There's a whole universe of equipment out there right now. It can be dizzying. And coffee is a complex process, with several important variables that can change the completion of what ends up in your cup.
I've spent the past few years growing increasingly intense in my own coffee consumption and preparations, all in the search for that perfect cup of coffee.
But here are five quick and easy steps to making yourself a better cup:
1. Grind your own beans
When buying beans, some baristas may ask, "Would you like these ground?" Resist the temptation. And when you're at the local grocery store, ignore that large grinder in the coffee aisle. For a good cup, invest in a grinder. And for the best, make sure it's a burr grinder. Basically, a burr grinder is in more of a conical shape and it ensures the beans are ground evenly (rather than grinders that have a blade that chops up the beans at random). Burr grinders can be expensive. But a hand grinder will only set you back about $35. And grinding by hand each day will build your muscles.
2. Buy fresh beans
There are a lot of variables in making a cup of coffee, and you can go wrong in any number of ways. But none are more important than the beans you buy. And a crucial factor is freshness. I've gotten more and more picky on this. You want beans several days after they've been roasted. And if it's been more than a few weeks after they were roasted, forget about it. Some places are better than others at listing this (one pet peeve: some roasters will list an expiration date rather than the date they were roasted — or when the beans were freshest).
3. Don't store them in the freezer
The idea that storing beans in the freezer is a way to preserve their freshness is one of the biggest misnomers about coffee. Put those beans in a freezer, and they will start to absorb the flavors of whatever else you've got stored in there. I don't know about you, but I'm not eager to have my Sumatra mixed with flavors of chicken, ice cream, and frozen vegetables.
4. Step away from the machine. Buy a French press. Or something.
Machines are great, and they're getting even better. They can ensure consistency, there's little mess, and — crucially, for some — you can set a timer to wake up with a fresh cup. But at least for me, working with coffee manually has helped immensely in understanding what makes a good cup. There's experimentation. You have control over almost every step in the process. There are tons of ways — maybe too many ways — to make coffee. But the easiest way to get going is with a French press. They're inexpensive and easy to use.
5. Get a digital scale.
Yes, I realize this sounds extreme. The first time I saw someone using a scale to make my cup of coffee — during a trip to Pavement in Boston a few years back — I thought it was completely over the top. Does brewing coffee really need to be that precise? Then I tasted the cup. And a few weeks later, I was online reading about digital scales and ordering one for my home. Most of us have regular coffee habits, so you learn how many scoops you want and how much water you need. But as I've gotten a little more discerning, I've found that the scale helps eliminate some of the room for error.
Matt Viser can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.