Everything You Need to Know About Making the Perfect Cup of Coffee

person pouring coffee

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Coffee is proof that there is so much joy to be found in the little things, and if you’re taking a well deserved coffee break, you deserve the most perfect cup that you can manage. There’s a number of factors you need to consider when crafting a caffeinated masterpiece, but, fortunately, they’re simple to learn and easy to remember. You’ll never need to settle for anything less than a damn good cup of coffee ever again. 

Buy the Right Beans

Though it may sound obvious, it still needs to be said: you can’t make an excellent cup of coffee if you don’t have excellent coffee beans. Any beans you purchase should clearly indicate when they were roasted, and for the most part, a fresh roast is the best roast. It's your best bet to buy beans that have been roasted no more than one month ago. After coffee has been roasted it begins to slowly release carbon dioxide, which slowly degrades the quality. So, the sooner your beans go from the roastery to your coffee maker, the better. 

Where coffee beans are grown, and the conditions in which they’re cultivated, determines nearly all of their distinctive characteristics, like flavor, aroma, size, shape, color, intensity.

Where coffee beans are grown, and the conditions in which they’re cultivated, determines nearly all of their distinctive characteristics, like flavor, aroma, size, shape, color, intensity. The world’s major coffee growing regions are between the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn, in a region known as “the Bean Belt.” Every region’s coffee has its own distinct, unique characteristics, and the only way to figure out what you like is by trying them yourself. 

Nearly every type of coffee commercially available is one of two beans: Arabica, or Robusta. Arabica beans are what the majority of specialty coffee shops and roasters use. Often considered to be the superior bean, Arabica prized for its outstanding flavor, mellow complexity, and low acidity. Because they grow best at high altitudes, farmland for Arabica plants is limited, and because they produce a low-yield of beans that are labor-intensive to harvest and process, Arabica coffee demands a premium price. Robusta beans are easier to farm, meaning they’re cheaper and readily available. However, Robusta is also known for being harshly acidic and, flavorwise, rather disappointing, so if you’re looking for the perfect cup of coffee, it’s Arabica or bust. 

Pick Your Roast

There are three categories of coffee roasts: light, medium, and dark. Light roast coffee lets the truest flavors of the bean shine, and are known for their crisp acidity and complex flavors. Rare and single-origin coffee varietals are usually light-roasted so that every one of their signature characteristics can come through when brewed, but just because they’re premium beans doesn’t necessarily mean they're the right ones for your personal perfect cup of coffee. 

Medium roast coffees are less acidic, with a warmer, toastier, more robust taste. Most “House Roast” coffees fall into this category, because their balanced flavor and inoffensive acidity make them wildly popular people pleasers.

In dark roast coffee, the beans’ natural sugars caramelize, creating flavor compounds that are sweet, smoky, and intense. Most of the beans’ original flavors are destroyed by the intense heat of the roasting process, which means that if you like a darker roast, you can get away with using a cheaper bean. Dark roast coffee has the least amount of acidity and caffeine of all the coffee roasts. 

Store Properly

Opened packages of coffee beans should be stored in an airtight container, like screw-top jars or rubber-gasket rimmed ceramic crocks. Thanks to an old wives’ tale, many people erroneously believe that coffee beans should be stored in the refrigerator or freezer, which is actually a big no-no: not only can the cold temperatures destroy many of the beans’ flavor compounds, their porous nature means they’ll readily absorb any moisture or nasty food aromas that are lurking around. Store your beans in a cool, dark place, like a kitchen cabinet.

Thanks to an old wives’ tale, many people erroneously believe that coffee beans should be stored in the refrigerator or freezer, which is actually a big no-no.

Grind Your Own Beans

After beans are ground, they begin to lose flavor and potency. For best results, grind only what you need immediately before brewing. 

Be Fussy About Your Water

Sure, you could use tap water, but if you want a truly perfect cup of coffee, just like with everything else in the kitchen you must use the best ingredients. Though some connoisseurs swear by bottled spring water, a basic charcoal/carbon water filter (like a Brita) will do. When it comes to temperature, you want your water to be scalding hot—at least 200 degrees Farenheit. Any lower and you won’t extract as many of the beans’ natural oils and flavors, and can produce a cup that’s exceedingly bitter. 

When it comes to temperature, you want your water to be scalding hot—at least 200 degrees Farenheit.

Measure Correctly

If you are measuring by volume, you should use two level tablespoons of ground coffee for a six-ounce cup, or about three tablespoons for a ten-ounce cup. But if you’re truly serious about achieving total coffee perfection, the only way to go is by using a scale. Kitchen scales allow you to measure out your ingredients in grams in order to be as precise as possible. If you like a lighter brew, use 22 grams of coffee and 350 grams of water for a ten-ounce cup; for a stronger brew, use 30 grams of coffee to 350 grams of water.

Choose Your Brewing Method

There are three methods the experts turn to when brewing coffee: pour-over, French press, and AeroPress. Pour-over results in a cup that’s silkier, smoother, and more acidic, making it ideal for coffee beans advertised with floral and citrus notes. A French Press produces a cup of coffee that’s richer, oilier, and full-bodied. The AeroPress falls somewhere in the middle, giving you the best of both worlds.

But of course, you can craft a great cup using alternative brewing methods as well.

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