21 Easy Hacks to Instantly Improve Your Coffee at Home

My wife knows that I am always looking for good coffee information to pass on to you all, so when she came across an article on HuffPost titled How To Make The Best Coffee At Home, According To 6 Experts, she posted it in the Procaffeination Facebook Group so I would be certain to see it. I think she also knew that even though the authors didn’t ask ME, I would have my own tips to share. And she was right!

Brewing better coffee at home does not have to be complex, expensive, or difficult. It does not necessarily involve anything different in your kitchen (although you can get crazy and drop some cash if you want to upgrade your equipment) and some of these tips are so easy you will be surprised you didn’t think of them yourself. The following “hacks” are guaranteed to improve your morning cup and some of them won’t cost you a cent.

The Five Ms of Coffee Preparation
Free Ways to Upgrade Your Brew
First: A word (or two) about consistency
Water Quality
Rinse Your Filter
Get the Water Temperature Right
Use the Right Grind
Use the Correct Coffee to Water Ratio
Wait for the Bloom
Warm Your Cup
Clean Your Equipment
Brew Your Coffee More Frequently
Buy Your Coffee More Frequently
Store your coffee properly
Best Bang for Your Buck
Better Coffee
Procaffeination Scale of Coffee Goodness
Not as expensive as you think
Use Your Barista
Improve Your Add-ins
Buy Some New Stuff
Get a New Brewer
Extras
Improve Your Grind
Add a Frother to Your Repertoire
Conclusion
Links

In Italy, arguably the birthplace of coffee culture, coffee professionals speak of the 5 Ms: Miscela (blend – the type of coffee), Macchina (machine – the type of brewing equipment), Macinino (grinder – what type of grind and grinder), Manutenzione (maintenance – of the equipment), and Mano (hand – skill of the person doing the brewing). I’m going to show you the ways that small changes in these areas will allow you to quickly, easily, and inexpensively ramp up the quality of your morning cup.

Free Ways to Upgrade Your Brew

If you are like me, if there is a no-cost way to make something better, I’m definitely interested. Here are some ways to improve your coffee that won’t cost you a penny.

First: A word (or two) about consistency

The most important thing you can do to improve your coffee is to be consistent with your brewing technique. That means you have to use the same amount of water, the same amount of grounds, and the same EVERYTHING. It is the overall consistency that will allow you to make small changes and tweak individual steps to perfect your brew. I mean, think about it. If several steps of your brewing process change at the same time, how will you know which one made the difference in your cup? No matter the way you brew it: automatic drip, French press, or pour over – using consistent practices will make it easier for you to improve your end result.

Water Quality

Brewed coffee is 98.5% water. That statistic alone should tell you that the quality of your cup is largely determined by the quality of your water. Growing up in Cleveland, every August the temperature of Lake Erie would rise to a point that algae would bloom. That blooming imparted a distinctive odor and TASTE to the water coming out of the tap. And it did not go away when it was boiled (I don’t know if they have managed to fix that… I’ll have to call someone). If you are in the United States (or anyplace) on a municipal water supply, your coffee will be greatly improved by removing the chlorine. Heck, even a Brita will make a difference. Filter your water or if necessary, do like professional cuppers: use bottled water. Remember, 98.5%

Rinse Your Filter

This one is easy, quick, and free. If you use a paper filter to brew your coffee, rinse it in warm water before you use it! There are residues that remain on the filters from the manufacturing process that will impart an off-flavor into your brewed coffee. A quick rinse will remove the bulk of them giving your finished cup an immediate quality boost.

Get the Water Temperature Right

Tip #6 is to make sure the brewing temperature of your water is between 195º and 205º for optimal extraction
Please share this image all you want!

The optimum temperature for proper coffee extraction is 195º F (90.6º C) to 205º F (96.1º C). Too low and you won’t get all the oils, aromas, and flavors, resulting in a weak and possibly sour brew. Too high and you will over extract, leaving you with a bitter-tasting cup. So, grab a thermometer that can handle that temperature range (I used my meat thermometer) and see what temperature your brewing water is.

If you use an automatic drip, this can be a little tricky. You want to get the temperature of the water just as it is entering the basket, so you might have to get a little creative. Maybe some sort of small, prewarmed cup or bowl that will fit in the basket? Then get that temperature. If your automatic drip temperature is low, deposits from your water may have built up on the heating elements. Try giving your maker a good cleaning and descaling, then measure again. If that doesn’t work, you also could try preheating the water before putting it into your coffee maker.

If you use a kettle for your French press or a pour over, you probably don’t want to pour the water straight in after boiling. Water boils at 212º F (100º C) which is hotter than you want. Check the temperature at the distance it would hit the ground coffee. If the temperature is too high, all you will have to do is wait a bit before pouring the boiled water onto your coffee.

Use the Right Grind

If you buy your coffee in cans at the supermarket (I promise, no judgment here!) you may have noticed that it usually says “all-purpose grind.” What this means is, it is coffee that has been pre-ground so that it can be used with most types of brewing equipment. It will be too coarse for a good espresso or Turkish style coffee and too fine for a proper French press because excess grounds will find their way past the mesh on the plunger. For an automatic drip, like a Mr. Coffee, or a percolator, though, it is just right. Most coffee brewers come with instructions that indicate the type of grind that is appropriate for it. If it isn’t “all-purpose,” it might be time to purchase your coffee in whole bean and grind it to the proper level.

Use the Correct Coffee to Water Ratio

If you make your coffee with a machine that uses pods (Keurig), capsules (Nespresso), or pads (Senseo), you can skip this one. The premeasured packaging takes care of it for you. For the rest of us, the rule of thumb is 2 tablespoons of coffee to 6 ounces of water. If you want to go deep into the weeds, I wrote at length about this in these two posts.

THE PROPER COFFEE TO WATER RATIO (AMERICAN-STYLE!)
THE PROPER COFFEE TO WATER RATIO (METRIC STYLE!)

Wait for the Bloom

Roasting coffee creates carbon dioxide (CO2) in the bean which slowly releases as time goes by but bursts out when the whole beans are ground and prepared for brewing. This outgassing CO2 slows down the extraction process because the gas pushes against the water you are trying to brew with, making contact with the grounds less effective. To combat this, let your grounds soak up some of the water before adding the rest of it. This will “pre-treat” your grounds and let you experience full extraction. I wrote about this process here:

Warm Your Cup

One of the most important parts of coffee enjoyment is that your coffee be at a proper drinking temperature. To me, there is nothing less satisfying than a lukewarm “cup o’ joe.” Try pre-warming your cup with some hot water. The mass of the cup will retain some of the heat from the hot water and help keep your beverage warmer longer. This hack is especially useful if you use a travel mug. They are usually extra-large and insulated as well, so this can help keep your java warm all the way to the bottom.

BONUS HACK: If you use a pour over to brew your coffee, warm the pour over filter holder, too!

Clean Your Equipment

When you brew coffee, oils are released. That’s where all the aromatics and flavors are. All well and good, but those oils, along with small bits of coffee can remain on the surfaces and in the tiny crevices in your brewer. Over time, those residues can become rancid, imparting off-tastes to your morning cup. And don’t forget about the water reservoir. A 2011 study from NSF International found that about half of drip coffee makers had yeast and mold growing in their reservoirs. The average home coffee reservoir had a higher germ count than bathroom door handles or toilet seats. Every now and then, break out the soap and water and give your coffee maker a good scrubbing.

And don’t neglect your grinder, if you use one. Those oils and bits of coffee stick to their bits, too. If you have a blade grinder, a piece of bread on the blades can go a long way toward getting out the oils but remember to use a damp cloth and get into the tight spots. For my antique burr grinder, some uncooked rice run through the apparatus has done a good job of cleaning out all the teeth and gears. You’ll be surprised how much comes off.

Brew Your Coffee More Frequently

Coffee sitting in a pot getting cold, requiring you to microwave your second cup or, even worse, coffee that sits for hours on a heating plate, is not the premium experience you want. Brew smaller batches so you are getting fresh coffee when you drink it. If you really just want to save the time spent brewing multiple pots, invest in an insulated carafe. It will keep your coffee warmer, longer without having as great an impact on the taste.

This should go without saying, but only use your grounds once for the best experience. A second extraction is going to have less flavor, less caffeine, and more bitterness. You might save a few pennies, but really, is it worth it?

Buy Your Coffee More Frequently

If you are buying your coffee in a can at the grocery store, you can probably skip this one. I’m not judging, it’s just that those kinds of coffees can be YEARS old and this particular hack will not make much of a difference in your enjoyment. If you are buying whole bean, and especially if you are buying from a local roaster, you have upped your game to the level that this can make a significant improvement to your individual cups. Coffee reaches its peak flavor six to twelve hours after roasting and holds near there, assuming proper storage, for several weeks. My recommendation: Buy in small batches – less than a thirty day supply – and store your coffee properly.

Store your coffee properly

Oxygen is the number one enemy to your coffee’s flavor. The more oxygen it is exposed to, the faster it will stale. Enemy number two is kitchen odors. Coffee absorbs smells and flavors pretty well, and we don’t want that. We want our coffee to only taste like coffee. An airtight container is good for both of these enemies. The plastic lid on the can is good. The resealable bag you bought it in is good. The best is an otherwise airtight container that has a one-way release valve. That way, as your freshly roasted coffee outgasses CO2 it won’t pop the top off.

Store your coffee in a cool, dark, dry spot. I personally do not like to use the refrigerator because of the other food odors that are present. I also do not like a freezer because the compartment is an extremely dry environment and may evaporate the oils that equal flavor in our beans. Also, both of these introduce the problem of condensation when the coffee is brought into the cold air of the fridge or freezer into the warm, moist air of the kitchen. Moisture is not good for coffee – until you brew it!

Best Bang for Your Buck

I assume you have already done the “Free Hacks” listed above. Here are some ways to improve your coffee by spending a little more than you currently are. Take your time with these, maybe try them one at a time and see if they make enough of a difference to you to justify the added expense.

Better Coffee

I do not judge people based on the type of coffee they drink (I do, however, judge people based on how they judge other people’s coffee habits). Tastes are different and everyone comes at coffee in their own way. When I started drinking coffee, it was whatever was cheapest, brewed in an old percolator for the primary purpose of staying awake to write a paper in high school. I have come a LOOOOOOONG way.

But this is about you and your coffee. What type of coffee are you drinking now? Where are you on the Procaffeination Scale of Coffee Goodness?

Procaffeination Scale of Coffee Goodness

An old jar of instant when I feel like it
Coffee in little foil packs I “borrow” from the office
Whatever is cheapest at the grocery store
Standard Commercial Pre-ground
Better Grocery Store Pre-ground
Better Grocery Store Whole Bean
National Chain Pre-ground
National Chain Whole Bean
Specialty Coffee Online
Local Roaster
By Growing Region, Local Roaster
Expensive (Kona, Blue Mountain, etc)
Crazy Expensive (Kopi Luwak, Geisha, etc)

Whichever level you find yourself, if you want to improve what is in your cup, I am going to suggest that you try moving up a level or two.

Not as expensive as you think

Now that you have relaxed from your knee-jerk I-Don’t-Want-To-Spend-That-Much reaction, let’s take a closer look.

I get it. Coffee at one of those trendy coffee snob places can seem expensive. In fact, you could reasonably expect to pay three times as much as you do for a national grocery brand. Let’s say you are at the “Standard Commercial Pre-ground” level in the above chart. If you are buying Folgers at the grocery store, you are paying approximately $6.36/pound. That means your coffee ends up costing you about 5 cents per cup. If you were to buy your coffee from a local roaster, you can get fresher, better sourced beans for about $20/pound. That’s right. For 15 cents per cup, you could be drinking dramatically better coffee.

15¢!

Heck, how much do you pay when you go to a fast food place? And let’s not even talk about one of those national café chains. The cost for your morning indulgence might only be a dime more than you are paying now for inferior coffee, and the taste improvement could be dramatic. Aren’t you worth it?

Admittedly, if you are already buying $60 per pound Kona Special Reserve, stepping up to Geisha at over $600 per pound might be a leap. If you are at this stage of your coffee habit, I suggest you get a nice CEO job, win the lottery, or get rich relatives to leave you something in their wills.

Use Your Barista

Now that you are buying better beans at your roaster, take advantage of the help that is available. The people that work in coffee shops are almost always interested in coffee. Interested people learn things and people that learn things love to share them. Pick your barista’s brain.

Your barista has likely tried many more coffees than you. Find out what they like about specific coffees and give them a try. You need to find out which coffee growing region produces the flavors you like. Are you a fan of the musty complexities of Indonesian coffees? Do you like the bright acidity of Ethiopian? Maybe you are more a devotee of coffees produced in Latin America. You will never know until you try them and compare their differences. Remember up in Buy Your Coffee More Frequently? Small batches are the way to try a large range of coffees as you search for “the one.” You know, you might want to invest in a small notebook so you have a record of what you like.

If your shop offers trainings or education programs, give one of those a try. Try out new equipment to see if it gives you a better cup of coffee. The options are nearly endless and so are the opportunities to positively affect the quality of your coffee.

Improve Your Add-ins

I personally have strong opinions on “creamers.” I’m not judging… I just don’t like them or most of their ingredients. I am, however, rather partial to heavy cream, something that “creamers” do not contain. If you like sweet, what’s wrong with honey, stevia, or good old sugar? Want some added flavor? Cinnamon and nutmeg go a long way, as do some of the better flavored syrups on the market. Upgrade from the trans fats and high fructose corn syrup to things your body and taste buds can recognize as food and you will likely notice a difference.

Buy Some New Stuff

Okay… If you have some money to spend, you can definitely improve the quality of your coffee by investing in better equipment. I am not going to get into specifics or make any pronouncements as to which brewer or style of brewing is best, because most of them have something to recommend them. Pick the one that best suits your lifestyle and wallet.

Get a New Brewer

As I have said before, I do not make judgments. Almost everyone who likes coffee has had their humble beginnings. I myself started on an old percolator. I eventually upgraded to a second hand Mr. Coffee, before moving on to a “fancy” Braun automatic drip with a metal mesh filter. Since then I have used other automatics, French presses, Chemex, pour overs, vacuum pot, Moka pot, Vietnamese phin, cold brew, espresso, Nespresso, Keurig, Senseo… I have even cooked coffee in a pot over an open fire. For the most part, you want a consistent brewer that delivers water at the proper temperature for extraction. If you use decent coffee, as well, you will end up with a decent cupful.

Extras

At that point, it’s just a matter of what kind of doodads you want in addition. Do you want a timer so the aroma of your freshly brewed coffee wafts over and seductively draws you from your bed? Do you want a built-in grinder? Do you want to have a hard connection to your water supply? Do you want an insulated carafe? Do you want simplicity and ease? Do you hate grounds in your cup and want to use a filter? These are questions only you can answer. I suggest you invest some time looking through prospective models so you can decide. Good luck!

Improve Your Grind

There is a clear progression here: Pre-ground to whole bean ground at the purchase site to grinding before brewing with a blade grinder to grinding before brewing with a burr grinder. Wherever you find yourself on this spectrum, moving to the right will improve your results.

As I said earlier, buying your coffee pre-ground in a can at the grocery store leaves you subject to potentially stale coffee. Some groceries have burr grinders in the coffee aisle so you can buy whole bean while you are there and shorten the grind-to-brew window. If you buy at your local roaster, they will also grind your beans with a burr grinder.

A blade-type grinder is generally cheap and performs as you might expect but it does have some limitations. The action of the blades chops the coffee, rather than grinding it. This means you will end up with uneven particle size, which can impact consistency in extraction. There is also the danger that you can generate too much heat, scorching the beans and negatively impacting the taste of your brewed coffee.

A burr grinder uses rotating toothed cylinders to actually crush and grind the beans, giving a more uniform particle size. An old hand-cranked grinder like mine does a fine job, but there are electric models on the market, as well. They are generally more expensive than blade type grinders.

Add a Frother to Your Repertoire

Do you like fancy coffee drinks like a cappuccino, café latte, latte macchiato, or café au lait? Then you need a way to foam, froth, and otherwise texture milk. The fancy espresso machines have a steam wand but obviously your French press does not. A frother is a relatively inexpensive way to add a bit of flair to your coffee. Most units will also warm the milk.

Conclusion

Whew! That was a mouthful. Congratulations on making it to the end of 21 Easy Hacks to Instantly Improve Your Coffee at Home. I hope you are able to take away at least a couple of useful tidbits that will improve the enjoyment of your coffee. Is there one that you have identified that you are going to tackle right away? I also hope it encourages you to spend a few extra pennies on yourself if it comes to that. I used to joke about it but I am reminded that life IS too short to drink bad coffee. If you like this sort of thing, sign up for the email list. I will protect your privacy and you will be among the first to find out when my book is being published (I’ll probably give you a discount, too!).

For a daily dose of Procaffeination, join us in our free Facebook Group.

How To Make The Best Coffee At Home, According To 6 Experts

Go Back to…

The Five Ms of Coffee Preparation
Free Ways to Upgrade Your Brew
First: A word (or two) about consistency
Water Quality
Rinse Your Filter
Get the Water Temperature Right
Use the Right Grind
Use the Correct Coffee to Water Ratio
Wait for the Bloom
Warm Your Cup
Clean Your Equipment
Brew Your Coffee More Frequently
Buy Your Coffee More Frequently
Store your coffee properly
Best Bang for Your Buck
Better Coffee
Procaffeination Scale of Coffee Goodness
Not as expensive as you think
Use Your Barista
Improve Your Add-ins
Buy Some New Stuff
Get a New Brewer
Extras
Improve Your Grind
Add a Frother to Your Repertoire
Conclusion
Links

Tim

I am Tim Bruno, a former Kona coffee farmer promoting the soon to be released Procaffeination: A Coffee Lover’s Dictionary and several other coffee-related products. I will soon be adding a YouTube channel to my efforts. Stay tuned!

Recent Content