than leaving coffee in open air, but don't do the same job of keeping air out and keeping coffee from going stale as a container designed to be airtight. Contrary to what many believe, freezing your coffee beans doesn't keep them from going stale. In fact, the humidity from the freshness of coffee beans will congeal and once thawed, evaporate quicker from the beans.
Golden Rule #3
Coffee is mostly water.
What to do
In fact, it's 99% water. If you don't get the water right, you might still make a decent cup of coffee, but why take chances with such an important ingredient? If you take precautions with drinking water, remember those same precautions with coffee water. Purified water makes good coffee. At a minimum, keep a Brita water pitcher full in the fridge.
Golden Rule #4
Heat is the enemy of brewed coffee.
What to do
We like our coffee hot. It's a drink served hot. But, heat burns anything liquid the more that liquid is exposed to the heat. After 20 minutes of your coffee sitting on the coffee machine's heat plate, consider that coffee to be beginning to burn. After 40 minutes, the difference in taste should be noticeable. And, burnt coffee is not distinguished like blackened chicken or tuna. Burnt coffee is not good coffee.
Some coffee machines have heat settings for the plate to resolve the very problem of burnt coffee. If you have such a machine, just leave the heat setting on Low and never touch it again. Even better machines have a switch to identify that a small amount of coffee is being made, say 2-4 cups. After all, the heat required for a full pot is a lot of heat to apply to only a quarter or half of a pot. The less expensive coffee machines don't tend to have these bells and whistles. They normally just have an on/off switch. As with most quality, you get what you pay for.
Golden Rule #5
Clean everything that comes in the coffee's path.
What to do
The compartment of the coffee machine that holds the grinds. Want proof? Wipe yours right now with a paper towel. You should notice coffee residue on the paper towel from multiple brewings. Your coffee pot. Your mug. Your spoon. Your spoon-holder. All of these things come into contact with brewed coffee, and like any liquid, it leaves its mark unless entirely cleaned. Most people wouldn't consider that this coffee residue is as perishable as coffee, and begins to go stale over a short period. In fact, there is a natural oil in coffee that makes its residue extra 'sticky'. Soap and water is the easiest way to clean anything.
Golden Rule #6
Plan for when you make coffee.
Planning and Preparation
If there's one theme connecting all of the previous five Golden Rules, it's that it takes planning and preparation to make good coffee.
To make the perfect cup of coffee, it starts with the coffee machine. Buy a coffee machine with heat settings for the plate, a switch to identify that a small pot is being made, and a tone that sounds or beeps to identify that the coffee is finished brewing. That way, you can pour a cup as quickly as it's brewed.
Now, you need ceramic containers designed to be airtight. These are available from kitchen stores for spices, beans, and many cooking ingredients. That have a metal latch that creates the airtight seal, which should consist of a rubber band underneath the lid in place to seal with the container when the latch is closed.
Next, the main event. The coffee beans themselves. Buy them whole. You should have a nearby retailer that sells whole coffee beans, and I don't mean the grocery store. The beans that most grocery stores sell in addition to ground coffee is whole, but there's no accounting for how a grocery store takes care of its coffee beans. Ideally, you want a cafe. Starbucks sells quality coffee beans, in my humble opinion, but the price premium is hard to justify. The freshest and widest variety of coffee is available online. Buy Online
When you are preparing to make a pot of coffee, make sure all the tools are clean. Measure out as many whole coffee beans as you intend to grind for this pot. After they're ground, get them in the coffee machine along with some fresh, purified water. As soon as the brewing is complete, begin serving your coffee. If your guests or yourself are having more than one cup of coffee, you might even consider making multiple pots, one for each "round" of coffee that you'll be serving.
Those steps taken together make up the Golden Rules of Good Coffee. Follow them all, and it will be the best cup of coffee you can make. See how easy it is to turn your kitchen into a coffeehouse?