"Black as the devil, hot as hell, pure as an angel, sweet as love" was French diplomat Charles Maurice de Talleyrand's perfect cup of coffee. And ours too. Fortunately, that black, hot, pure, sweet cup of coffee requires only the right tool, great beans, water, and the willingness to try a new method or two. We rounded up five ways to make that perfect brew, with handy how-to videos for each method.
First, though, a few preliminary tips.Generally, to brew a great cup of coffee, your goal is to place coffee grounds in just the right amount of water for just the right amount of time in order to extract the coffee's flavors without its bitterness. Use filtered water and the best whole beans you can buy. "You ideally want to be using coffee within two weeks of its roast date, and hook yourself up with a regular resupply. Almost nothing you'll find at the supermarket will be fresh enough to be worth your time," roaster and all-around "well-known coffee guy" Tony Konecny says, adding, "Don't refrigerate or freeze beans." Instead, store beans in an airtight container. Next, invest in a high quality burr coffee grinder (budget-friendly recommendations include the Capresso Infinity and Baratza Maestro). Similar to cutting your vegetables the same size so they will cook evenly, coffee particles must be approximately the same size for an even extraction; lesser quality grinders will spit out uneven grinds. According to Handsome Coffee Roaster co-founder Michael Phillips, blade grinders "produce such an inconsistent grind that it will be impossible to get a proper extraction. You're going to both over-extract and under-extract the coffee." Konecny reminds us to clean the grinder regularly, as "even a little bit of grinder grime can spoil an otherwise good cup." Brewing the coffee requires more attention than simply pushing a button on a machine, and this is the fun part. It also is what Phillips calls the "science-y" aspect of coffee: these manual methods have suggested ratios of coffee to water, as well as optimal brew times. Following these guidelines, then tweaking them to taste, will positively affect the quality of the brew. A scale for precise measurements is helpful, though Phillips and Cognoscenti Coffee's Yeekai Lim agree that you may measure by volume without compromising much quality. Two tablespoons of ground coffee per six ounces of just-off-the-boil water is the general rule of thumb. Regardless of your method, Konecny advises that you "measure for repeatability ... you should have a working baseline to be able to duplicate or make small adjustments to your next brew." After doing all of the above, your coffee should taste damn good. Even black. If it doesn't taste quite right, Phillips, Konecny, and Lim have helpful tips. If the coffee is thin, sour, and tea-like, you've under-extracted: you should brew longer and/or use a finer grind. If the coffee is thick, ashy, bitter and astringent, then you've over-extracted and should reduce the brew time and/or try a coarser grind. Konecny adds that because coffee "changes and evolves from the time it comes out of the roaster", your settings may change as you go through the bag. And, finally, perhaps the most valuable tidbit, courtesy Phillips: "You have to care." On to the methods: