I’m no coffee expert, nor am I a coffee snob. As I mentioned before, I enjoy Dunkin Donuts coffee quite a bit. Wawa too. There’s no shame in that. I’ve also mentioned my preference for brewing my own coffee. Some people think they need to leave their home for an ideal cup, but not me. I enjoy a cup I make myself more than one I could buy anywhere, even with cheap beans. How? Well, long ago I decided that it was very important to know how to make good coffee.
I drink several cups every morning, so purchasing it pre-brewed would be a huge expense. It would also be a huge pain in the ass, because I typically only leave my home one or two days a week. I also consider a good pot of coffee to be an essential entertaining tool. The first thing I do when I’m having company is set a pot up to brew on command. I know very few people who don’t like coffee, and those that don’t typically agree that it smells wonderful. In fact, if I’m having people to my home for the first time, I’ll brew it before they arrive. A home that smells like coffee feels cozier and homier.
I’m a small business owner, and because of that our financial situation can fluctuate quite a bit. As a result, the quality of the beans we buy varies as well. Today I am drinking Maxwell House. Yes, I just admitted that. And you know what? I’m not embarrassed. Sure I’d prefer to buy Bucks County Coffee, as it is wonderful and comes from my town. I’d also enjoy Dunkin Donuts grounds, or Newman’s Own grounds. However, I can make do with just about any bean, and make a cup of coffee that both my husband and I can enjoy. How? Salt.
If you add a pinch or a dash of salt to your grounds before brewing, you will remove a lot of the bitterness of the bean. Of course, coffee is bitter. It will still be bitter. But when you add salt, it dampens the bitterness that is experiences on your taste receptors, allowing more flavors to come through. The bitter compounds are still there, you just can’t perceive them in the same way anymore.
I learned this from my husband. He learned it from an old waitress that he used to work with. I always figured that she probably knew what she was talking about, and since I could taste the difference i just went with it. If you’d like the opinion of a coffee expert on the matter of salt in your brew, check out this very interesting and informative article on the issue.
Moving on from the salt, we have the issue of brewing method. I use a drip machine that fills an insulated carafe. I usually fill it with hot water while I prepare the grounds. This allows the initial ounces of coffee to retain their full heat, rather than give their heat away to warm the carafe. I find pre-warming especially important when I am filling a thermos or a fancy carafe to put out on a formal dinner table. It really makes a difference.
Now, if you’re using a drip coffeemaker that fills a glass pot with a heating element under it, listen up. What you need to do is pour about 2 ounces of water in the bottom of the pot before you turn it on to brew. Maybe a little more or less, what you’re trying to achieve is a very small layer of water that completely covers the bottom of the pot. Why? Because the heating element turns on the moment you start the brew. It’s heating the glass right from the start, and 30 seconds later when the first drop of coffee hits the hot glass, the brew will scorch. It will only happen to the first few drops, but those drops are enough to make the whole batch taste off. That bit of water on the bottom will heat and give your coffee a buffer to fall into.
Do you use a percolator? If you do, you simply must use brackish water. Percolating is a harsh way to get coffee from grounds. The grounds being constantly re-wet by boiling coffee produces far more bitter compounds than any other brewing method. Use more salt and you’ll taste less bitterness.
Measuring. Lots of people have problems with measuring. “How much should I use?” is a question I’m asked almost every time someone is brewing a pot while I’m around. Here is the best answer I can give to that question. On your typical drip coffeemaker, it will be labeled with how many “cups” it makes. On an 8-cup machine, you will get 4 regular sized coffee mugs of coffee. I swear, if someone produced a coffee machine with accurate measuring I’d buy it no matter the cost. (Ounces! Tell me ounces, people!)
Here is the most critical piece of information: use a tablespoon as your scoop. Just take it away from your set of measuring spoons and put it into your coffee container. If you have some sort of cute coffee scoop, stop using it. Trust me, a tablespoon is better. If you use a tablespoon, you will always and forever have your method down. It won’t matter where you are, if you can find a tablespoon you can make a pot of coffee the way you like. So, get used to the tablespoon!
A good place to start is 1 tablespoon per mug. For an 8-cup coffee pot, that would be 4 tablespoons. This will make a slightly weaker than average brew. Go from there. My mother-in-law likes her coffee very strong, so when she visits I use almost double that amount. For myself, I use 4 slightly heaping tablespoons for my 8-cup pot.
Lastly, if you’re on a drip system, don’t forget to clean your pot and your machine. I know it sounds simple, but a lot of people don’t think about it. Use a combination of white vinegar and coarse salt to clean just about every part. The pot itself should be cleaned with a soft bristled bottle brush, using vinegar as the liquid and salt as an abrasive. Same goes for the basket in which your filter sits. Your filter too, if you use a permanent one. For the machine itself, fill it with a 50/50 mix of vinegar and water and run it through a brew cycle. Dump out the grossness that’s in your pot, and run plain clean water through the brew cycle twice. If it still smells strongly of vinegar, do it a third time. It will still have a weak vinegar smell when you’re done. That’s normal and will go away when you brew your first pot of coffee. Don’t worry, the coffee won’t taste like vinegar.
Follow these tips, and you’ll be an at-home-barista. If you learn how to brew a perfect cup of coffee, you can impress your friends and save yourself some money. A word of advice, though: don’t mention the salt right away. Wait until someone says, “Wow, this coffee is great!” Once they realize the difference it made, you’ll have no problem explaining why you put salt in their coffee.