Making Better Coffee at Home – Part 1

One: Making better coffee at home is easy!

Too many coffee drinkers settle for so-so coffee. They incorrectly assume that making better coffee at home is beyond their reach, that it requires cryptic recipes and expensive appliances. Nothing can be further from the truth! You can easily improve the taste of your coffee without breaking the bank. Interested?  Follow my simple tips. And the tip number one is: realize that making better coffee at home is not difficult.

Two: Buy fresh coffee.

This is an essential, common sense step, but curiously it is often played down.

So, what is fresh coffee? Ground coffee becomes stale after 1-2 weeks, while whole beans (roasted) last a month. Finally, green beans last over a year. That’s it!

You can forget storing coffee in the fridge to extend freshness – it doesn’t work! Vacuum packing doesn’t work either. Why? Because freshly roasted coffee exudes carbon dioxide. Lots of it! This outgassing means that it cannot be stored in sealed packages. They will blow up. Therefore, the vacuum-packed coffee is already stale!

One-way valve - secret for better coffee
The one-way valve on a coffee package

You may ask: how the professionals handle this? They ship coffee in sealed bags with a one-way valve, which permits outgassing. The valve looks like a shirt button. It’s very unobtrusive, you have to look for it.

Let’s spell this out: a sealed coffee package that doesn’t have this valve contains stale coffee.

Three: Ground coffee or whole beans?

Now that you bought fresh coffee, you need to keep it fresh. This is the single most important step to improve the quality of your coffee. It is also the most commonly underrated. In practice, you have two options.

  • Buying a month supply of whole beans (ideally freshly roasted) and grinding them in small batches at home. This works best for most people and I recommend it. For that, you need to own a coffee grinder (read the next tip).
  • Buying ground coffee beans also make sense, if you use it up within 1-2 weeks. Let me clarify what I mean here by ground coffee. It’s coffee that is ground (while you wait) from whole beans you have just purchased – not the prepackaged coffee from a grocery shelf.

Is it OK to use the heavy professional grinders in coffee shops? Yes, it is. These grinders produce a very uniform grind of the correct size. (Size depends on the brewing method, as discussed later.) The drawback is that the same grinder may be used for the regular, decaf, and flavored coffee. This cross-contamination is rare, but if you experience it – take your business elsewhere.

Four: Use burr grinder.

A key to better coffee: burr grinders
Burr grinders that I own, old (white) and new.

If you grind coffee beans at home, it is crucial that you use a burr grinder (see photo). A common mistake – made by 99% of the population – is to use a cheap blade grinder. Do not follow the herd! Replace the blade grinder with the burr grinder and you will be amazed by the improvement in the taste of your coffee.

What is the difference? The spinning “propeller” of the blade grinder hits coffee beans randomly, producing particles that range widely in size, from larger chunks to dust. On the other hand, burr grinders produce uniform grind. This is a key factor in cup quality. To understand why, please read the next tip.

An additional benefit of burr grinders is a precise control of the grind size. You need to set it only once. While these grinders cost more, they are very durable. My old grinder has served me for over 15 years (still works). If you own a blade grinder, do yourself a favor and throw it away!

Five: Select grind size.

The coffee brewing time has to be just right: if it’s too short the coffee is weak, if it’s too long the coffee is bitter (over extracted). It is also intuitive that this optimal time depends on particle size – it’s shorter for fine, and longer for coarse grinds. Therefore, you have to match the grind size (coarser or finer) to the brewing time, which in turn depends largely on the coffee brewing method you chose.

Manual coffee mill produces superior coffee
Simple works best!

However, such fine-tuning is only possible if the grind is uniform. With variable particle sizes, there simply is no optimal brewing time! The coffee “dust” will always be over extracted, while the largest particles will be under brewed. Your coffee will be bitter and weak at the same time! Hence, the importance of burr grinders.

So here is the bottom line: the grind size depends on the brewing method. Use a coarse grind for French Press, mid-range for drip, and fine for Espresso.


The tips for making better coffee at home continue in part 2 of this post.  Please leave a comment or share an opinion. I’d like to hear from you.

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