How to Brew Coffee
The NCA Guide
What’s your favorite way to enjoy coffee?
Do you want a hearty mug at breakfast? A frothy afternoon cappuccino? Do you like it hot or cold? Milder or more robust? The way you brew should be based on your needs and your unique coffee preferences — there’s no single right technique for everyone.
No matter how you like your coffee, check out our essential tips and techniques for making and enjoying a great cup:
Make sure that your equipment — from bean grinders and filters to coffee makers— is thoroughly cleaned after each use. Rinse with clear, hot water (or wipe down thoroughly), and dry with an absorbent towel. It’s important to check that no grounds have been left to collect and that there’s no build-up of coffee oil (caffeol), which can make future cups of coffee taste bitter and rancid.
If you’re using a single-serve coffee maker, check our guide for keeping your machine in top shape.
If you’re looking for the best coffee maker for your needs, check out this coffee maker buying guide from Consumer Reports.
Great coffee starts with great beans. The quality and flavor of your coffee is not only determined by your favorite brewing process, but also by the type of coffee you select. There can be a world of difference between roasts, so check out our roasting types guide.
Some of the flavor factors include:
- What country is the coffee from, and what region?
- What is the variety? Or is it a blend?
- Do you favor a dark roast coffee, a light blend or something in between?
- What kind of grind have you selected?
While there are a lot of choices, remember that there’s no right or wrong — you can choose a dark, flavorful espresso roast coffee and still have it ground to be brewed in a drip system. Have fun trying and enjoying different combinations.
Purchase coffee as soon as possible after it’s roasted. Fresh-roasted coffee is essential to a quality cup, so buy your coffee in small amounts (ideally every one to two weeks). Check out our helpful tips on how to store coffee to keep it as fresh and flavorful as possible.
And please, never reuse your coffee grounds to make coffee. Once brewed, the desirable coffee flavors have been extracted and only the bitter ones are left. Instead, check out these six ways to recycle your old grounds.
If you buy whole bean coffee, always grind your beans as close to the brew time as possible for maximum freshness. A burr or mill grinder is best because the coffee is ground to a consistent size.
A blade grinder is less preferable because some coffee will be ground more finely than the rest. If you normally grind your coffee at home with a blade grinder, try having it ground at the store with a burr grinder. You’ll be surprised at the difference!
Do not underestimate the importance of the size of the grind to the taste of your coffee. If your coffee tastes bitter, it may be over-extracted, or ground too fine. On the other hand, if your coffee tastes flat, it may be under-extracted, meaning your grind is too coarse.
Check out this simple infographic to help you determine the the best texture for your preferred brewing method.
If you're having the coffee ground to order, tell the professionals where you purchase your coffee exactly how you will be brewing it. Will you be using a French press plunger pot? A flat drip filter? A cone drip filter? A gold mesh filter? They will grind it specifically for your preparation method.
Before using the coffee, rub some of the grounds between your fingers so that you can feel the grind consistency and become acquainted with the differences in size.
The water you use is very important to the quality of your coffee. Use filtered or bottled water if your tap water is not good or has a strong odor or taste, such as chlorine.
If you’re using tap water, let it run a few seconds before filling your coffee pot, and be sure to use cold water. Avoid distilled or softened water.
A general guideline is one to two tablespoons of ground coffee for every six ounces of water. This can be adjusted to suit individual taste preferences.
Be sure to check the “cup” lines on your brewer to see how they actually measure. And remember that some water is lost to evaporation in certain brewing methods.
Your brewer should maintain a water temperature between 195 to 205 degrees Fahrenheit for optimal extraction. Colder water will result in flat, under-extracted coffee, while water that is too hot will also cause a loss of quality in the taste of the coffee.
If you are brewing the coffee manually, let the water come to a full boil, but do not over boil. Turn off the heat source and allow the water to rest a minute before pouring it over the grounds.
Allow the coffee (or any hot beverage) to reach a comfortable temperature before enjoying.
The amount of time that the water is in contact with the coffee grounds is another important flavor factor.
In a drip system, the contact time should be approximately 5 minutes. If you are making your coffee using a plunger pot, the contact time should be 2-4 minutes. Espresso has an especially brief brew time — the coffee is in contact with the water for only 20-30 seconds.
If you’re not happy with the taste, it’s possible that you’re either over-extracting (the brew time is too long) or under-extracting (the brew time is too short). Experiment with the contact time until the taste suits you perfectly.
Enjoy your coffee!
Prepared coffee begins to lose its optimal taste moments after brewing, so only make as much coffee as you’ll drink. Otherwise, coffee can be poured into a warmed, insulated thermos to be used within the next 45 minutes.
While you want to enjoy the beverage while it's fresh, be sure to allow any hot beverage to cool to a comfortable temperature before consumption.
A finely prepared cup of coffee should be enjoyed as thoughtfully as it was brewed. Many people have been instrumental in bringing it to your cup.
Take a moment to smell the aroma. Take a sip and notice your coffee's flavor. How does it compare to other coffees with regard to body, acidity and balance?
If it’s a coffee that is new to you, notice how it’s different. If it’s what you normally drink, note its degree of freshness, or how simple changes in preparation affect the cup's flavor.
Image credits: Giphy, Wikimedia Commons, Giphy, Giphy