How to Brew Better Coffee

July 13, 2012

Inspired by conversations on the FOOD52 Hotline, we're sharing tips and tricks that make navigating all of our kitchens easier and more fun. Today, we're talking coffee, and how to get a better brew. 

How do you brew your coffee? I use a Chemex (a glass carafe that looks kind of like an Erlenmeyer flask) and Amanda uses a French press. There are practically as many ways to brew coffee -- moka pot, Aeropress, the good old percolator, cold brew, and more -- as there are Starbucks in Manhattan. But no matter how you get your morning cup of joe, there are simple steps you can take to make sure you're getting the most out of your beans.

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We asked our friends (and General Assembly office mates) at Craft Coffee for their 5 tips on getting a better brew. Be sure to check out Craft Coffee's 3-month subscription in The Shop!

1. Be Un-Cool

Just when it comes to storing coffee, that is! Don’t freeze or refrigerate your coffee beans. The drastic temperature changes can damage the coffee’s flavors and aromas, and as long as you're brewing coffee regularly, you don't need to worry about storing your beans long-term. This may be a hard habit to break, but trust us, you’ll be doing both your coffee and yourself a favor.

2. Grind Fresh

Sometimes the daily grind isn’t such a bad thing after all. Ground coffee stales quite quickly, so it’s best to grind anew for each brew. The moment you grind, the natural oils in the coffee begin to evaporate. You want to capture that moment! And grinding beans for a pot of coffee doesn't take much longer than bringing your water to a boil. Speaking of which...

3. Go Off-Boil

Brew your coffee using water that’s 195–205°F. Don't worry, there's no need to pull out a thermometer -- once the kettle has boiled, turn it off and wait a minute, just until bubbles stop forming. Boiling water will scorch your coffee, and hey, nobody likes to get burned. On the other hand, water that’s too cool will fail to extract many of the best flavors your coffee has to offer.

4. Give it a Rinse

Paper coffee filters benefit from taking a nice hot bath (don’t we all?). Before you brew, fit the paper filter into your brewer -- whether you use a Chemex, an Aeropress, or a percolator -- and pour hot water through the filter into the brewer to rinse it. Rinsing will both remove the papery taste of the filter and pre-heat your brewer so that it better retains its temperature. Just remember to pour that rinse water out before adding your beans to the wet filter!

5. Try it Black

When you're brewing with really good coffee (whether it's Craft Coffee or anything else) challenge yourself to give it a go without any milk or sugar. We think you’ll be surprised how good your coffee tastes "au naturel" -- we’ve seen some of the most die-hard half-and-half addicts become black coffee converts. It's all in the beans!

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  • Eva
  • 4376ab
  • Coffeecat
  • abbyarnold
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Eva October 18, 2013
Although the article doesn't state it explicitly, alongside grinding fresh is grinding consistently––that is, using a burr grinder rather than a blade. No matter what kind of brewing method you use, burr grinders produce a consistent size of coffee ground, which means you get the same rate of extraction out of all your coffee! I think of it as the equivalent of cutting butter into your biscuit or pie dough. Finally getting a burr grinder at home has made a huge difference for ALL our brewing methods (french press, pour-over cone filter, Vietnamese dripper, cold-brew..........).
4376ab July 16, 2012
I'm with you Coffeecat. The Clever Cone filter from Sweet Maria is the love child of a french press and the cone filter. What a match, it makes a gorgeous cup of coffee. Not practical for a crowd, but who cares? Don't forget to preheat the cup while the coffee is brewing.
Coffeecat July 15, 2012
Wonderful article Nozlee - I'm a home roaster as well as avid brewer and appreciate your thoroughness. One brewer left out of the discussion that I like very much is the Clever Cone Filter Brewer - it combines the best assets of the French Press and the Chemex style but to my palate improves on both when making a single cup. I bought the Clever where I buy my beans for roasting - the site is and despite a lot of typos in their enthusiastic copy, every coffee lover will find interesting discussions there. They have all the other roasters discussed here as well as a great range of grinders and more. Another accessory left out of the article is a scale. While it may seem very geeky to weigh your beans, the amount of coffee used is just as important as the grind and the type of bean(s) employed. And as Nozlee pointed out regarding the grind, after a little trial and error, you'll have a result you can use with great consistency. Happy brewing everyone!
abbyarnold July 15, 2012
I have a Capresso machine with a built-in burr grinder and a thermos pot. I LOVE IT! Best appliance ever! You can even set it to have the fresh-brewed coffee smell wake you up in the morning.
Alice D. July 15, 2012
Has anyone tried the Melitta Cone Filter Coffeemaker? I've been using it for almost 40 yrs, and although it is not beautiful as the Chemex is, it is much cheaper, and the coffee is wonderful.
Foodiewithalife July 15, 2012
I"m obsessed with Bialetti Moka Espresso! Love that this article encourages people to try it black. You can taste the complexities that coffee offers when it's straight up, and if you're buying good coffee, it shouldn't be masked. Also, great tid-bit about rinsing the paper coffee filters.

sir_ken_g July 15, 2012
I do most of this by long trial and error. I use Bunn maker which provides the correct temperature - and Bunn paper filters which have no residue.
I also use a Bodum burr grinder - much better that any chopper I ever had.
They forgot one thought:
>>USE good beans.
I prefer Vietnamese. Lots of flavor and low acid and relatively low cost.

As far as Amazon reviews there are a lot of coffee snobs out there.. Ignore them.
Cookie16 July 14, 2012
I'm absolutely in love with the Hario ginder and own one myself. There is nothing like grinding your own coffee in this thing and getting some amazing aromas right up the nose MMm! When I go out for coffee however, I usually opt for an espresso drink or the pour-over variety, something different from home. My apartment can only handle so much equipment!

I am partial to my French Press (Bodum) brewing myself, but do also own a Bialetti Sovetop Moka pot for the rare occasion that I want some hair on my chest in the winter. You have to be a bit of a beast to handle what comes out of that thing, but I figured it was mandatory to try to make coffee the Italian way.

If you are a at home coffee-making connoisseur, you absolutely need to own the Airscape canister. I have yet to find a better way of storing beans a home.

How's I. July 13, 2012
How do you like the coffee grinder pictured? And is it a Hario or Kyocera? I've checked out both on Amazon, and they both have really positive reviews, but it's the negative reviews that give me pause, especially the ones talking about a design flaw and how it could really benefit from a slight modification if you're going to be doing coarse grinds. (I think that was only with the Hario.)
Gastroguy July 13, 2012
If I am not mistaken, that is Hario featured. They actually make two, and the one pictured is the larger version. I personally have the smaller one, and it has never failed me. It has adjustable burrs that grind the coffee just right for my Aeropress. And it grinds the beans quickly enough so that it is ready by the time the water has come to a boil (exactly as nzle said).
Nozlee S. July 13, 2012
It's a Hario, the larger model -- Amanda and I have the same model. I really love it! The burrs are adjustable and if you want a coarser grind, you do have to trial and error a couple of times until you get the size that you like, but after that is set, it's a snap. My sister has the smaller Hario model and really likes her, too.
mrslarkin July 13, 2012
That chemex is beautiful, Nozlee! Where did you find it?
Nozlee S. July 13, 2012
I love the all-glass model so much more than the one with a wooden neck! I bought mine at the Brooklyn Kitchen in Williamsburg, near where I live. I buy my filters there too -- we used the circular ones here, but I prefer the big square ones that really let you go to town without making a mess when pouring over hot water. (Amazon has all these things, too.)

The cool thing about Chemex is that it's still only sold by one business in Massachusetts! There isn't anything to compare -- and the coffee it makes, of course, is wonderful.
Kenzi W. July 13, 2012
I'm taking away 'grind anew for each brew' as my new coffee-making slogan.
Nozlee S. July 13, 2012
"grind afresh -- you deserve the best"
Gastroguy July 13, 2012
"Grind each day; it's the only way!"
aargersi July 13, 2012
How to BEST enjoy your coffee. Retire. Sleep in. Drink on back porch. I hope to test this theory some time in the next few years!!!