A Tech’s Guide to a Decent Cup of Coffee

Coffee. Java Juice. Black Gold. Cup of Joe. If you are a coffee drinker, these words mean more to you than the letters they’re made of. You think of that warm tingling you get when you drink a good cup, quickly followed by that full body shiver when you get a bad cup. Bad cups of coffee can be a thing of the past. You don’t have to spend a lot of money, go through any crazy rituals or do anything unusual to make a good pot of coffee right in your own home. In fact, my wife and I known among our relatives for having great coffee. My equipment? A $20 coffee grinder, a $15 coffee pot, and some fresh whole bean coffee. That’s it. I’ll show you how it’s done.

A few things you need to know

You can read more articles on the web about any of these subjects, but I’m going to break down some of these complicated things into a few simple ones that will help you right away.

  • Fresh whole beans will give you a far better taste
  • Don’t over-grind the coffee. It will result in whats called over-saturation, and you’ll get flavors that you don’t want. This is largely where bitter coffee comes from.
  • Lighter coffee beans have been roasted less and contain more caffeine. Darker coffee gives a stronger taste, but not a stronger kick.
  • Use good water. Bottled if you have to. Bad Water = Bad Coffee.  If the water out of your tap doesn’t taste good, then replace it with something that does. 2.5 Gallon bottled water at discount stores is cheap and worth it. Alternately, get a filter for your faucet.

So lets get to it. First, beans. Whole beans. Pre-ground coffee is going to go stale faster and has already lost some of its flavor just from having been ground! Coffee is most flavorful in its first 24 hours after being roasted. You’re trying to get a bean that’s as close to that as possible. So, a quality seller is going to have them packed in a bag or can. I prefer Trader Joe’s coffees as they are very tasty and pack in nitrogen (an inert gas, doesn’t let it go stale). The problem for me is that there’s no Trader Joe’s nearby, and I don’t want to pay coffee house prices for a bag of beans.

The surprising solution is Winco Foods. I have always told folks to stay away from bulk coffee, until I tried theirs. Their volume is high enough that it doesn’t get stale and absorb the smell of the store in the beans. The price is also fairly good. It comes in a bag, so I transfer it to a can when I get home. It really does make a difference. I have tried other store’s bulk coffee and been very disappointed, even at nicer stores like Safeway. It sits too long and picks up the flavor of everything around it and you end up with lousy coffee.

Grinding the coffee is another key element. As previously mentioned, if you over-grind it, then you’ll extract too many of the chemicals from the coffee and it’ll be bitter. If you don’t grind it enough, it’ll taste okay but be weak. My solution to this is to use a standard coffee grinder. I use the Mr. Coffee IDS55-4 because it gets good reviews and wasn’t expensive. The idea here is to get a consistent grind and not use too many beans unless you like it strong. I use 1/3 cup of beans, and then while grinding, I shake the grinder up and down like you’re mixing a drink. I do this for about 3 seconds. If I want stronger coffee, I put about another 10 beans in after measuring the 1/3 cup.

The coffee maker is just a cheap one I got at Wal-Mart for about $15. I have used sub-$10 coffee pots and they’re junk- spend a few more bucks and get one with a timer on it, its usually better anyway.

I hope this guide helps you to a better pot of black gold. I’m going to go brew up some Breakfast Blend. Enjoy!

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Updated: November 22, 2013 — 10:42 pm

3 Comments

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  1. I’m sorry, but this is not really how to make good coffee.
    First of all you’ll need a gramm accurate scale. Then you try out how many gramms of coffee will taste good for your particular beans/roast.

    I have found 26(light)..30 (fuller taste) gramms of coffee for about 600ml of water to be good, others suggest 12gr per 200ml.

    Also use a grinder where you can choose the grain size (cone grinder), not one where the grain will depend upon the time you run it (very inaccurate). Also the grinding will be much more consistent.

    1. Thanks for sharing! I’m sure your way is much more accurate, but the way I’ve come up with works without anything special which is nice- but not as consistent, I’m sure. I will check out your method more closely! Thanks for the comment! You truly care about the quality which I can appreciate :D

  2. There are more variables to check:
    - water temp (MUST be 90C +/- 5C)
    - The method (dripping/percolator/espresso/moka top/etc) AND the roast dictates the grain size.
    - In espresso, also de grain size and the roast dictates the pressure on the tamper.

    cheers

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