The best tasting coffee starts with quality beans fresh roasted to perfection, but each following step should maintain the initial high quality all the way to pouring the final brew into the cup.
The best tasting coffee also comes from the best fresh roasted whole beans ground just prior to brewing. Whole beans hold the aromatic compounds in the bean. Once ground, a fresh fragrance is noticed for a few minutes, but it will soon dissipate... within 15 minutes... and so goes the aroma and taste, so a good habit to form is to "grind at brewing time."
Depending on how long it takes to go through a purchase of coffee, storage is a good place to start.
The number one enemy to coffee freshness is air! Moisture, extreme temperature and light also shorten the shelf life, but air is #1. A good storage container will either vacuum air from the container or expel excess air as the lid is put in place effectively sealing the coffee. Whatever storage option you choose, be sure to store the coffee in a dark, dry place away from extreme high or low temperature.
The next item is to match the grind with the brewing process. Each brewing method requires a corresponding grind size to obtain the proper extraction of aromatic compounds for the best tasting coffee.
There are two basic grinders in the marketplace...blade and burr grinders.
Blade grinders whack at the beans like a machete yielding all sizes of particles.
A burr grinder actually grinds the bean to a certain chosen size including everything from a fine grind for an espresso to a very coarse grind for a french press.
If the grind does not match the brewer, the taste can range from a very weak underdeveloped state to a very strong bitter taste. Granted, the taste is not all that noticeable if it is slightly off... but once you get into drinking the best tasting coffee processed correctly from beginning to end, you will notice the previous little nuances become current great annoyances.
Every city and municipality has water with its own unique taste due to the water source and chemical treatment.
Hardness is probably the most common problem with most tap water which comes from magnesium and calcium minerals and is alkaline. Most of the compounds in coffee are acidic which adds to the brightness of the drink. Making coffee with hard water will neutralize the brightness causing a spoiled or stale taste.
A water softener is not the answer. A softener replaces the magnesium and calcium hardness with sodium. When the sodium rich water contacts the fatty acids of coffee, soaps form. For hard water areas, the best bet is to either use a demineralizer or buy bottled water.
Chlorine adversely affects the taste of water itself, so you can imagine how it affects a cup of good coffee...it can turn the best quality beans into a bad cup of coffee.
Other noticeable taints are organic matter and metal ions sloughed from piping.
There is a standard for water quality used by the Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA) for cupping coffee. Some of the measurable "targeted" standards are listed in the following table:
|Ca Hardness||68 mg/L|
The easiest way to determine how the quality of your tap water affects the taste of your coffee is to buy bottled water and brew a couple of pots with it.
If a noticeable pleasant aroma and taste is observed, then an investment in a taste and odor filter, a demineralizer or the continued use of bottled water will do its part in maintaining the best tasting coffee.
The most widely used form of home coffee makers in the US is the drip coffee maker. It is also the method with the greatest possibility of compromising the brew because:
Espresso makers use high pressure to push water through finely ground coffee.
A coffee press uses coarse ground coffee and the grounds set in the water for 3-5 minutes before pouring. It is the probably the least laborious of the manual brewers
A manual pourover is the same concept as the drip maker, but you control the water flow and where it is poured on the grounds. There are many brands with each having a little uniqueness to the design. Chemex, Clever Dripper and cone drippers are popular manual pourovers that yield a clean taste to the palate.
Of course, maintaining the equipment is always a must. Drip coffee makers should finish a 10 cup brew within 3-5 minutes. If it takes much longer, the brewer is ready for cleaning.
Burr grinders need the burrs cleaned on a regular basis because the grade of the grind is affected with coffee build-up on the burrs and... once you find the best coffee... and notice you are drinking more because of the improved taste... you will also notice when the grind does not match the brewing method. If the grinder is used once or twice each day, a monthly cleaning is a good habit to form.
It may seem like too much to deal with to get the best tasting coffee, but it's really not that much trouble. For the long haul, most of the changes are relatively inexpensive and will take place a step at a time as you become accustomed to great coffee.
The best tasting coffee is the result of using the right equipment and performing each step of preparation correctly and consistently with fresh roasted whole beans.
Note: Many no longer use sugar and creme in their coffee since they began practicing the steps to make the best tasting coffee.
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