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Alright, this blog post title is kind of a cheat. This is really about three different ways to greatly improve the quality of coffee that you drink at home without spending more money, followed by two ways that will cost you just a little bit of money.
- Use filtered water
More specifically, apply whatever standard you have for drinking water to your coffee water. Coffee is 99% water (not exactly, but you get the idea), so it amazes me what care people put into their drinking water that they don’t apply to the water they use to make coffee. If you use a Brita to filter your drinking water, use that same filtered water to make coffee. If you have a drip brewer, keep in mind that the water never reaches the point of boiling, so many things that would be removed from the water through boiling will remain in your drip brewer, and into your coffee. That affects flavor. I mainly use a Chemex and AeroPress at home to brew coffee. Both methods require that water be boiled first, then cooled. And even though I boil my water, I still put filtered water into the kettle to boil.
Never was this point more clear to me than when I was staying at a hotel, and needed to make myself a coffee in the room. Using tap water, the coffee I made was as bad as you could imagine. I made the next cup with bottled water, and while it still wasn’t a great coffee, there was a very noticeable difference in flavor between the two cups.
- Clean your machine regularly
Vinegar is an excellent mild cleaner. It will help maintain your coffee making system to run the occasional cycle through it of vinegar and water. You can play with the ratios, but I recommend starting with a mix that is somewhere between 1:4 to 1:2 water:vinegar. If you use a drip brewer, take note of what the water looks like after it’s been run through the cycle, to see what difference you’re making. Coffee is oily, sticky, and perishable. That means it wants to stick to parts of your coffee maker, and go stale. That stale coffee ends up in your otherwise fresh cup of coffee if you don’t clean your machine regularly. I suggest running the vinegar cycle monthly.
- Don’t grind until you’re about to brew
Growing up, my parents always ground their morning coffee the night before. They did it for two reasons. One, it then just required a flip of the switch in the morning to get the coffee brewing and two, the grinder wouldn’t wake up anybody the following morning. The latter reason is way more valid, but even still, upsetting my neighbors with the sound of my grinder is the price I pay for fresh coffee! There are two distinct points at which coffee begins going stale…when it has been roasted, and when it has been ground. After it’s been ground, it begins to expire at an even faster rate. If at all possible, grind your coffee only as you’re about to brew it. Otherwise, it is much staler and you will taste the difference in your cup.
And now, a couple ways to improve your coffee by investing only a small amount…
- Upgrade your equipment cheaply
The last tip wouldn’t matter if you don’t own a grinder, and buy your coffee pre-ground. If that’s the case, for heaven’s sake, invest $20-30 in a propeller grinder. A burr grinder offers a more consistent grind, but if you don’t have a grinder at all and aren’t ready to invest in a burr grinder, then buy a propeller grinder and start grinding your coffee only as you’re about to brew it.
If you’re not happy with your coffee maker, take $20 to Target and buy the Black and Decker drip brewer. Black and Decker strips down all the bells and whistles and while by far not the best machine on the market, I believe it is the best value. For $20, you will get a decent of cup of drip brew coffee.
- Buy from a local roaster
I had to say it! The grocery store is full of coffee options, and they’re all stale. The conventional grocery store channel simply cannot purchase and stock fresh coffee. Somebody in your area offers an affordable fresh roasted coffee, or better yet, visit our Online Store and learn about the Colombia Excelso that costs only $12/bag. It’s one of my favorite coffees right now, and comparable in price to what they sell at the grocery store. Buying coffee online means it gets delivered to your door, so you don’t have to make an extra trip for it. And while there are far cheaper coffees at the grocery store, the difference in flavor will be FAR greater than the difference in price.
Check out the Online Store here.
If you’ve been visiting the site these past several months, you know it’s been an ongoing adventure to get the coffee roaster installed and operational in San Diego, California. Last month, the roaster went live, and I’ve spent the last several weeks perfecting the first three coffees that I’ll be selling.
This year, we went on a coffee origin trip through Costa Rica and Panama, taking us into Panama’s green mountain highlands. We toured coffee farms, and met with the farmers and field workers. Going to coffee origin is an incredible experience that helps you appreciate the beverage we all love.
My Panama Boquete coffee is roasted medium to take advantage of the natural brightness of a Central American coffee. When a coffee is roasted too dark, it loses some of the uniqueness. To maintain this coffee’s natural acidity, I roast it to a medium color. You can expect flavor notes of berry and other fruit, and some milk chocolate flavor.
Malawi AA – Dark Roast
Dark roasted coffee has a nice smoky taste that so many coffee lovers like in their cup.
We are excited that our Dark Roast Coffee is a Malawi AA coffee. The east African country of Malawi has a long coffee tradition, dating back to when the British planted coffee seeds in its green northern provinces in the late 19th century. To ensure a strict standard of quality, the “AA” means that it meets the highest standard before it’s exported.
You can expect a medium acidity and good sweetness in this coffee, with notes of citrus, berry, and some chocolate.
Marc’s Premium Coffee – Sumatra Toba Peaberry
I’m excited about all three of these coffees, but I’m the most excited about this premium Sumatra Toba Peaberry coffee.
Sumatra is the largest island entirely in Indonesia, and this coffee is grown alongside Lake Toba. Toba is the site of the world’s largest volcanic activity in the last 25 million years, and it is the world’s largest volcanic lake. Volcanic soil contains some of the best nutrients to grow coffee, and it’s reflected in the coffee’s flavor. Peaberry coffee is a special type of coffee bean where there is only one oval shaped bean in each cherry, rather than two joined beans.
Long story short: it’s a very special coffee. I’ve spent weeks perfecting how to roast it for an optimum flavor experience. I roast it to a medium-dark roast, to mute some of the strong acidity that is natural to this coffee, while developing strong berry and spicy flavor, and a nice body. Did I mention that this is a very special coffee?!
Shipping from the Make Good Coffee. Co. Online Store to US addresses is a flat 5.70, using the US Postal Service Flat Rate Padded Envelope. I’m not trying to make money from shipping, so I’m passing on the exact USPS cost. I encourage you to buy two pounds at a time, in order to split this flat rate shipping cost, over the cost of the two pounds of coffee. While two pounds of coffee is more than I would normally suggest you buy at one time, this coffee will have been roasted days before you order it, so it will be as fresh as you can find coffee. Also, it gives you two varieties of coffee to have in the kitchen, which I always like having for variety in my own home.
Check out the Make Good Coffee Co. Online Store. This website has always grown from the feedback of people who visit, so always feel free to let me know what you think of the coffees that I’m offering, or what you would like to see.
I’m so happy to finally announce that the Make Good Coffee Co. roastery is now open, and the online store will go live on November 9th, shipping throughout North America.
After blogging about coffee, traveling to coffee growing countries, and meeting and interviewing coffee roasters for almost ten years, I’m so excited to finally open my own roastery based out of San Diego, California.
There are two things I want to accomplish with this roastery, and both of them are behind the word Good in Make Good Coffee.
“Good” should mean a quality cup of coffee that you look forward to making for yourself. I go to bed thinking about how good the coffee is going to be when I wake up. My goal is to know coffee roasting as well as it can be known. I want to make the best coffee I can make, and never stop pursuing that goal.
“Good” should also mean that we can do good when we buy coffee. In the coffee supply chain, there is nobody that works harder or makes the least for themselves than coffee farmers. Many are dedicated to providing the best coffee, and if we help them remain sustainable by providing them with a fair price, then we help families and communities. And in return, we continue getting the best coffee from them. In my coffee travels, I’ve seen schools and health care facilities built in coffee communities that have been allowed to prosper.
I’ve spent the year roasting coffee, from the Boot Coffee course in San Francisco last December, to home roasting all my own (and friends’) coffee, and reading as much as I can. I can recite the owner’s manual for my roaster. I’ve spent the last several weeks perfecting my first three coffees. They will be:
- Medium Roast Panama coffee
- Dark Roast Malawi AA coffee
- Marc’s Premium: Sumatra Peaberry coffee
Come visit the Make Good Coffee Co. Store on November 9th, shipping throughout North America! Take the Coffee Quiz that asks you a few questions about what you’re looking for, and recommends a coffee based on your choices. And start making good coffee!
It’s been awhile since I’ve written something “back to basics” about improving the coffee you make at home. I’m generally addressing a single topic or answering a particular question, and so I lose sight of the simpler advice.
Many of the questions I receive deal with a specific part of making coffee at home, and I thought the timing was good to summarize a few of the simple ways that you can make better coffee at home.
If you’re already doing these things, congratulations! You didn’t waste your time reading this article – it’s enough to know that you scored an A+. The challenge can be that coffee snobs have all the right information, but at the end of the day – well, they’re snobs. And nobody likes to be told what to do by a snob. In fact, they’re hard to approach.
Here are four simple ways that you can change or invest in how you make coffee at home.
#1: Buy Good Coffee
Seem too simple? I don’t think it is, because the great majority of coffee is still being sold from grocery stores or club stores like Costco. They are very convenient places to buy coffee because you were already there. However, they simply don’t have the attention to freshness outside of their produce section.
When you buy coffee from the grocery store, you are buying coffee that in all likelihood has already gone stale.
When you buy coffee from Costco in a five-pound bag, even if it wasn’t already stale, it will be before you get through that much coffee.
Coffee has the most flavor and the most to enjoy when it is fresh. It is the most fresh when it was just roasted. It begins to expire after it’s been roasted and a few weeks after that, it’s stale. At a minimum, you should know on what exact date the coffee was roasted. You won’t get this from coffee at the grocery store. You won’t get it from the bulk coffee sold at a Starbucks outlet either. You’ll likely only find it from a local coffee roaster in your area, hand-roasting coffee that is fresh and full of flavor when you buy it. Coffee roasters that sell their coffee online are a great option, provided they are telling you when your coffee was roasted.
#2: Don’t Grind It Until You Brew It
Another thing born of convenience is pre-ground coffee. The first point at which coffee starts going stale is when it is roasted. The second point is when it is ground. In fact, ground coffee expires at a faster rate than whole bean coffee. You should only grind your coffee when you are prepared to brew it. Otherwise, it’s likely lost much of its flavor by the time you brew it.
Invest in a grinder. You can go with a propeller grinder very inexpensively, and for the best grind, invest in a burr grinder.
#3: Store It In The Right Place
The enemies of fresh coffee are: air, temperature change, and light.
Keep your whole bean coffee in an airtight container that keeps light out, preferably a canister with a rubber band that provides a seal.
Coffee should be kept at room temperature. Resist the urge to keep the coffee in the fridge or freezer. Coffee absorbs the smells of what’s around it so if you put it in the fridge, it will neutralize the smell of your fridge like baking soda does, but the coffee will pick up those aromas in its flavor. Keeping coffee in the freezer is better than letting it go stale, but understand that the two dramatic changes in temperature (going in and coming out) will sap some of the freshness and flavor from the coffee.
#4: Brew It Right
At a minimum, put your single-serve pod coffee maker back in the box, and invest in a drip brewer for your kitchen. If you don’t mind spending close to a hundred dollars on a machine that you will have for many years, I suggest Cuisinart‘s drip brewer. It’s been my drip brewer of choice for many years. If you don’t need all the bells and whistles, and would like a quality drip brewer at a reasonable price, go with Black and Decker for considerably less cost. It’s a reliable machine that I always have on-hand for backup.
If you’re already familiar with the drip brewer and want to explore other brewing methods, there are plenty. They generally involve a little more manual work than just flipping a switch, but in return, you get a much stronger flavor experience. Just as the drip brewer was an improvement on the percolator before it, there have been many improvements on brewing the drip brewer way. Check out our Brewing Coffee page for an in-depth look at some of the other interesting ways to brew coffee.
I saw that Starbucks recently added cold brew coffee to their menu, to the tune of 4 dollars / cup. I wasn’t surprised at the price. But I was surprised that this was on the menu. What does it mean? It means that cold brew coffee has moved out of fad territory, into trend territory. I hate to say it, but when Starbucks adds it to the menu, it is something that is going to be with us for the long run.
I have traditionally drank my coffee hot. Iced coffee never appealed to me, not even in the summer. It just seemed weird that something would taste like coffee, but be so cold. Cold brew coffee, on the other hand, is not iced coffee and shouldn’t be confused. Cold brew coffee means that it was brewed over an extended period of time with room-temperature or cold water. In fact, it can be served hot. ”Cold brew” makes reference to how it was brewed, not how it is served.
Naturally, there is all kinds of gear available for you to make excellent cold brew coffee for yourself at home. It would probably be worth it in the long run, rather than to pay 4 dollars per cup. But, I’ll save you even more money. I’ll explain to you how you can make cold brew coffee for yourself at home with nothing more than your french press and typical way of using it.
1) Clean your french press (press pot).
2) Grind your coffee coarse, just as though you were going to brew it in the french press as you normally would. Also grind as much coffee as you normally would, depending on the size of your french press pot.
3) Empty your coarse-ground coffee into the french press.
4) Add filtered room-temperature or cold water to the french press. Use the same amount of water as you normally would, depending on the size of your french press pot.
5) Without pressing the press down, put the french press (with coffee and water together) in the fridge. Leave it there 12 hours.
6) After 12 hours, remove the french press from the fridge, and press the ground coffee and sediment to the bottom of the pot. What you’re left with above the filter is cold-brewed sediment-free coffee.
7) Empty this coffee into another container. I use a mason jar with a screw-lid. Keep that other container in the fridge.
8) Voila! You have a container of cold brew coffee. Serve it on ice.
There are any variations to what I’ve laid out above. Here are some that I’ve become familiar with:
- You can vary between room-temperature and cold water, for brewing. I’ve used cold water. Regardless, I put it in the fridge so it’s going to get cold eventually. That brings me to the next variation – some people do not brew it in the fridge for 12 hours, rather they leave it on the counter to brew at room temperature.
- Try different coffees. The point of cold brew coffee is to mute a lot of the coffee’s acidity, so that its other characteristics can emerge in the cup. The ideal cold brew coffee would be one rich in flavor “hidden” behind a wall of acidity that not everybody likes. The cold brew process mutes that acidity.
- The 12-hour brew time is very subjective. I’ve heard of it brewed as long as 18-24 hours. Experiment with us to decide what you like best. I’ve observed that the longer the brew time, the lighter the color of the coffee.
The good people at Espresso Works in Perth, Australia sent in this infographic about cold brew coffee.
Check it out to learn about how to make cold brew coffee, how it affects the flavor, and how it differs from iced coffee.
Cold brew coffee is new to me, but I plan to learn more and start experimenting with my own batches. Stay tuned – you’ll be hearing more about it soon!
Question: There is a certain taste and smell that “cheap” coffee has once it’s brewed. Diner coffee has it, for example, or anywhere that sells lower-end coffee. However, sometimes, I will buy a bag of premium coffee beans i’ve never tried, and it has THE EXACT SAME TASTE! how is this possible?? personally, i always buy premium coffee and have a couple favorites. but sometimes, out of laziness, i will go to a store that is closer that sells, “premium coffee” for say, $12/lb and it tastes no better than the cheap stuff. as soon as i brew it, that smell wafts from the pot and i’m disappointed! do you know what i mean?
Thanks for the email, and I know what you mean all too well. There are so many factors that can contribute to that stale coffee flavor, and you’ve touched on some. Let’s look at three of them.
- Diners: I doubt most diners spend a lot for their coffee or the gear or the process they use to brew coffee. In this case, it could be cheap coffee, a cheap brewer, or the water they use. I’m not sure if diners ever served good coffee. A diner is a place that I would expect would advertise how cheap their coffee is – that’s a good sign not to expect much. I don’t want a cheap steak, and I don’t want cheap coffee.
- “Premium” coffee: Unfortunately, there is no regulation on use of the word “premium”. It could be anything, and might even be stale before you buy it. This is a tangent, but you’ll often see “Kona blend” coffee, capitalizing on the popularity (and expense) of coffee from Kona on Hawaii’s Big Island. But the “Kona blend” only needs to have a small amount of Kona coffee, and the rest of the blend is anybody’s guess. I bring that up, because “premium coffee” means even less. If the package doesn’t explain what “premium” means, then it probably doesn’t mean anything.
- The gear and water: Based on the information you’ve provided, this is my guess for where you could make big improvements in the coffee you make at home. You mention trying different coffees but getting a familiar stale aroma. You can make the most of even that cheap coffee by using the cleanest water you can. I’ve noticed hotel room coffee go from undrinkable to “not bad” just by using bottled water instead of tap water. Also, the coffee machine you use could be the problem. It might not be sufficiently heating up the water, for instance. I use manual coffee brewers like a french press or a chemex (pourover). If you’re using a drip brewer, I’ve always recommended the Cuisinart or for a little less money, a Black and Decker.
I hope that helps!
No, I didn’t have Bruce Buffer in my kitchen, but there was a legitimate bout between two coffee heavyweights.
Earlier this month, the CoffeeCon show for coffee enthusiasts hit Los Angeles.
I was a part of the media team that met for lunch to hear a presentation from KitchenAid representatives on their newest coffee brewer. The KitchenAid Pourover Coffee Brewer is meant to accommodate the growing demand for pourover coffee but in a less manual, more automated way. They presented some data showing increased interest in the pourover brewing method.
Read: What is Pourover Coffee?
It’s important here to set criteria. At no point did KitchenAid claim that their machine would make a better pourover coffee than my Chemex. What they did claim is that they had taken a step towards automating pourover. If they could make a comparable coffee with many less steps, it could net out a win for them in my opinion.
I boil my water for the Chemex on the stove, and you may have a faster way to heat water than I do. It takes me about ten minutes to boil the water I need, and the brewing cycle with the Chemex takes four minutes. So, a total of 14 minutes from yawn to brewed coffee. In terms of how manual the four minutes of brewing is, this is completely subjective. You may enjoy the manual part of the Chemex process, as I do, because it allows you to handcraft your coffee. However, I have had guests over and wished for a more automatic way to make a great coffee for so many people. When it’s just me, I don’t mind the manual part of using the Chemex at all.
The KitchenAid brewer took me four minutes to set up, between grinding the coffee, measuring the water I would need, and rinsing the paper filter of any particles that might be attached to it. Just over five minutes later, my single cup of coffee was brewed. So, a total time of 9 minutes and 15 seconds.
As the coffee was brewing, I attached a Post-It note to the bottom of each mug. On one note, I wrote a “C” for Chemex, and on the other, a “K” for KitchenAid. After the coffee was done brewing, I poured the correct coffee into the correct mug. From there, I did a “shell game” with the mugs and moved them around until I couldn’t remember which was which. With that done, the tasting began. I recorded aroma and flavor notes by the mug, before checking to see which was which.
Aroma and Flavor
For my coffee, I chose an Ethiopian Yirgacheffe, roasted by Counter Culture, one of the exhibitors at CoffeeCon. I wanted a freshly roasted coffee for the most flavor, expecting these two brewing methods would produce slightly different tasting coffee. I went with a Yirgacheffe because it has a very distinct flavor, with floral tones in the aroma, and citrus in the flavor. I would look for the citrus in both coffees since Counter Culture emphasized this characteristic in its roasting notes on the coffee bag.
The coffee brewed by KitchenAid had a great floral aroma right out of the gate. Surprisingly, the Chemex seemed to have a much more muted aroma. However, the flavor was not consistent, in that the coffee brewed by KitchenAid had noticeably weaker flavor. The coffee brewed by Chemex was much brighter in flavor, and the aroma did develop as the coffee cooled. The flavor also seemed to develop as the coffee cooled, revealing more than the coffee brewed by KitchenAid.
As a final note, the coffee brewed by Chemex held its heat longer, which was a definite advantage. The KitchenAid brewer has a surprisingly long brewing time, which may be the cause.
We go to the judges’ scorecards for a decision. I award this to the Chemex. It’s manual, but I don’t mind that. The aroma was muted at first but developed well before I was done the coffee. It was more flavorful, and held its heat longer. When I’m only making coffee for myself, or myself and one guest, I will continue using the Chemex.
The KitchenAid brewer made a decent cup of coffee, and will certainly be my preference when making coffee for a large number of guests.
Also worth pointing out, I had to improvise a filter for the Chemex because I’ve run out. The Chemex uses a unique paper filter that you won’t find for any other purpose. The KitchenAid uses the standard #4 size filter. I always have those on hand, so that is certainly a point in KitchenAid‘s favor.
This past Saturday, the CoffeeCon show for coffee enthusiasts hit Los Angeles.
The media team met for lunch to hear a presentation from KitchenAid representatives on their newest coffee brewer. The KitchenAid Pourover Coffee Brewer is meant to accommodate the growing demand for pourover coffee but in a less manual, more automated way. They presented some data showing increased interest in the pourover brewing method. For those that are not familiar with pourover coffee, a couple of the more popular brands are Chemex and Melitta. You may recognize the Chemex as a glass pitcher designed with a cone at the top for the filter and ground coffee. The Melitta that I’ve used is a plastic cone with a base that sits on your coffee mug and makes one cup at a time – the filter and ground coffee go in the cone.
I’m traveling next week, but the following week, I’ll be setting up a blind taste test in my kitchen to compare the new KitchenAid brewer to the Chemex. My Chemex is the most used coffee gear in my kitchen after my grinder. It’s what I use to make most of the coffee that I drink. I want to put the new KitchenAid brewer to the test, and what better way than against one of the main companies raising awareness and interest in pourover coffee.
There are other factors that will go into my evaluation of the KitchenAid brewer. Right out of the gate, I don’t expect it to beat my Chemex in terms of flavor in the cup. I’m confident that my Chemex will win, but that bias won’t affect the all-blind taste test. Specifically besides flavor, I’ll be evaluating:
- Time to brew.
- Temperature of coffee. This will be to personal taste. I don’t like to wait long for my first sip.
Ease of use will be a slam dunk for the KitchenAid brewer. It’s an automated brewer, where the Chemex is intentionally manual. I feel as though the manual process of using a Chemex is part of its charm – however, if the KitchenAid brewer makes comparable coffee, it will be tough not to use it more. Especially since it makes eight cups, twice as much as my Chemex makes.
Stay tuned! We’ll find out how well KitchenAid’s new pourover brewer performs against one of the stables of pourover coffee. KitchenAid vs. Chemex. Check out KitchenAid’s official site to learn more about the new brewer.
When you’re buying a coffee grinder, look to a burr grinder over a propeller grinder. The burr grinder is a little more expensive, and quite a bit louder, but you make up for it with a consistently ground coffee set to your choice of how fine or coarse. By contrast, the propeller grinder inconsistently grinds the coffee, and the propeller blade may even burn flavor from the coffee, both of which will affect the flavor in your cup.
For years, my rule of thumb on kitchen appliances, including a drip brewer and coffee grinder, has been the following. If you want quality at the right place without spending hundreds of dollars, buy Cuisinart. If you want an economical alternative with all the bells and whistles stripped away for the best value, buy Black and Decker.
However, the Black and Decker burr grinder has changed my outlook. Here are my problems with it:
The consumer reviews for the Black and Decker burr grinder were fairly scathing across the Internet. That should’ve been my first concern, but I felt it possible that these people were expecting too much. Remember, it’s the economical alternative. For instance, while grinding, you need to hold the button down the entire time you’re grinding, rather than with the Cuisinart burr grinder where you set the amount of coffee you’re grinding, and then hit the button once. If you take your finger off of the Black and Decker grinder, it stops grinding. That’s not awesome, but again, remember this is the economical alternative.
Where I can’t defend it is in a few areas:
1) It makes a mess every time, as you see in the image above. You have to sweep away grinds that have shot out of the ground coffee chamber, every time you use it. It needs to be better sealed.
2) It seems to favor a coarse grind. When I select its medium grind setting, it’s a little too coarse. I was at least able to compensate for this by choosing a setting that is slightly finer than medium, in order to get the medium grind I want.
3) The whole bean chamber never clears out completely. What I mean by that is that the coffee has stopped grinding, but there are still several beans flying around the first chamber, bouncing off the burr blades, but never passing through them. This means, unless I clean the appliance every time, there are remnants of previous coffees every time I grind. Those remnants have already gone stale and will affect the flavor in my cup.
My advice? Spend the extra $20 for the Cuisinart burr grinder pictured to the left. It costs $50, and will last you for years. Over those years, you will have a consistent grind, and an appliance that’s easier to use, and less messy. As we all know, you get what you pay for. What disappointed me with Black and Decker is that even as an economical alternative, it does a lousy job.