How To Make The Perfect Cup of Coffee

Once upon a time…

On a sunny Sunday morning I made a change to the way I make my morning coffee.  Which is not that interesting.  What is interesting is: when I took the first taste I almost dropped the mug because it was soooooo good.  It was the best cup of coffee I could remember tasting.  Ever.  Dark, sensuous, chocolatey, rich and clear, with zero bitterness and a highway maximum caffeine wattage.

It was perfect.

But…

Things are not SCIENCE unless they are repeatable.  So the next day I tried the same method and reaped just the same results; a smouldering whirlwind of orgasmically coffee-scented bliss.

When it worked for the third time I tweeted this:

…and promptly collapsed under the tsunami of messages saying: how? How? HOW?

I wasn’t sure if I was going to write about it but, if the end times are indeed upon us (which is pretty much the mood in the U.K. today) then at least we can go at them with the good java.

So, here’s how:

How to Make The Perfect Cup of Coffee…

When I was a young boy, on any given Thursday that I was absent from school I met my grandmother in town, mostly to hang out (my grandmother was cool).  Our agreed rendezvous point was a small section of wall on the edge of a tree- laden park next to a shop that roasted it’s own coffee.  I remember standing there, bright dawn sun warming on my face, no sound save that of the leaves whispering their silky undulating chorus, thinking that this smell, the smell of freshly roasting coffee carried to me like a gift on the low cool morning breeze, could be the greatest smell in all of the world.

It is years later now and I am a man grown but that smell still gets me just as much as I did on those halcyon days.  Over the years I have tried, tested, and experimented with different beans, methods, and gear with the enthusiasm, fervor, and zealotry of a junkie alchemist.  So it’s not that surprising that I’ve picked up at thing or two.  Which is all a very polite way of saying: brace yourself because the level of detail in this post may amaze (or terrify) you.

Ready?  Cool.

Ingredients:

This is kind of obvious.  Coffee and water, right?  Here are the coffee beans I currently use:Beans

Why beans and not just ground coffee?  We’ll get to that a little later on.  For now the important points are: these beans are single source (not mixed up), organic (so no weird chemicular aftertaste) and wet-processed (which, of all the ways of processing coffee is the one generally leading to the least contaminants).

(As a bonus they are also Fairtrade which, whatever your thoughts about it, is probably better than not Fairtrade.)

And for the sake of completeness here is a H2O molecule:IMG_6663

(Because: Science)

Method:

#1 – Filter The Water

There are a bunch of reasons to do this, the most commonsensical being: the vast majority of your brew is water; better water = better coffee.  Water quality can vary dramatically from region to region (I live in Edinburgh and the water is pretty good, but when I lived in London it was pretty dire) but whatever the condition of the initial sample filtering can only make it better.

I use this Brita Water filter and change the filter out whenever I remember to:IMG_6672

#2 – Hand Grind The Beans for Each Batch

This is by far the most important step for a veritable wealth of reasons, the most important being: coffee beans contain an array of very friable (meaning fragile) oils, many of which evaporate within about 20 minutes of the beans being ground (whether they are sealed in that time or not.)   You may or may not know that many of the cool as fuck health benefits and all good stuff you read about coffee comes from these oils.  And as well as the health benefits, a lot of the good taste is there too.

Why not use a mechanical grinder?  2 main reasons.  First, many mechanical grinders generate a lot of heat – something else that can destroy the good oils; second, a lot of commercial products smash the beans rather than grinding them resulting in a whole load of different size pieces, which will absolutely bang-fuck your brew (‘bang-fuck’ is the actual technical term so don’t blame the messenger).  Different sized pieces extract at different rates during the brewing process, some will under extract and some will over extract, which sounds technical but actually just means that you will end up with uneven, weak, shitty-bitter and generally piss poor coffee.

Hand-grinding takes longer but results in a measurably superior cup.

A ceramic burr grinder is best.  I use this Hario with a pretty fine grind setting:

Ta-daaaaa!
Ta-daaaaa!

#3 Load Up The Percolator and Go Go Go!

If you have completed steps 1 and 2 your coffee will already be leaps and bounds ahead of the pack whatever method you choose for brewing (of which there are myriad).  That said, method can still make a substantial difference.

IMG_6669Before ‘Eureka Sunday’ I was using a simple french press which had Become Destroyed (don’t ask.)  Not wanting to forsake my morning cup I pulled this percolator down from a shelf, dusted it off and fired it up.

While the hand-ground beans + filtered water were good in a french press, when combined with this drip-feed percolator they become sublime.  (Helpful hint: I put my mug upside down on top of the percolator while brewing which means the mug is toasty warm when I pour my first cup.)

A word about brands: I have tried a bunch of different percolators but have honestly found negligible differences between the super-cheap and the uber expensive.  I bought mine from Amazon for about 20 bucks a few years ago and it is as good or better as much more expensive versions.

A word about amounts:  I am aware that ultra purists weigh both their coffee and their water but 99% of people are not going to do that so, in this case I think a general rule of thumb is more useful.  The biggest mistake most people make when brewing coffee is using too little coffee, so use the maximum amount of both coffee and water that your maker allows (assuming percolator) and then scale the ratio down from there.  If you prefer a weaker brew the best way is to brew strong and then water down with hot water until you get to your preferred strength, this way you do not sacrifice taste.

(Side note:  My pot says it holds 10 cups but it’s actually more like two mugs.  If you can somehow get 10 cups of coffee out of a regular-sized pot you are obviously a terrorist.)

#4 Drink, Enjoy, Create, and Be Happy.

Really good coffee is, to my mind, one of the greatest and simplest pleasures in life.

Viva la Revolucion.

Final Note: Bear in mind you don’t have to do all the steps.  Even if you only change one of these things your coffee will be measurably better.  In the world of coffee as in life, even the smallest positive change is better than no change at all.


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188 Replies to “How To Make The Perfect Cup of Coffee”

  1. A great post, as we love coffee in this house. You have answered a question or rather a recent debate as we stood in a supermarket viewing the choice of beans ground or unground. Now I am off to buy a hand grinder and as I haven’t seen one for sale in Ireland, I will google it. Thanks James.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I don’t even like coffee and you have got my mouth watering and my interest piqued. Thank you for liking my poem ‘time’ as it brought my attention to you and your blog. Ill be heading to check your music out next!.
    See ya and take care!

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Hey,

        So I have spent my morning reading through some of your blog posts whilst listening to your music. And I can happily say that I have spent my morning well. Just thought you should know.
        I will be looking forward to reading and listening to more of your future works.
        See ya and take care.
        -Dilwin.

        Like

  3. I’ve also found Sumatran Highland beans to have the best taste. I haven’t had it in a long time, though. I like the side-fluffies: sweetened, condensed milk; cinammon; vanilla, etc. In America, what you show there we call an automatic drip coffemaker, and what we call a percolater is an electric kettle pot with a lid, with a metal tube on top of which sits a stainless steel, perforated, shallow bowl to hold ground roast. The water goes into the kettle (it’s tall; it can even be a huge thing) and when the water heats, it rises up the tube to spill into the bowl, falling vack down into the kettle. This is my first visit to your site, also, so hello! Thanks for liking my poem.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Wow, I did not know that! Thankyou, I will try and find one to examine ;-)
      I really love those beans too, tho have found that they only really sing in the ‘automatic drip feed coffeemaker’ thing – they are not as yummy as Columbian beans if used in a French press.
      Welcome. And keep up the great work.
      Have a good day,
      – J

      Like

      1. I’ve got something on the “back burner” for you… It’s not as nice as your song, River, though (but, it’s the thought that counts, anyways).

        Like

  4. Love, love LOVE. I think coffee is more addictive because of the nostalgia it brings versus caffeine content. I have always wanted to write a bathroom book compilation of various people’s stories on coffee and their relationship with their brew. One of my first blog posts was about when I began experimenting with my potion.

    Thank you for sharing your knowledge of the beans themselves. Switching to organic coffee has saved my life so I found your additional insight helpful as to why this even made a difference. Cheers!!!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thankyou so much for this, you made me smile, SO wide. ;-)
      I couldn’t agree with you more, and I think your book sounds like a fantastic idea.
      You are more than welcome for the article – the beans are the key! ;-)
      Cheers right back, have a beautiful day,
      – J

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I think this is perhaps my favourite post that I have ever read on your blog. (Which is, I must add, rather a feat! Every time I read a new post I am convinced it is my favourite.) Alas: I am at writing camp now and must suffer through many horrors (see: instant coffee) in order to get my caffeine fix. But the moment I am home again, all of this will change! You just wait and see. ;)

    Like

    1. INSTANT COFFEE!!?
      If you lived closer, I would bring you a care package. Writing camp requires only the best caffeine ;-)
      In all seriousness, can’t wait to see what you come up with.
      Big hug, great to hear from you,
      Thanks for reading,
      – J

      Liked by 1 person

  6. This makes me want to start drinking coffee again. You write beautifully. would like to your music as well, but my son has got some ruckus going on downstairs. I shall listen to it later tonight

    Liked by 1 person

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