Coffee aficionado or not, chances are you're drinking much better coffee at cafes these days as third wave coffee shops have become the norm. But sometimes it doesn't taste quite the same when you try and recreate the caffeine magic at home, even if you're buying good beans.
While making a superior cup of coffee is a fully-fledged science these days (and every java enthusiast has their own preferred brewing method) and new coffee tools hit stores (like this ceramic coffee mug that has an app that regulates its temperature), it all essentially boils down to your taste preferences and a few little things to look out for.
Once you really get into coffee, you can get more specific, but for now there are a couple of ways to upgrade the flavor of your caffeine fix; from picking the right roast, to grinding the beans to suit your brew, using good water, and finding the brewing equipment that is right for you (and your kitchen counter).
Consider Your Coffee Beans
There's no good coffee without good coffee beans. Pick freshly roasted beans from a local or quality-conscious roaster that'll go with your brewing method. "The biggest misnomer is that any high quality coffee can suit any brew method" says Paul Schlader, co-founder and head roaster at New York City–based Birch Coffee. "Choose beans specifically with your brew method in mind," he advises. Many people prefer darker roasts for French press and lighter roasts for cold brew for example. One thing that'll certainly help your coffee beans taste better is buying them whole which keeps them fresher for longer, and storing them in an airtight container at room temperature.
"Don’t store your coffee beans in the fridge. It’s a great way to make your coffee taste like items in your fridge, not like coffee" advises Tom Baker, Co-Founder of Mr Black Cold Brew Coffee Liqueur.
A Consistent Grind
If you're grinding your beans at home, you have the choice between blade or burr grinders. Baker and Schlader recommend investing in a burr grinder, "it will provide you with a consistent grind size to brew the perfect cup of coffee time after time" Baker says. "For people who are very, very serious about their morning cup, I love the Baratza Encore, a high-powered machine resembling what Birch uses in its stores," adds Shclader. If you have a blade grinder at home then pulsing and shaking the grinder can help achieve the smooth grind.
To buy: Baratza Encore Conical Burr Coffee Grinder ($139; amazon.com)
The Water to Coffee Ratio
A cup of coffee is 98% water so using filtered water can make a huge difference if you live in an area with questionable water quality. Then once you have your good quality water, how much of it should you use per coffee cup? Grab your scale. The "Golden Ratio" is about a 1:17 coffee to water ratio. Meaning for every 1 gram of coffee use 17 grams of water (usually one cup is around 250g of water). Adjust stronger or weaker to your taste. If you want to get further into the details, scroll through the Black Bear's Coffee Brewing Ratio Chart which breaks down the numbers into ounces, cups, pints, and quarts too.
The Best Way to Brew Your Coffee
For More Than One Cup
A design created more 70 years ago, the classic Chemex carafe has sat in the Museum of Modern Art and Smithsonian Museum as one of the “100 Best Designed Products of Modern Times.” The elevated pour over makes around two to four cups of great, drip-like coffee. Grind your beans more finely than you would for a French press, add them to Chemex filter paper (slightly heavier than regular filter paper), and slowly pour over hot water.
For a Simple Brew
"I love a V60 or French press for simplicity" says Schlader. A French press (aka cafetiere) is the go-to for convenience and zero waste. All you need to do is coarse grind the coffee, pour hot water into your French press, let it sit for four minutes, slowly press down the plunger, and pour into a mug. For those looking for a little more control (and a little less acidity), a Hario V60 Coffee Dripper pour over takes a little more active effort, but about the same amount of time. The key is to take a filter, open it up, set in the V60 cone and rinse thoroughly with hot water. This will ensure no papery taste resides in the brew, and will also heat the ceramic. Add water in stages and pour slowly—a gooseneck kettle ($39.99; amazon.com) can come in handy here.
For a Portable Pour
The easily packable AeroPress Go (which comes with a lidded mug that doubles as a carrying case) is a lovely method for travelers who don't want to scrimp on good quality, full-bodied hot or iced coffee when they're on the road. It's small, light, sturdy, and compact.
For Iced Coffee and Cold Brew
"Cold Brew is one of the best ways to make coffee at home" says Baker. "It couldn’t be simpler, and with an inexpensive Cold Brewer (Hairo makes many great models) you can have delicious iced coffee in the fridge ready to go for the fraction of the price of store-bought. It’ll taste better too, as it’s fresher."
"When making cold brew at home, make sure you buy a coarse ground coffee, not an espresso grind. And stick to medium and light-medium roasts. Cold Brewing can often over-accentuate the grit and toasted character of dark-roast coffee. And make sure you keep your cold brew in the fridge. That’s critical. The coffee will begin to breakdown after 24 hours and you'll lose most of what makes that brew so special because of the temperature change" Baker adds.
To buy: Hario Mizudashi Cold Brew Coffee Pot ($21; amazon.com)
Related: The Best Coffee Shops in the U.S.A
To Make Your Own Nut Milks
Try making your own nut milk at home with a blender. Baker advises to mix 6-8 cashews or other nuts, a dried date and a pinch of salt in a blender with 18oz of water. Blend thoroughly and strain. "If you want to up your coffee a notch, break out the Mr Black. Try it with nut milk and ice for the ultimate cold brew with a kick."