How to Brew Ground Coffee
Essential Guide to Brewing and Grinding
Ground Coffee is personal – the right way to make it you’re way is best.
That being said, mastering a few fundamentals will help you perfect your technique. From here, we encourage you to experiment with different roasts, origins, or preparation methods.
Here are our tips to brew a classic cup of ground coffee.
The Grinding Equipment
Make sure that your tools — from bean grinders and filters to coffee makers— are thoroughly cleaned after each use.
Rinse with clear, hot water (or wipe down thoroughly), and dry with an absorbent towel. It’s important to check that no grounds have been left to collect and that there’s no build-up of coffee oil (caffeol), which can make future cups of coffee taste bitter and rancid.
If you’re using a single-serve coffee maker, check our guide for keeping your machine in top shape.
The Ground Beans
Great ground coffee starts with great beans. The quality and flavor of your ground coffee is not only determined by your favorite brewing process, but also by the type of coffee you select. There can be a world of difference between roasts, so check out our roasting types guide.
Some of the flavor factors include:
- The country and region of origin
- The variety of bean – arabica, robusta – or a blend
- The roast type
- The texture of your grind
While there are a lot of choices, remember that there’s no right or wrong — for instance, you can choose a dark, flavorful espresso roast coffee and still have it ground to be brewed in a drip system. Have fun trying and enjoying different combinations.
Purchase ground coffee as soon as possible after it’s roasted. Fresh-roasted coffee is essential to a quality cup, so buy your coffee grounds in small amounts (ideally every one to two weeks). Check out our helpful tips on how to store coffee to keep it as fresh and flavorful as possible.
And please, never reuse your coffee grounds to make coffee. Once brewed, the desirable coffee flavors have been extracted and only the bitter ones are left. Instead, check out these six ways to recycle your old grounds.
If you buy whole bean coffee, always grind your beans as close to the brew time as possible for maximum freshness. A burr or mill grinder is best because the coffee is ground to a consistent size.
A blade grinder is less preferable because some coffee will be ground more finely than the rest. If you normally grind your coffee at home with a blade grinder, try having it ground at the store with a burr grinder – you’ll be surprised at the difference! (Whichever option you use, always follow manufacturers’ recommendations when using your grinder, and be mindful of any necessary safety considerations.)
The size of the grind is hugely important to the taste of your coffee. If your ground coffee tastes bitter, it may be over-extracted, or ground too fine. On the other hand, if your coffee tastes flat, it may be under-extracted, meaning your grind is too coarse.
If you’re having the coffee ground to order, tell the professionals where you purchase your coffee exactly how you will be brewing it. Will you be using a French Press? A flat or cone drip filter? A gold mesh filter? They will grind it specifically for your preparation method.
The water you use is very important to the quality of your coffee. Use filtered or bottled if your tap is not good or has a strong odor or taste, such as chlorine.
If you’re using tap, let it run a few seconds before filling your coffee pot, and be sure to use cold water. Avoid distilled or softened types.
A general guideline is called the “Golden Ratio” – one to two tablespoons of ground coffee for every six ounces of water. This can be adjusted to suit individual taste preferences.
Check the cup lines or indicators on your specific brewer to see how they actually measure. And remember that some water is lost to evaporation in certain brewing methods.
Safety first! Of course, any time you are working with heat and hot beverages, take all necessary precautions for everyone from those preparing coffee, to those being served, and drinking coffee.
Your brewer should maintain a water temperature between 195 to 205 degrees Fahrenheit for optimal extraction. Colder will result in flat, under-extracted coffee, while too hot will also cause a loss of quality in the taste of the coffee. (However, cold brew does not need any heat.)
If you are brewing the coffee manually, let the water come to a full boil, but do not over boil. Turn off the heat source and allow it to rest a minute before pouring it over the grounds.
Coffee usually cools rapidly after being served, depending upon the container from which it is being served. And, many coffee drinkers may add cream or milk which also has a cooling effect. Ultimately, the temperature at which any individual coffee drinker will prefer their coffee is a personal preference, like so many other things that make coffee special. These are some of the reasons why it is best to serve coffee right after brewing, when it is fresh and hot – typically at a temperature of 180-185F, according to research.
Of course, with respect to drinking coffee, vs. serving, you should always allow your coffee – or any hot beverage – to reach a comfortable temperature before drinking. One study has shown that coffee drinkers typically drink their coffee at 140 degrees Fahrenheit or below.
And again, those preparing and serving coffee need to be mindful of safety, which could include factors such as the location where coffee is being served, and the coffee drinkers themselves, which can only be assessed by those preparing and serving coffee.
The amount of time that the water is in contact with the coffee grounds is another important flavor factor.
In a drip system, the contact time should be approximately 5 minutes. If you are making your coffee using a French Press, the contact time should be 2-4 minutes. Espresso has an especially brief brew time — the coffee is in contact with the water for only 20-30 seconds. Cold brew, on the other hand, should steep overnight (about 12 hours).
If you’re not happy with the taste of the final product, you’re likely either:
- Over-extracting – the brew time is too long
- Under-extracting – the brew time is too short
Experiment with the contact time until you get the right balance for your taste.
Enjoy your coffee!
Prepared coffee begins to lose its optimal taste moments after brewing, so only make as much coffee as you’ll drink. Otherwise, coffee can be poured into a warmed, insulated thermos to be consumed within an hour.
(Don’t worry – old coffee probably isn’t dangerous, just not very appealing. Always use your best judgement before ingesting anything, no matter what you read on the Internet.)
Try to enjoy your coffee as thoughtfully as it was prepared – take in the aroma, and notice the flavors in each sip. Many people have been instrumental in bringing it to your cup.
How to Store Coffee
For the best cup of coffee, start with quality beans and store them properly to maximize freshness and flavor.
Keep beans airtight and cool
Your beans’ greatest enemies are air, moisture, heat, and light.
To preserve your beans’ fresh roasted flavor as long as possible, store them in an opaque, air-tight container at room temperature. Coffee beans can be beautiful, but avoid clear canisters which will allow light to compromise the taste of your coffee.
Keep your beans in a dark and cool location. A cabinet near the oven is often too warm, and so is a spot on the kitchen counter that gets strong afternoon sun.
Coffee’s retail packaging is generally not ideal for long-term storage. If possible, invest in storage canisters with an airtight seal.
Buy the right amount ground
Coffee begins to lose freshness almost immediately after roasting. Try to buy smaller batches of freshly roasted coffee more frequently – enough for one or two weeks.
Exposure to air is bad for your beans. If you prefer to keep your beans in an accessible and/or attractive container, it may be a good good idea to divide your coffee supply into several smaller portions, with the larger, unused portion in an air-tight container.
This is especially important when buying pre-ground coffee, because of the increased exposure to oxygen. If you buy whole beans, grind the amount you need immediately before brewing.
Freezing your beans?
Freshness is critical to a quality cup of coffee. Experts agree that coffee should be consumed as quickly as possible after it is roasted, especially once the original packaging seal has been broken.
While there are different views on whether or not coffee should be frozen or refrigerated, the main consideration is that coffee absorbs moisture – and odors, and tastes – from the air around it, since it is hygroscopic (bonus vocabulary word for all the coffee geeks out there).
Most home storage containers still let in small amounts of oxygen, which is why food stored a long time in the freezer can suffer freezer burn. Therefore, if you do refrigerate or freeze your beans, be sure to use a truly airtight container.
If you choose to freeze your coffee, quickly remove as much as you need for no more than a week at a time, and return the rest to the freezer before any condensation forms on the frozen coffee.
Freezing your beans does not not change the basic brewing process.