As our point-person for retail customer support at Counter Culture and having worked as a barista for 5 years—most recently at Jubala Coffee in Raleigh, NC—I have fielded questions about how to make better coffee at home many, many times. I could spend hours outlining the variables that go into making delicious coffee, but there are three that have consistently stood out to me as the most simple and effective ways to significantly improve your home coffee game.
You're reading this, so I'm assuming that you already buy delicious, freshly-roasted coffee and that you have decided what brew method you're going to use. If you need help choosing one, check out our Quick + Easy Brewing Guides to explore some of our favorites.
Without further ado, three keys to brewing delicious coffee at home:
1. Purchase a quality burr grinder
Arguably the most important piece of equipment you can add to your delicious-coffee toolbox is a quality burr grinder. Having a burr grinder is important because coffee tastes best when brewed immediately after grinding. And it is crucial for good extraction to have an even grind. Consistent grind particles allow for more-even extraction and in turn a more-balanced cup of coffee.
Think of it this way: When you roast potatoes you want them to be diced as uniformly as possible. That way all of the pieces cook evenly. If there are large pieces and tiny pieces, the large ones do not cook completely before the tiny ones are overcooked. A similar concept applies to coffee grounds. If the ground coffee is not evenly sized, not enough soluble material is pulled out of the large grounds and too much material is pulled out of the smaller grounds creating an uneven brew.
There are a lot of burr grinder options available at different prices, but not all are created equal. If you want a quality grinder that will last for a long time, I suggest the Baratza Encore for virtually every application except for espresso. This is the grinder that I use at home every single day, and its reliability and ease-of-use are major selling points for me. If you’re looking for a smaller footprint, travel companion, or a lower price point, check out the Hario Skerton or Porlex hand grinders.
2. Use a digital scale
Just as using the proper ratio of ingredients in a cake or cookie recipe is crucial for good results, using a proper coffee-to-water ratio is crucial for making tasty coffee. The best bakers I know use scales to make sure they’re consistently making the best cake or cookies possible—over and over again. Similarly, many of the best baristas I know use scales to ensure the consistency of their coffee. Which might lead you to wonder, why measure by weight and not with your trusty coffee scoop?
When making coffee, a proper coffee-to-water ratio allows for consistency and repeatability: Use roughly 1.6–2 grams of whole bean coffee per-fluid-ounce of water depending on your brew method. Different coffees from around the world have different densities and physical size. And the roast profile of a coffee affects weight, as well. This means that one scoop of whole bean coffee of one variety might weigh 5 grams while another might weigh 8 grams—even though they look like the same amount of coffee in the scoop. In our example, if your go-to recipe uses 4 scoops of coffee for each pot, that would be either 20 or 32 grams, which is a 60 percent difference! Weighing coffee gives you consistency regardless of variety or roast level and gives you better control over the coffee you make. This will also help you know exactly how many cups of coffee you'll get out of a bag.
As with grinders, there are a lot of options for scales. Three of my favorites:
- The Acaia Pearl, which has a built-in timer as well as a smartphone app if you really want to geek-out.
- The durable OXO Good Grips Scale, which has a wide platform to accommodate any brewing device.
- The compact American Weigh AWS-2KG, which is an incredible value.
3. Use clean water
Water is the unsung hero of coffee brewing and may be the least thought-about component of making tasty coffee—which is crazy considering that brewed coffee is 98 percent water! With that in mind, it's easy to see why using clean water is so important. If your water tastes like chlorine or other chemicals, those flavors will make their way into your coffee. If the mineral content of your water is too high or too low it will affect extraction, and, in particular, if the mineral content is too high it can cause a more-rapid buildup of mineral scale in your brewing equipment. (More on water quality can be found here, if you want to dive a little deeper.)
To avoid overcomplicating things, just be sure that your water tastes good and has a decent mineral content. If you use tap water at home, run it through a simple carbon filter for taste and odor—like a Brita filter. If you purchase bottled water for your coffee, I would suggest spring water rather than water labeled as "drinking water." Distilled water should never be used to brew coffee as its lack of mineral content actually makes it corrosive to your equipment.
Pay attention to these three things at home, and I guarantee that you'll be making more-delicious coffee on a consistent basis. If you have any lingering questions about any of this, please don't hesitate to contact us through the help button in the bottom right-hand corner of this page!