The 5 Objectively Worst Ways to Prepare Coffee
Coffee is a wonderful, magical beverage that’s been perking up the human brain for centuries. Whether you’re sipping it black from a diner mug with a stoic gaze or slurping away on a heavily milked-and-sugared espresso concoction from your coffee shop of choice, a huge number of people across the U.S. and the world have made it a part of their daily fuel. Whether you believe we owe all that to some hyperactive goats or not is your choice to make, but the impact is undeniable.
The fact that coffee serves a purpose beyond pure taste introduces an interesting wrinkle, though. Because people are so in need of the caffeine contained within, I’m not sure there’s another beverage, or foodstuff, that people are willing to drink absolutely disgusting versions of. If you crack a Diet Coke or a carton of orange juice and it tastes like shit, it’s probably going down the sink. Bad coffee, though? Usually leads to a pinched nose and a highly uncomfortable chug. Outside of maybe liquor, I’m not sure there’s another liquid that people purposefully force down awful batches of on a day-to-day basis.
Now, if it’s a coffee shop distributing the sludge in question, you can simply stop going. But if it’s your own hands/beans/machine responsible for this crime against caffeine, you’re stuck figuring out how to fix it.
Along those lines, here are five ways you might be ruining your coffee…
Grind Size Matters
If you buy your coffee at the grocery store, you’d be forgiven for thinking there’s basically two basic states of beans: whole and ground. Unfortunately, the truth isn’t quite so binary. There’s a wealth of different ways to prepare coffee, and to the chagrin of sleep-addled brains, almost every single one demands a different level of grind. Dump the requisite number of scoops of a very fine, espresso grind coffee into your office Chemex, and unless your co-workers have a tooth for sour mud, you’re going to be disappointed.
This is also why old-fashioned blade grinders aren’t all that great for making coffee. Sure, they make beans into magic dust like you’re supposed to, but they do it with the precision of a chimpanzee holding a meat tenderizer, turning every cup into a crapshoot. If you decide to grind your own beans (which is one of the best investments you can make if you want to make your coffee better), a burr grinder with adjustable grind size is the way to go. If you’re using a regular old Mr. Coffee, that’s generally what ground grocery coffee is set for, but you’re opening yourself up to another problem…
Grind Time Matters
You’d be forgiven for thinking that coffee is a fairly shelf-stable product. A handful of hard brown beans, especially the kind of dark roast that resembles a bunch of shiny river pebbles, doesn’t send out the vibe of something that easily goes stale. A lot of people treat coffee like spices, where nobody’s worried about putting away the salt before it goes bad. Unfortunately, again, that’s not the case. This is because coffee beans, starting as soon as they hit air, are subject to oxidation.
Whole beans are a little hardier. Though you’ll still want to use them about as close to the roast date (which is almost always stamped or stickered on the bag for nice coffee) as possible, they’ll at least put up a fight for a couple months after opening. The problem is when they’re already ground. There’s a reason that the cacophony of a coffee grinder is constant at any good coffee shop, and why they’re not just grinding out the day’s beans before the doors open: Ground beans go stale incredibly quickly. Grinding speeds up the oxidation process exponentially, resulting in stale-tasting coffee no matter how you brew it. Most coffee pros recommend brewing within minutes of grinding, which doesn’t bode so well for the five-pound sack in your spice cupboard.
Boiling Your Beans
If you’re reading through this post and realizing that it seems like every change just gets more and more annoying… yeah, you’re not far off. You’d be forgiven for throwing up your hands, loading up your trusty drip brewer and deciding good coffee is not worth the mess. The next one — not using boiling water — is not going to make your mornings any simpler either. Though for it to make a difference, it probably more applies to people who use any of the brewing methods that would indicate they do take their coffee seriously, like pour-over, Chemex or at least a French press.
Again, I get it, this sounds like something a mean barista would tell you to fuck with you, but it’s true. The generally accepted best temperature to brew coffee is between 200 and 205 degrees Fahrenheit, a good bit below boiling’s 212 degrees. What’s the actual effect? It all has to do with extraction, same as the grind size. Water that’s not hot enough won’t extract the flavor from the grounds fully, giving you a weak-tasting cup that might come across a bit sour. Water that’s too hot will over-extract the grounds, making the coffee bitter. Coffee’s a more fickle mistress than you might have thought, but indulge its Goldilocks tendencies and it will pay off.
It doesn’t take a professional palate to realize that cold coffee, re-microwaved, isn’t the most toothsome tonic available. Regardless, for a lot of people who are happy enough to let a carafe sit cold all day, it’s a common occurrence. The problem is that, in another twist that seems borderline nonsensical, you’re actually burning your coffee when you microwave it. The same problem exists with any reheating, in fact.
You’d think a cup of bean juice would hold up to reheating better than something as complicated as lasagna, but it’s the opposite: There’s not, in fact, any good way to reheat coffee without sending all the worst bits of its flavor into overdrive. The best solution, whether it’s through a mug warmer, an insulated carafe or similar, is to never let the coffee get cold at all. You’ll save yourself a trip to the kitchen and an unpleasant cup.
Have a Civet Shit It Out
So far, the tips have been mostly for people who aren’t already coffee nerds. This one is for people who have gone way too far down the rabbit hole, or maybe more specifically, cat asshole. I’m talking about the type of coffee known as Kopi Luwak, famous for being made with partially digested coffee fruits that have been eaten and then shit out by civet cats.
Don’t drink this. It’s stupid. It’s pretty well-accepted that it’s more of a fad than any sort of genuine preparation technique. Not only that, but if you, for some reason, needed any more persuading not to drink extremely expensive coffee made from cat shit, the process is cruel for the animals involved. In the end, both you and the civets are getting fucked over.