by Ryan Crafts
COO and Coffee Zealot
One cold early morning sometime in the fall of 1997, my high school buddy Justin (who had a car) asked if I wanted to skip out on early morning seminary and go get breakfast instead. We drove to Einstein Bros. on Center Street in Provo, where I tasted my very first cup of coffee.
For many, coffee can be an acquired taste, but I loved it instantly. Admittedly, that first cup may have been enhanced a little by the sweet taste of rebellion, but there really was something about the rich and complex flavors of roasted beans that immediately appealed to me. That morning, sipping on what was, by my standards today, probably a very mediocre brew, I discovered a life-long passion.
In my late twenties, I set out to learn about coffee and how to brew it. I experimented with different bean varieties, growing regions, roasts, blends, and brewing styles from all over the world. I bought grinders, tampers, presses, siphons, funnels, filters, steamers…all the paraphernalia you can imagine. Most of that equipment is just décor in my home now, and many of the techniques and technologies I tried turned out to be more time-consuming or expensive than they’re worth. But a few of the lessons I learned, I still use, and I want to share those with you. I’ve boiled it all down into a few simple, affordable tips you can use at home to brew a perfect cup of coffee.
But be warned, once you’ve tasted how good your home-brewed coffee can be, it may spoil you. You’ll have a hard time forking over $6 at Starbucks when, for barely $1, you can brew something much better on your own.
Ryan’s Tips for How to Brew a Perfect Cup of Coffee
1. Use Fresh Beans
As with most food, fresh quality ingredients are the key to great coffee. As soon as coffee beans are roasted, they start to lose those aromatic compounds that give coffee its distinct flavors and smells. After a few weeks, when the beans have lost those compounds, there’s only one way to save the coffee: dump out that hot mess and start over with some fresh beans.
Have you noticed that beans off the grocery store shelf don’t print the date of when they were roasted? That’s because grocery store coffee is almost always past its freshness window. Your best bet is to buy fresh-roasted whole beans from a local roaster (or, if you’re feeling ambitious, roast your own). Along the Wasatch Front, I recommend Publik, Pink Elephant, Blue Copper, La Barba, or the coffee wizardry at caffe d’bolla.
2. Grind Your Beans Immediately Before You Brew
Grinding exposes much more surface area of the beans, meaning you'll be able to get a lot more flavor out of them. Unfortunately, they’ll also start losing their aromatic compounds much faster, so don’t grind until you’re ready to brew.
One piece of equipment that’s worth investing in is a burr grinder. Unlike regular blade grinders that just bash the beans into random-sized pieces, a burr grinder mills them into a uniform size, giving your coffee a much more consistent flavor. I use a Kinu, but Helor, 1Zpresso, and Hario also make excellent burr grinders.
3. Use the Right Water Temperature
To extract the best flavors out of your beans, you should brew with water between 195° and 205° F. Below 195°, you won’t extract enough flavor, and above 205° you’ll scorch the beans and give them a bitter taste.
If you boil your own water and happen to live above 4,000 feet elevation (as we do here in Utah), you’re in luck! At this elevation, water boils at 204°, which is right in the sweet spot. You won’t need to worry about overheating; just bring your water to a boil and pour it directly over your coffee grounds.
4. Find the Right Ratio of Coffee to Water
The more water you use in your brew, the more diluted and weak the coffee will be, so finding the right balance of coffee and water (the “brew ratio”) is one key to making a perfect cup of coffee.
Personally, I use 240 grams of water for every 15 grams of coffee, a ratio of 16:1. Experiment with that ratio and find what tastes best to you.
5. Bloom Your Beans
When you pour water over fresh-ground beans, you’ll notice that the coffee grounds appear to bubble. That is CO2 gas escaping from the beans. If you don't get rid of that gas before you start your brew, the CO2 will form a kind of blanket around the grounds, preventing them from brewing properly. To “bloom” your coffee, pour a little water over the grounds, then give them a gentle stir so that all the grounds get wet. (Use about twice as much water as there is coffee grounds.) Discard that water, wait about 30 seconds for the gas to leave, and then start your brew.
6. Let Your Coffee Cool
One thing I learned from John Piquet, the Coffee Genius at café d’bolla, is that the taste of coffee changes at different temperatures. When it’s too hot, it may smell great, but it won’t taste its best. I strongly recommend waiting until your coffee cools to around 155° before you begin sipping. Then enjoy the range of favors as it gradually continues to cool.
Eat (and drink) well!