Is there anything better than a really good mug, at the perfect temperature, perfectly tasty, perfectly balanced, brought to you in bed by your loving husband on a Sunday morning?
As you may know, I am a firm fan of anything that comes out of a Dolce Gusto machine. Nespresso is fine as well (but we don’t have one of those yet), and I can also appreciate a well-made mug of quality black coffee on occasion.
Tom on the other hand is partial to his filter coffee machine, and he also prefers brewing his own coffee, so I rarely get to return the Sunday morning favour. That is not the point however.
Whether you are more into black, milky, sweet or very bitter, I’ll try to give you some advice that is applicable to practically any kind of coffee. Even if you are the kind of person who likes the single-serve instant coffee packets, you can still make your brew more enjoyable if you take some of these suggestions to heart.
Make sure your equipment is clean and maintained
This one is self-explanatory: if you want your coffee to taste good, you must take care of your grinders, coffee makers and storage containers.
Over time, the oils released by the coffee beans can accumulate wherever you store them, which can affect the taste of your coffee, adding bitter or sour undertones.
Make sure you thoroughly clean your equipment once a week and change your filters regularly. While we are on the subject, never use cheap paper filters, as they can add that dreadful paper odour to even the best blends, and are also prone to letting some of the dregs slip into your mug.
If you don’t actually care about the taste and are just in it for the caffeine, then you might want to stick to more affordable kettles and coffee machines, but if you are an aficionado, your investments will soon pay off.
Always buy fresh beans
Regardless of the kind of coffee you prefer to drink, always look for quality. Whether it’s an espresso, americano or mocha, it doesn’t matter, it all comes down to the quality of the beans. If you can’t get your hands on freshly roasted beans, pay attention to the way your coffee is packaged.
A vacuum-sealed bag will preserve the aromas and the flavours of your coffee. It’s best to avoid buying it at the supermarket though, since they rarely store it in an adequate manner. Strong light and air exposure can drain the very best from any coffee bean, so look for alternatives.
Do a bit of digging, there must be a local shop where you can get freshly roasted coffee, or at least a packet that has been stored correctly.
Do your best to keep the coffee beans fresh
Keeping your coffee fresh is the absolutely crucial part of the coffee making process.
Whether you roast your own coffee or buy it roasted, you should know that it starts losing its freshness after 2 to 3 weeks, no matter what you do. Storing it properly will help of course, but it won’t delay the process indefinitely.
Make sure you have a dark, ceramic, airtight container for the purpose. Coffee absorbs moisture and other flavours quickly, so storing it in plastic or a poorly sealed canister is a very bad idea. I’m not even going to get into storing coffee in the fridge. Just don’t do it.
Do your own grinding
It may be easier to use pre-ground coffee, but you are not here because you are looking for an easy way to make coffee. You are here because you want your coffee to be superb.
You can choose between burr and blade grinders. Even though blade grinders are a better option than pre-ground coffee, only a burr grind will give you that uniformed size, making sure every particle releases an even amount of taste and aroma, resulting in that symphony of flavour you are looking for.
As they say, once you go burr you can never go back (or in this case, blade).
Pay attention to the water quality
If you are currently using tap water to make your coffee, please promise me you’ll stop.
The chlorine and minerals from tap water significantly alter the taste of coffee. On the other hand, using distilled water is also a bad choice.
What you need is bottled spring water, where the taste will not be tainted by the chlorine, but it will not be too flat either due to a lack of minerals. You can also use a tap filter, if that makes more sense.
Experiment with different kinds of water until you find the perfect combination. I like mine with Vittel, but I definitely don’t use it every single time.
Make sure the water temperature is appropriate
You have to adopt a bit of a Goldilocks attitude when making coffee. You want the temperature to be just right. If it’s too hot or too cold, you simply won’t get that perfect cup of coffee.
In this case, you are looking for 200 degrees Fahrenheit, which is 93.33 in Celsius, in case you were wondering.
You can fine-tune your water temperatures of course. However, bear in mind that if the water is not hot enough, you’ll end up with a weak, sad, tasteless pot of disappointment, but if you overheat it, it will be too strong and bitter.
Experiment with the temperature, sticking to the abovementioned 200 degrees as your guide, and see where that gets you.
Follow the rules
While I am known for bending the rules now and again, I am a sucker for following recipes, especially when I bake. We all know how disastrous improvising in that department can be.
You’d be surprised to what extent even a small disproportion can ruin your cup of coffee. The rule of thumb to follow is 2 tablespoons per 6 ounces of water. That is it. That’s all you need.
Of course, if you prefer your coffee stronger or weaker, you can adjust this ratio.
But don’t follow all the rules
The simple truth is that no one can tell you how you like your coffee, you must figure that one out by yourself. Everything I have just said may sound like utter gibberish to you.
There are also countless ways to spice up your coffee, quite literally. Tom for instance would never even think of adding a bit of cinnamon or cacao to his mug, but I actually like both combinations.
As for adding milk and sugar, you are on your own there as well. Whatever suits your personal taste buds is the route you should be taking, as always.
A coffee break
Now that we have covered all that, let me go and brew myself a nice mug of the black stuff. I am definitely in need of a strong pick-me-up at this point.
Wonder if Tom will notice if I use his coffee machine?
Also, another pro tip for enjoying your coffee – invest in a coffee table you actually like and decorate it in a style you can’t help but admire. That way, when you sit down with a mug in hand, you can give yourself a mental pat on the back, nestle in comfortably, and tune in to your favourite coffee break pastime – whether it be Netflix, the latest Conn Iggulden novel, or a bit of crochet work.