Coffee Tips Featured

Do’s & Don’ts of Brewing Coffee

By Jon Ferguson | February 13, 2020

I don’t know where to begin, so why don’t we begin at the bottom. Let’s talk about the burners in the room, the burners under those glass carafes that keep coffee hot in your coffee brewer at home, office, or local diner. Warming plates, otherwise known as “burners,” burn coffee. If the coffee doesn’t already taste burnt; well, it is now. This might be why your coffee tastes bad. If this isn’t the issue, it’s likely one of the many things I mention below.  

The Do’s 

Buy fresh coffee. Read What is the Best Way to Store Coffee at Home?  

Learn how to follow a recipe. Or simply, understand that brewing coffee is following a recipe, and if you have never followed a recipe before, now is your chance. Have you ever tried making a pie without following a recipe? If you are a master chef, lucky you, but most people, even coffee professionals, follow brewing recipes. I especially follow recipes when making pies.  

When making coffee, you need to understand ratios. For coffee brewing ratios, I normally start with a thicker brew, using 15 parts of water to 1 part of coffee, and if you apply the metric measuring system to this ratio, it’s quite simple. Three hundred-fifty grams of weight equals 350 milliliters of water volume. How clever is that? Did you know the metric system was based on the attributes (weight and volume) of distilled water?   

After you have 350 ml of water in a kettle, you divide this amount by 15 (your parts recommended above). When you divide 350 by 15 you end up with the number 23.33, which is how many grams of weight you need to grind (more on grinding in a second). This is your ratio. I recommend rounding down to 23 grams. It’s hard to hit 23.33 on a scale. Which reminds me, you need to get a gram scale. This recipe should brew a regular-sized standard mug of coffee (10-12-oz).  

Use clean water. Notice how I didn’t say purified, reverse osmosis, distilled, or those water kits that you add to distilled water for a perfect mineral balance? I will keep it simple here. If your tap water is clean and does not have an overwhelming amount of hard water, or if you know you have issues with your water, you should consider filtration for more controlled brewing results. I would stay away from distilled water, mainly due to some issues with alkalinity and lack of buffering provided against the intensity of organic acids present in roasted coffee. Distilled water makes coffee extra bright, and sometimes that’s not nice.  

Grind your own coffee. Don’t let anyone else do this for you. You need to match the grind to the right brewing method. I cannot, will not, in no manner, begin to address the complexities of grinding coffee right now. Just trust me. It doesn’t end well if you start with stale ground coffee out of a bag that’s been sitting on the counter for a month.  

Read Measuring the Quality of Coffee

Think about temperature. The water must be hot. It’s important to use water that is just off boiling temperature, to ensure proper extraction, and this goes for most coffee brewing, unless you choose to do a cold brew, which in this scenario, cold water is used. The time that it will take to properly extract the dissolvable solids in coffee will greatly depend on the temperature of the water. Cold brew, for instance, takes 18-to 24hrs to extract all the flavors out of ground coffee, whereas with near boiling water, allows for a much more rapid extraction and brewing process. 

Think about time. It is of utmost importance to know how long you have been brewing. Match the brewing instructions that you are given.   I recommend a traditional coffee brewer, or this new contraption, the controlled water distribution pour over method is affordable and extremely simple to use. Do not forget to use the ratio, grind, and clean water suggestions. You will also need a water kettle. I simply use a regular tea kettle, bring it to a boil on my stove, and then wait a few seconds for it to cool just off boil, then it’s ready to pour into the brewing device of your choice, such as the V-60, Kalita, Beehouse, Chemex, Oxo, Aeropress, French press, cupping bowl, or whatever gadget you fancy.  

The Don’ts 

Don’t Doubt Yourself. People like different types of coffee. Some people like dark roasts with surface oils and carbonization. Others enjoy light roasts packed with slightly underdeveloped characteristics of grass, hay, and a tea-like body with sour acidity.  

Don’t be Dirty. Don’t use a dirty vessel to brew fresh coffee. The worst tasting experience I normally come across is when I go to a coffee shop that serves both regular and flavored coffees. When I take a sip of the regular coffee it is overwhelmingly apparent that they not only forgot to rinse the air pot, but they are likely using the same flavored air pot for brewing regular non-flavored coffee. There shouldn’t be a “hint of vanilla or hazelnut” in regular coffee, that comes from using dirty air pots.  

Flavored coffee or not, dirty air pots are gross, yet so easy to clean. Here’s a tip, buy some Urnex cleaner. It’s cheap, a little goes a long way, and it’s safe to use. Did you know most likely the dirtiest place in your kitchen can be found in your automatic coffee brewer? According to the 2011 NSF International Household Germ Study, they found automatic coffee brewers in your kitchen to be in the top 10 ten germiest places in the home due to infrequent cleaning and having a moist warm environment where germs love to breed. Cleanliness. It’s important. I think plenty of people have mentioned this in the past about so many things. It also applies to coffee brewers and air pots.  

There you go, we started at the bottom of the coffee brewer with your hot plate coffee burner and ended up at the top, discussing your filthy water reservoir where bacteria thrive when left unattended.  

At the Arbor Day Foundation, we are very familiar with the saying, “only YOU can prevent forest fires,” and I think that also applies to coffee in that “only YOU can prevent bad coffee.”  

Learn more about Arbor Day Coffee. 

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