5 Reasons Why Your Coffee Tastes Bad (And How to Fix It Next Time)

updated May 2, 2019
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(Image credit: Leela Cyd)

If you’re a coffee lover, then you look forward to that moment when you take your first morning sip of deep, dark goodness. Even when you’re sleepily going through every other motion, if you have that coffee cup in your hand, you know everything is going to be ok. So there’s nothing more disappointing than a bad cup of coffee, especially when you’ve been looking forward to it since the night before.

Do you feel like your morning coffee just isn’t up to par? Or your coffee at any other time of day for that matter? Here are a few reasons coffee doesn’t taste as good as it could, and some recommendations for what you can do about it.

(Image credit: Anna Brones)

No one deserves to be drinking bad coffee in the morning. Here are five things to look out for when brewing your morning cup.

1. Your coffee beans are stale.

Roasted coffee beans oxidize with exposure to oxygen, and this leads to them becoming stale. You want fresh beans, so you want to make sure to keep them away from oxygen, moisture, heat and light. That means storing beans in an airtight container in a cool dry place; a pantry is a good spot, and your kitchen counter in direct sunlight is not. It also means freshly grinding your beans to ensure that you get the freshest taste possible. And no, you do not want to store them in the refrigerator.

Another key thing to keeping your coffee fresh is buying whole beans. While it might take a little extra time, buying whole beans and grinding them yourself when you want coffee is going to lead to a better cup than pre-ground ones.

2. Your coffee beans were roasted improperly.

If your coffee is tasting bitter, there’s a chance your beans weren’t roasted properly. Roasting is after all how we get all the aromatic coffee flavors that we love from green beans. Without roasting, we wouldn’t have coffee. But roasting is an art, and while there’s nothing bad about a dark roast, which is common in the US, there is something bad about an over roast. Over roasted coffee beans can be bitter, or have a burnt taste.

Often, if coffee tastes burnt, people blame it on their own coffee preparation, but it may in fact just be the quality of your beans. Finding the right roast means experimenting with different coffees to see what you ultimately like the best.

3. Your equipment is dirty.

A dirty French press, coffee maker or espresso machine can definitely change the taste of what your drinking. Think of cutting garlic with a knife and then slicing an apple; you’ll have a constant hint of garlic with your fruity snack. The same thing goes when you’re brewing coffee, so make sure all your tools are nice and clean.

4. You’re using a coffee machine and you let it sit on the warming plate too long.

While it might be tempting to brew a huge pot of coffee in the morning and leave it on the warming plate of the coffee machine, if you want good tasting coffee you want to drink it freshly brewed. There’s a reason the last dregs of coffee have been sitting in the coffee pot for hours at the office; no one wants to drink it.

5. Your water quality isn’t great.

It might seem simple, but good coffee starts with good water. The Specialty Coffee Association of America for example has a whole strict set of standards that the water used to make coffee has to meet. But we all know that a lot of municipal water isn’t so good. If water tastes too chlorinated on its own, it’s not going to do good things for your cup of coffee.

A good basic rule of thumb is that when you’re making coffee, you want to use water that you’d be happy to drink, which means that if you’re filtering your drinking water, you want to be filtering your coffee water as well.

Those are some of the main things I think to check when a cup of coffee is less than great. Are there other things that you find make a consistently better cup of coffee?