How to Make a Better Cup of Coffee at Home (Part 2)

We examined everything involved in making a great cup of coffee at home before it goes into the coffee maker in Part One. In this edition we will discover why brewing your coffee is actually the easiest part of the process because it is mainly a function of the equipment you use.

If you followed the tips in our first installment, it is a good bet you would already have noticed a marked difference in the flavor of your coffee, no matter what kind of coffee maker you use. The instrument you use in brewing your coffee, however, will bring your coffee drinking experience to a new level.

The Coffee Maker

Coffee Glass CarafeTake a look through any major retailer’s website and you will notice that the majority of coffee makers offered by those companies will include glass carafes. Those carafes sit on top of a heating element which will keep the coffee warm after it is brewed. Heating the coffee over and over like that is counter-productive to making great coffee. According to Erik Anderson, “Roast Master” for Colorado River Coffee Roasters in Boulder City, NV, “Once you’ve actually done the brewing of the coffee, it’ll sit there and settle, and if you can maintain the temperature without adding more heat to it, I think it is going to last longer. You’ll get a more consistent, quality tasting cup of coffee.”

Maintaining your coffee at a constant temperature without a heating element seems impossible, but there is an way to do it. The answer is using a coffee maker with an insulated, stainless steel carafe. The benefit to this type of brewer is that the water will be heated only once – for the brewing process. Once it becomes hot coffee and makes its way into the carafe, it is never heated again. It retains its own heat in the carafe, conserving its great flavor from the first cup to the last.

Coffee Zojirushi Coffee Maker
Zojirushi Fresh Brew

The coffee maker in my home is a Zojirushi, which is available these days for under $90 at retailers like Bed, Bath & Beyond and Home Depot. I purchased mine about five years ago and it is still making great coffee. Almost all of the best known appliance companies offer coffee makers with stainless steel carafes, and almost all are in the same price range. If you happened to be attached to your coffee maker with the glass carafe, an easy solution would be to purchase a separate insulated carafe and simply pour your coffee into it after brewing.

For anyone thinking of purchasing a new coffee maker, Anderson says it might be a good idea to check the temperature at which the coffee maker heats the water during brewing, “you want your water to be hot enough to brew it, but you don’t want it to be boiling (212 degrees). I’d say about 185 to 190 degrees is optimal. Even if you have the most fantastically roasted beans and they’re incredibly light, if you add boiling water to it, it’s going to scorch that coffee and alter the flavor.” Any reputable company will note the temperature at which their coffee makers brew the coffee. Zojirushi claims its “Fresh Brew” heats the water to 203 degrees.

The French Press

Coffee French Press
French Press

Traditional coffee makers and convenience aside, perhaps the best way to enjoy the optimum cup of coffee at home is to brew it in a French Press. Relatively inexpensive (adequate models can be had for under $30), the French Press is not much more than a glass carafe with a plunger and strainer attached to the top. Coarse ground coffee is put in the bottom of the carafe and hot water is poured over it to fill the vessel. After just four minutes, the plunger is depressed, pushing any loose grounds to the bottom and leaving great tasting coffee to be poured and enjoyed. “I love the flavor of it because the water has contacted the actual coffee grounds for a good bit longer, so it’s going to extract more of that flavor,” said Anderson, “if you want to really brew a nice cup of coffee, take the time to do a French Press and just let it sit there and steep for a while. The flavor that’s coming out is going to be night and day from most other preparation methods.” The only drawback to coffee made from a press is that it will cool quickly. Press coffee, however, is normally designed for one or two cups to be consumed immediately. Convenience and volume have little to do with it.

Final Notes

In my conversation with Anderson, there was one other factor he rated right up there with bean choice as being most important in a good cup of coffee – the quality of the water. There is no industry secret to this facet of coffee-making. You can purchase purified water or install a water purifier on your kitchen tap. Purified water will not only help your coffee taste better, it will also keep deposits from building up in your coffee maker, ensuring it will keep making a great cup of coffee for years on end.

(Main image courtesy commons.wikimedia.org)

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