Cracking coffee needn’t be complex. Get the best from your beans by following these five steps to make the perfect cup of coffee
Keep it fresh
Coffee tastes best soon after being roasted, but too soon and the full flavour profile won’t have developed. Fresh beans contain CO2 which can make your brew bitter. It reduces over the few days following roasting (those one-way air valves in coffee bags? They allow the CO2 to escape) leaving you with the fullest flavour, complexity and dimension. The best time to brew is from 10 days after roasting, and for espresso it’s 14-28 days.
Save supermarket coffee for caffeine-kick emergencies only – there’s no way of knowing when it’s been roasted (best-before dates can be 12 months or more). Locally roasted beans, however, will be fresh, with robust, vacuum-sealed packaging that’ll keep out oxygen, light and water – which all diminish flavour.
Store beans in an airtight container (like a Kilner), in their original bag. Never refrigerate or freeze: roasted beans are porous and will absorb odours (onion coffee, anyone?) as well as moisture when they come out of fridge.
Your best bet is to buy no more than a 30-day supply of freshly roasted beans and keep them at room temperature. If in doubt, buy less and top up.
Choose the best beans
Coffee drinkers can be snobs when it comes to choosing the ‘best’ bean. But there’s a world of flavour to discover for those willing to step beyond the big brands.
There are two types of bean – arabica and robusta. Arabica has a wider range of sweeter, fruity, chocolatey flavours. It’s more expensive as it’s harder to grow with smaller yields.
Robusta has a harsher, grain-like flavour and is cheaper as it produces larger yields and is easier to produce. This is your typical supermarket and chain-cafe coffee.
Coffee is quality-controlled through a scoring system, with the highest scoring being classed as speciality coffee. Speciality coffee is almost exclusively arabica and exploring beans from different countries, regions or estates of origin offers an endless journey of caffeinated exploration.
Grind your own
As soon as beans are ground, oxygen and moisture begin to dull the flavour. So if you’re purchasing quality coffee, buying pre-ground means missing out on all it has to offer. The best way to avoid this? Grind your own.
The best grinder is one suited to the way you brew (different methods need different size grounds – see below). A hand grinder is ideal for travel and camping, while electric is great for bigger volumes.
Brew method → grind size → looks like
Espresso → very fine → icing sugar
Stovetop → fine → table salt
Drip (e.g. Chemex, V60, Clever Dripper, Aeropress) → medium → sand
Cafetiere/french press → very coarse → coarse ground peppercorns
Use the right water
Over-chlorinated tap water can ruin a cup of coffee. If your water smells like a swimming pool, try putting a jug of tap water in the fridge to allow the chlorine to escape or use an activated charcoal/carbon filter. In an emergency you can use bottled water, but avoid softened or distilled water – it makes a pretty vile cuppa.
The perfect temperature for brewing is around 96 °c, or about 30-50 seconds off full boil. Too hot and you’ll extract bitter compounds in the coffee; too cool and the taste will be dull (the exception being cold brew). Reheating, boiling and keeping it warm are also no-nos.
Measure the coffee
The standard measure for brewing filter coffee is 30g coffee for 500ml. It can vary by brew method and roast type, but you can’t go far wrong with this ratio.
The espresso recipe of 18-21g for a double shot is a good starting point. This should give you about 30ml of espresso and take around 25-30 seconds to extract.