The Newbie Guide to Brewing a Better Cup of Coffee

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(Image credit: Leela Cyd)

Did you make a resolution to ditch your Starbucks habit in favor of getting your coffee fix at home? Whether you’re learning how to brew coffee for the first time or you’d like to up your game, we’re here to help. From buying and storing the beans, to finding the brewing method that’s right for you, to knowing how to add an extra boost of flavor, here’s what you need to know about making a better cup of coffee.

Step 1: Learn what kind of coffee you need (and want).

There’s no right or wrong when it comes to buying coffee. What tastes good to me might not be very appealing to you. The trick is knowing how to buy the best coffee for you, and the best way to store it when you get home.

Decide if you want pre-ground or whole-bean coffee.

How much effort do you want to put into your morning cup of coffee? If you’re looking to control every aspect of it, then buying whole beans (which you grind yourself) is a great option. Want to simply scoop and brew? Then you need to find a brand of pre-ground coffee you enjoy. Much like wine, you’ve got to do some exploration to figure out your preferences — especially when it comes to roasts.

If buying whole beans, ask when the beans were roasted.

The best way to be sure that you’re buying the best coffee beans is to ask a few questions. Freshness is key, so it’s helpful to find out when the beans were roasted, and what kind of brewing method (more on this below) they’re best for.

Choose the right grind for your brewing method.

For a better cup of coffee, let your brewing method dictate the grind of the beans, as it affects the final flavor of your cup of coffee.

Store beans in an airtight container.

To brew the freshest coffee you can at home, buy small bags of whole beans, which stay fresh for about two weeks. Store the beans in a clean, airtight container in a cool, dark place like a pantry or cupboard.

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(Image credit: Leela Cyd)

Step 2: Choose your brewing method.

When it comes to actually making coffee, you’ve got some choices. It all comes down to what method works best for you and the type of coffee you like.

Aeropress

If you’re into gadgets, like a minimalist approach, and are only planning to brew a cup of coffee or two at a time, the Aeropress could be a good tool for you. The Aeropress is relatively inexpensive and easy to use, although the trick to nailing a solid cup of coffee is getting the water temperature just right.

Chemex

If you love beautiful kitchen tools and good coffee, the Chemex could be for you. Both elegant and functional, this pour-over system can brew anywhere from one to 10 cups of coffee at a time.

French press

A French press is an easy and inexpensive way to brew a few cups of coffee, and doesn’t take up a lot of space. It works by steeping the grounds in hot water and then pressing the grounds out. Don’t forget to transfer the coffee to a carafe after making it, otherwise it runs the risk of becoming bitter.

Pour over

If you’re interested in making a single cup at a time, this could be the method for you. The most important thing to remember with this method is getting the water to the right temperature and using coarsely ground beans.

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(Image credit: Chris Perez)

Cold brew

Stop dropping ice cubes into a glass of hot coffee — there’s a way to get your iced coffee fix that’s way better. The best results come from cold-brewed coffee (aka coffee grounds steeped overnight in cold water).

Latte (without an espresso machine)

Great news, latte-lovers — you don’t actually need a fancy espresso machine to make a latte at home. You can get a similar result by brewing an extra-strong cup of espresso blend and froth the milk in the microwave.

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(Image credit: Chris Perez)

Step 3: Give your coffee an upgrade.

Your coffee is brewed, but don’t stop there. Milk or cream and a sweetener is a common way to upgrade a coffee, but it’s far from the only way.

Treat your coffee to frothed milk.

If you take milk in your coffee, this is the fast and fancy way to give your morning joe a super-fun upgrade. All you need is some milk (preferably whole or 2%), a clean jam jar, and a microwave.

Go beyond cream and sugar to give your coffee a boost.

When it comes to flavoring your coffee, cream and sugar are just the tip of the iceberg. Consider pantry staples like spices, a pat of butter, coconut milk, or even ice cream.

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(Image credit: Leela Cyd)

Step 4: Learn from your mistakes.

Making an outstanding cup of coffee can take a little time and practice, not to mention a super-strong or totally bland cup along the way. Learn from missteps and each cup of coffee is likely to get better and better.

Avoid these mistakes when brewing French press coffee.

If your French press coffee has been tasting less than desirable, it could be that the coffee is ground too fine, you’re using the wrong quantity of grounds, or you left the coffee in the French press too long after pressing it.

Easily fix your sub-par cup of coffee.

If your coffee tastes bad, don’t worry — we’ve all been there and, most importantly, there’s likely an easy fix. It could be as simple as getting fresh beans or cleaning your coffee maker.

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