If convenience foods turned Americans into strangers in their own kitchens, imagine the damage that automated home brewers have done. Many of us have no clue how to brew a good cup of coffee.
But we have tips from roasters, from baristas and from the Washington Post Food staff, for beginners.
Buy freshly roasted coffee beans. Look for a roast date on the package. If there is none, be suspicious. You want coffee that’s no more than two weeks off the roast. Typically if it starts to hit 10 days, we’ll find some other use for it, like iced coffee, says Ryan Jensen, owner of Peregrine Espresso.
Invest in a good conical burr grinder. You will get better extraction from coffee beans that are evenly ground.
Don’t grind the coffee beans until right before you’re ready to steep them.
Make sure your water is hot enough, between 195 degrees and 205 degrees, which leads to optimal extraction. Water about 15 to 30 seconds off the boil should be ideal; don’t let it go longer than a minute off the boil, however.
Study up. You don’t have to read the Specialty Coffee Association of America’s science-heavy The Coffee Brewing Handbook, but you can scan the association’s Facebook pages, which offer tips on various devices: French press, pour-over cones, Clever dripper and AeroPress.
Don’t get hung up on techniques. It’s fascinating that we have these parameters that we’re set in, says Judith Mandel, a barista formerly with Peregrine, now with Blue Bottle Coffee in the Bay Area. It’s fun to push them, because coffee can taste great if we go outside them.