Revised: February 27, 2008
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About Coffee: Fundamentals

Brewing Coffee

No matter what they're called, all ways of brewing coffee are basically the same: The ground coffee is soaked in the water until the water tastes good. The only equipment you really need to make great coffee is an open pot, a flame, and, possibly, a strainer.

Brewing Suggestions

No matter which method or invention you use to brew your coffee, most authorities urge you to do the following:
  • Grind the coffee as fine as you can make it without losing any through the holes in the filter of the coffee maker. Never grind it to a powder.

  • Use plenty of coffee: unless your coffee maker instructs otherwise, at least 2 level tablespoons or 1 standard coffee measure per 6-ounce cup.

  • Keep the coffee maker clean, and rinse it with hot water before you brew.

  • Use fresh water, as free of impurities and alkalines as possible.

  • Brew with hot water, as opposed to lukewarm or boiling water. Boiling damages coffee flavor because it vaporizes much of the coffee essence while it continues to extract other bitter chemicals. A temperature of 200 degrees F is ideal, which means bringing the water to a boil and then waiting a couple of minutes before brewing.

  • In filter and drip systems, avoid brewing less than the brewer's full capacity. If the pot is made to brew six cups, the coffee will taste better if you brew the full six.

  • If you live in an area with alkaline, or hard, water, periodically run a strong solution of vinegar through the works of your brewer to clear out lime deposits, and rinse thoroughly.

  • Some don'ts: Don't boil coffee; it cooks off all the delicate flavoring essence and leaves the bitter chemicals. Don't percolate or reheat coffee; it has the same effect as boiling, only less so. Don't hold coffee for very long on the heat for the same reason. Don't mix old coffee with new; it's like using rotten wood to prop up a new building.

  • Ninety-nine percent of a cup of coffee is water. If the water isn't pleasant to drink, don't make coffee with it. Hard, or alkaline, water does not directly harm flavor and aroma, but does mute some of the natural acids in coffee and produces a blander cup without the acidy snap. Water that has been treated with softeners makes even worse coffee. Use bottled water or a filter system.

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