Coffee, not unlike wine or tea, is a beverage whose subtle flavour is defined not only by the main ingredient itself but also the finer aspects of preparation. Even seemingly minor changes in the process can make a difference and bring you closer to that perfect coffee taste at home. Though Bunn or Braun will gladly sell you one, most Americans don’t operate a full espresso bar or $150 coffee maker in their kitchens; most folks just want good tasting drip coffee from a regular coffee maker. Here are some tips for brewing at home.
Perfect Coffee Taste at Home: The Coffee Itself
You should always buy whole bean coffee and then grind it yourself at home. The sheer array of whole bean coffees available, even at a standard grocery store, should afford you plenty of choices. However, local coffee shops are usually happy to sell their beans too, especially if they’re roasted on site. Also, don’t freeze coffee. Although it allegedly stays “fresh” longer that way, the freezing and unfreezing can alter the eventual taste. Just as you buy milk and use it relatively quickly, you’ll want to buy coffee beans and use them before they get too stale.
Even though it adds a minute or two on the front end of the preparation, the freshness is worth the brief step of grinding. Once the beans are ground, the air begins to affect them chemically, and some of the magic is lost unless you brew immediately. Small coffee grinders are available for as little as $10 or $15 dollars, a relatively small investment in flavour.
Perfect Coffee Taste at Home: Water
Water quality. Most municipal tap water is riddled with substances for the sake of safety. Even though water is heated during the brewing process, these additives can change the taste of the coffee. And well water, even if you use a softener, is still pretty harsh. Consider using a charcoal water filter that attaches to your kitchen faucet or even using storebought jugs of springwater. I’m not saying you need to brew coffee with expensive bottles of Evian, but in general, bottled water and filtered water result in a better brew.
Perfect Coffee Taste at Home: The Coffee Maker
It’s unrealistic for many people to buy expensive, $150 coffee makers. At the same time, a Wal*Mart special for $10 is going to get you what you pay for. If you go just a few steps over the bottom model (but without overdoing it), you should end up with a solid machine that won’t detract from the coffee taste. Cheaper machines tend to endow the brew with a plasticky taste, especially if the brewing mechanism is entirely plastic, with no metal pores.
An alternative to electric coffee makers is a low-tech cone than simply drips into a pot. Especially when only making one or two cups, the art of grinding the beans and hand-pouring hot water through the cones, little by little, results in a rich flavour and a sense of accomplishment.
If you do opt for an electric coffee maker, don’t use the “overnight” setting that begins brewing at a particular time in the morning. While it’s tempting to wake up to the smell of fresh coffee without effort, the question becomes: how fresh is that coffee, really? Allowing ground coffee to sit out all night, even if it’s “in” the machine, will subtly hamper the flavor, as the ground beans have still been exposed to the air for hours.
And a note on cleaning: when rinsing out the coffee pot, use warm water and only add a (very) wee drop of soap every few times. Even minor amounts of residual soap on your coffee makers parts can mar the taste. Rinse very thoroughly.
Perfect Coffee Taste at Home: Serving the Coffee
Evaluate the serving vessel. As convenient as they are, some metal to-go containers and thermoses, especially when new, endow the contents with a metallic taste. To avoid this, wash new metal containers thoroughly or avoid using them unless you have to. Porcelain is always a better choice, even if a less practical one for on-the-go days.
If you do serve coffee with cream, don’t undo your hard work by using powdered creamer, which tends to have an artificial taste (unless, of course, you like that flavour).
Perfect Coffee Taste at Home: Final Thoughts
There are many additional steps you can take toward achieving the perfect coffee taste at home (buying very pricey, unusual coffees – or a fancy machine, for example), but the suggestions above are some of the simpler and relatively inexpensive ways to improve home-brewed coffee with a regular coffee maker.