10 Coffee Mistakes You're Probably Making (and How to Fix Them)
If the regular flood of coffee-loving memes in your social feed didn’t clue you in on our adoration for the morning cup of joe, check out this stat — every day, 64 percent of Americans enjoy a cup of coffee. And among those, 79 percent brew it at home. If you’re a home brewer, how confident are you that you’re making the perfect cup? It seems fairly simple — beans, water, and heat — but there’s actually a lot more to it than that. We’ve rounded up 10 of the most common coffee-brewing mistakes along with tips on how to avoid making them.
1. Using Stale Coffee
When coffee beans roast, they leak carbon dioxide — a process known as degassing. The longer beans degas, the more their flavor diminishes. For this reason, we don’t suggest buying your coffee in bulk. If possible, buy your coffee weekly and make sure to check the label for a roast date (and choose the most recent date you can find). While coffee doesn’t necessarily expire quickly, its flavor and freshness are another story.
2. Not Weighing Your Coffee
“No matter how you’re brewing or what you are using to brew, the most important elements are the scale, the grinder, and the water,” says Bailey Manson, Education & Service Program Manager at Intelligentsia Coffee, a Chicago-based specialty coffee company. “Your favorite coffee will have a much more difficult time coming close to its full potential without these three key elements for home brewing.” In order to make a consistent cup of coffee each time you brew, you’ll need to weigh your coffee with a small kitchen scale.
3. Using Too Much or Too Little Coffee
If you’re adding way too much coffee, you’ll likely end up with an overpowering, strong brew. And if you use too little coffee, you’ll get a bummer of a weak brew. “We suggest starting with a 1 to 18 coffee to water ratio, which provides an excellent total extraction level and maximizes flavor pulled out of the ground coffee,” Manson says. This golden ratio translates to 1 gram of coffee to 18 grams of water. If you don’t have a kitchen scale, 1 tablespoon of coffee clocks in at around 5 grams and 1 gram of water equals 1 milliliter. Reminder: A “cup” of coffee according to most brewing methods isn’t 8 ounces. Take a look at the lines on your coffee machine to better gauge how much water to use.
4. Not Storing Coffee Properly
You’ll want to store your coffee in a dark, cool, dry place away from the oven or windows. Rather than keep your coffee in the brown wax bag it comes in (you know, the ones with those flimsy metal tabs meant to seal it back up?) choose an airtight, opaque container, such as stainless steel for optimal freshness. Any airtight container will do, but you may want to invest in specially-made coffee canisters fashioned with a valve to push out oxygen — coffee’s number one enemy.
5. Not Filtering Water
Remember when Manson mentioned this as one of the top three most important elements for brewing spectacular coffee? Here’s why. The Specialty Coffee Association (SCA) has created guidelines for brewing water. In short, water should be clean, fresh, odor free, completely clear, and chlorine free. The SCA also provides target ranges for pH, calcium hardness, alkalinity, and total dissolved solids. By filtering your water before brewing you can more closely meet these standards and better ensure a great tasting cup of coffee. Filters (either refrigerator, pitcher, or faucet filters) with activated carbon can remove water impurities, odors, and chlorine.
6. Not Using Water at the Right Temps
Whichever method you use to make your coffee, the water should measure somewhere around 195 to 205 degrees Fahrenheit in order to get the most out of your beans. If you use a French press, pour over coffee system, or another manual brewer, the National Coffee Association recommends letting your water reach a full boil, turning off the heat, and allowing the water to rest for a minute before pouring it over your coffee grounds. If you’re looking for a new drip machine, check that it heats water to that ideal temperature range.
7. Not Grinding Your Coffee Each Time You Brew
If you really want to up your coffee game, invest in a high-quality coffee grinder. Compared to pre-ground coffee, freshly ground coffee is undoubtedly more flavorful and fresh. “The grinder is the tough one,” Manson says. “People just don’t want to spend several hundred dollars on a high-end grinder.” While you may be able to find a metal blade grinder for $20 or less, you can brew better coffee with a burr grinder, which will produce more uniform grounds with its ceramic or stainless steel burrs (two revolving grinding plates).
8. Using Dirty Equipment
Coffee makers can collect a lot of gunk in the form of coffee oils, bacteria, yeast, and mold (kind of upsetting, right?). These impurities are not only a little gross, they can also alter the taste of your coffee, producing a bitter or rancid-tasting brew. After each use, clean out your coffee carafe with soap and water (same goes for French presses, pour over systems, and other brewing equipment). You’ll also want to descale your drip coffee machine every three to six months in order to remove mineral buildup because over time, calcium, magnesium, and lime in your water can collect in the tubing and water reservoir and on the burner.
9. Not Being Mindful of Your Add-Ins
Do you take your coffee light and sweet? Research suggests the majority of us do with about two-thirds regularly consuming caloric “add-ins” like cream and sugar with our coffee. The study also found that those who don’t opt to drink their coffee black typically take in about 70 more calories each day, with the calories coming from added sugar and fat.
While there’s no doubt milk, cream, and sugar can enhance the flavor of coffee and reduce bitterness, you may miss out on coffee’s true flavor if you choose to dilute it. Instead, go easy on your add-ins and choose high-quality ingredients like a splash of grass-fed, organic milk or cream, or a plant-based milk (make sure to check the label for no added sugars). You can also try a light drizzle of maple syrup or honey instead of artificial sweeteners or refined sugar.
10. Overdoing it on the Caffeine
While coffee has tons of impressive health benefits, too much caffeine may have adverse effects, such as headaches, anxiety, insomnia, and an upset stomach. For most healthy adults, up to 400 milligrams of caffeine a day (which translates to about four 6-ounce cups of coffee) is considered safe. Keep in mind that if you brew with too much coffee or you purchase your coffee out (Starbucks is notorious for high caffeine levels, for instance), you may reach that 400 milligrams much more quickly.