In this first introductory article I’m going to cover the basics to help you maximize the potential for a great cup of coffee. I have covered only the two most popular ways of preparing coffee, the Drip method and the French Press. I will be diving deeper into many of the points found below in future articles and will cover other types of coffee preparation.

Use fresh coffee
If possible buy your coffee in whole bean and from a quality roaster or coffee shop. Resist the temptation to buy pre-ground coffee from your supermarket. If you do not have a coffee grinder, your roaster or any good coffee shop will grind your coffee beans for you. Be sure to specify your method of brewing as different types of brewing require a fine or coarse grind as described below.

How to store your coffee
Do not store coffee in the refrigerator. Do not store coffee in the freezer. I suggest that coffee be kept in an airtight container and stored in a cool, dark, dry place. Putting beans in the refrigerator is not good, even if you use an airtight container. Moisture is the enemy of roasted coffee as is oxygen and refrigerators tend to be both damp and full of odors.

Coffee is over 99% water and it is important to consider the origin of your primary ingredient. For the most part, the average home brewer uses water straight out of the tap. Even if your tap water tastes fine, it may contain impurities that will cause the coffee to have a flat or dull taste. Use a good bottled water if unsure of your water quality.

Brew water Temperature
Boiling water should never come in contact with fresh ground coffee. The ideal brewing temperature is between 190 to 205 degrees F. This is one of those classic reasons why percolating the coffee is always a bad idea. The boiling produces unpleasant tasting substances and destroys whatever good flavors there are in the brew.

The grind you select or how you grind your coffee will depend entirely on the method you use. In traditional drip pots and electric drip brewers, a fine grind is usually called for. In a French Press, a coarse grind is always preferred. Use a burr grinder for the task of preparing the coffee. Do not use a cheap rotary grinder that is common in many households. A rotary/blade grinder produces an imprecise mix of fine and coarsely ground coffee leading to over extraction of the fine coffee and under extraction of the coarse coffee. It is also somewhat more wasteful. Invest in a good “burr” grinder. These grinders have the benefit of producing a very consistent grind.

You cannot rush a good thing. There is no such thing as a ‘fast’ coffee brewer. A good drip brewer will turn out 4 to 6 small mugs of hot coffee in about 5 to 7 minutes. The ideal rate of extraction and the brewing temperature are kind of tied together. Hotter water extracts more of the qualities you are looking for but to a point. Too hot and you have trouble, too cool and you have a thin, sour and tepid brew.

Drip brewing
The drip method of brewing coffee is the most popular due to its ease and convenience. While it does not produce French-press quality coffee, it is certainly very good if done properly. You should use two heaping tablespoons of ground coffee for every 6 to 8 ounces of water. This may seem strong to some drinkers, but it is the amount required to bring out all the unique tastes that coffee has to offer.

The coffee should be ground fine because most drip brewers have a short brewing cycle. Most home grinders should be set to nearly their finest setting to get the proper grind.

The best brewers concentrate their resources on heating the brew water to the right temperature and getting it to the ground coffee in a evenly distributed way. Good brewers do not have warming plates. Warming coffee or re-heating coffee is destructive.

The best brewers on the market brew their coffee hot and into a thermal insulated carafe. Coffee is very sensitive to oxygen and will oxidize quickly when exposed to air.

After the coffee has been brewed, you should serve it immediately. If coffee is left on a heated surface for more than a few minutes, the aromatic compounds that make it taste good will begin to break down.

French Press
The French Press method yields the best flavor for non-espresso coffee because there is no paper filter to remove the large colloids that impart the coffee’s flavor. However, this method leaves a good deal of sediment in the final cup which is unattractive to some drinkers.

The French Press is a glass cylindrical pot that has a plunger affixed to the lid so when you push down on the top of the plunger, it forces a fine wire mesh through the pot to the bottom. You put the ground coffee into the pot and pour hot water over it. After the coffee steeps for several minutes, you put the lid in place and push the plunger down, forcing the spent grounds to the bottom of the pot while the brewed coffee remains above.

Done properly, this method produces a very full bodied brew. Done carelessly, it produces passable coffee that retains a certain rustic charm nonetheless.

Since you will be able to control both the temperature of the water and the length of the brewing cycle, you should use coffee grounds that are significantly coarser than what you use for drip coffee. Put two to three tablespoons of ground coffee into the press pot for every six to eight ounces of fresh water you intend to use.

I hope this gives you a better understanding of how to prepare a better cup.

by Larry Jones

Arizona Coffee

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  1. I would like to add a couple of things.

    1. Not all “burr” grinders are actually better than a blade grinder. Look at the burrs themselves if at all possible. If you see several sharp surfaces that appear as though they are designed to CUT, rather than grind, you’re in business. If there are no sharp surfaces at all, or if the edges are quite dull, what you have is a bean crusher, not a bean grinder. There is a distinct difference of quality in the cup between the two.

    Generally, expect to spend at least $100 for a capable grinder. Expect at least twice that for an espresso-capable grinder.

    2. Brewing time for a french press will vary on several factors. Water temperature, grind particle size, and total volume of coffee being made.

    Finer grind = less time
    Coarser grind = more time
    Hotter water = less time
    Cooler water = more time

    It is also worth mentioning that a lighter-roasted coffee is more resliliant to brewing than a darker roast. Meaning, a higher temperature works better for a lighter roast than for a coffee roasted into full city + and beyond.

    For a 1-cup french press, I wouldn’t let it brew for more than 3-4 minutes.
    For a 6-cup french press, I would go 4-7 minutes.

    The more you use this method, the better you’ll be able to “feel it out”. That’s part of the charm of the French Press method.. it’s so unscientific with great results.. very romantic.

  2. BethMcL

    Larry – this is very informative and educational – I’m looking forward to your future articles!


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  6. Brian Sheahan

    Thanks, both to Larry and Jason for their expertise and information. I’ve been enlightened!

    God bless,

  7. Larry

    Excellent article! Even though Larry Jones does not endorse Chris Tingom or Arizona Coffee, I am extremely pleased that I’m still the smartest, best looking guy in coffee…and unlike Chris Tingom , Larry Jones is NOT an asshole!