As a kid, I could never understand the appeal of coffee. But that might have been because my grandparents were always brewing up tar-thick pots of Folgers, the plastic tub of "coffee crystals" stored in the freezer where they absorbed other scents and smells. Or because my father, God bless him, was happy to drink gas station coffee from pots and machines that had likely never been cleaned. Coffee was something disgusting, bitter and smelling of dank spaces and grime.
And then I grew up and figured out how to make good coffee. And I was hooked.
These are my personal tips for making a great cup of coffee even better, but you may have your own. If so, I want to hear them in the comments section. We can all benefit from constructive tips on how to increase our caffeine intake, after all.
1. Start with good beans.
This is simple. Don't buy Folgers. You may think it's easier just to buy coffee by the tub, but it's just as simple to buy a pound of beans at the farmers' market, local coffee shops or even your grocery store and grind the beans yourself. The coffee grinder I use cost all of $15 and has lasted for more than 10 years. And don't grind the whole bag at once; just grind enough to get you through the week and store the ground beans at room temperature in an airtight container. Use the ground beans every morning and grind another batch on your lazy Sunday. Easy.
2. Clean your machine.
This is so simple it should go without saying, but so many people (and businesses, ahem) end up with bitter coffee that can taste like chicken skin or any number of other distasteful things. The reason? Oils from the coffee build up over time, and old, dirty oil tastes disgusting. Just clean your coffeemaker on a regular basis by filling it nearly up with water and a tablespoon of white vinegar. Run it like you normally would, letting the hot water and vinegar filter all the way through, cleaning the mechanisms inside as well as your filter basket and carafe all at once. Run it once again with a batch of fresh water (no vinegar this time), and you're done.
3. Add a pinch of salt.
What? Yes. Salt. Just a pinch. And use kosher salt; the large crystals work better here. You can either add in a pinch on top of your coffee in the filter or in the bottom of your French press. The salt adds a whole other dimension of flavor and opens up the coffee in the same way that adding salt to desserts and other sweet items works wonders. You'll never drink unsalted coffee again, I promise.
4. Use a French press.
My favorite thing about a French press besides the ease and speed with which you can brew an excellent cup of coffee is how portable they are, not to mention you don't get that wet cardboard taste that sometimes results from using paper filters in a drip machine. I used to keep a $25 French press just like this at my desk at work (the plastic helped prevent it from breaking or cracking) along with a stash of ground coffee in a Ziploc bag...with a few pinches of salt already added into the mix. Put in a couple of tablespoons along with some piping hot water from the kitchen et voila: no more shitty office coffee. For further explanation as to why French press coffee tastes superior to drip coffee, check out this excellent article.
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5. Don't keep your coffee in the freezer.
If you're buying coffee in bulk, I suppose that's one thing. But if you're just buying enough coffee to get you through a few weeks, your best bet is to keep it in the refrigerator, sealed in an airtight container. This helps prevent transmission of scents from coffee to fridge and vice versa, and the cool, dark environment will keep the beans fresh. A freezer will just form ice crystals on your beans and dry them out, not to mention taking ice-cold grounds from the freezer and running scalding hot water over them is a recipe for disaster. Grind your beans as you need them or simply grind ahead for a week, as mentioned above, and you'll always have fresh and flavorful coffee.