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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.