Making Better Coffee


French Press waiting to be plunged.

If you’ve been able to tell from previous posts, my wife and I love coffee. I make some every morning before starting to work and I wanted to share some methods with you, other coffee lovers, about how to make better coffee. Lots of Americans drink coffee every single day (54% in a poll), 84% drink it regularly,  and the U.S. alone spends $40 billion on coffee each year. That’s a lot. So in an effort to save you some money by making your own, here’s how.

My two favorite ways to make coffee are French Press and Chemex Pour Over. Both of these simple methods make a coffee that tastes superior to your standard MrCoffee Drip that almost everyone uses. These machines have their place, and almost everyone I know makes coffee this way, but I promise you that if you try one of these two methods, you’ll love it. Also, I promise that I am not a coffee snob. I am not pretentious about my coffee and I’ll drink Starbucks and McDonalds coffee, Ill drink regular folgers in a drip maker, even a Keurig cup now and then, whatever, but I am telling you that using these two methods will make a big difference in how much you enjoy the coffee. Also, it will save you a ton of money vs buying premade coffee on your way to work each morning.

Fun Facts About Coffee
1/2 of coffee drinkers would rather gain 10 pounds rather than give up coffee for life. 1/2 of coffee drinkers would rather go without a shower in the morning than give up coffee. 1/2 of coffee drinkers would rather give up their cell phone for a month rather than go without coffee for a month. 58% brew their coffee the same way every morning. The average consumption of coffee per person is 3 cups.

The French Press

A simple blade grinder, the electric kettle, and whole coffee beans with an airtight lid.

You’ll need the following things:

  1. A french press pot
  2. An electric water kettle
  3. Coffee beans
  4. Coffee Bean Storage
  5. A coffee bean grinder (I recommend a burr grinder, which creates a much more even grind than the standard spinning blade grinder you get at Target, but those can work ok.)

To start, fill the kettle and boil the water.

While that is boiling, start measuring out your coffee. You’ll need a heaping tablespoon of grounds (7-8 grams) per 200 ml (~7 oz) of water. (I know these numbers are very specific and I don’t actually like to measure how much coffee I’m using. I measured the first time, figured out exactly how much coffee it took to make a full french press, and then I eyeball a close estimate to that amount of coffee poured into the grinder each time. It’s not exact, but its much faster. )

Coarsely ground medium roast beans.

Coarsely ground medium roast beans.

Grind your beans. The finer the grind (more powdery), the more bitter the taste. French press takes the most coarsely ground beans so don’t get crazy with the grinder. If yours has the ability to set grind, go with the coarsest you can get.

Pour hot water – not quite boiling – into the press juuuuuust enough to cover the beans and let them sit for 30 seconds. This process is called “bloom” and it allows the beans to absorb heat and moisture and expand. This extra bit of time will extract more flavor from the beans overall.

A bit about bloom
Bloom is an important part of the process that I am always tempted to skip, but heres why you shouldn’t. One of the major byproducts of roasting coffee is carbon dioxide gas. That gas is trapped in the cell structure of the bean and leaches out slowly over a period of a few weeks. Light roast coffee has a lot of it, dark roast coffee has a little. When you hit the grounds with hot water, CO2 is able to escape and it bubbles out. If gas is coming out, water can’t seep in, and you miss out on a lot of the flavor that can be extracted from the beans. By letting all the gas out during the bloom time, you are able to more fully penetrate the bean with the next round of hot water and get more richeness out of the coffee beans.


In the bloom process.

In the bloom process.

After 30 seconds, fill the rest of the press with water and set the filter and plunger on top. DO NOT PRESS IT YET.

Let it sit for 3-4 minutes and then press down the plunger. You’ll have some rich, creamy coffee that’s miles ahead of the drip competition. Enjoy!

Our french press makes enough coffee for both my wife and I to have about 2 full cups. On good days we start with a press, on bad days we go back for a second one. A hot, full french press is guaranteed to cheer you up just a bit, no matter how dreary the morning.

The Chemex

Chemex coffee is a good bit different than french press coffee. While french press is creamy and retains the natural oils present in the beans, a chemex uses thick paper filters to remove much of the “extra” present in coffee beans and creates a pure, simple coffee that tastes great. It’s a very different feel to the coffee, even if you use the same beans as you did with the french press.

To get started with Chemex, you’ll need the following things:

  1. A Chemex Coffee Maker
  2. Chemex paper filters (conical design to fit a round chemex with thicker paper for better filtration capability)
  3. An electric kettle
  4. Coffee beans
  5. Coffee Bean Storage
  6. A Coffee Bean Grinder

Similar to a french press, start boiling a full kettle of water.

Grind your beans. They will need to be more ground than they were from the french press. A medium grind setting on your grinder. You’ll need 6 tablespoons per 600mL (a 6 cup chemex brewer).

Unfold the Chemex filter and insert it into the top of the brewer. Make sure the 3 layered thick part lines up with the pouring spout. This thickness prevents the filter from clogging up the spout.

Rinse the paper filter to get rid of a papery taste and discard the water.

Add your ground to the filter and begin to slowly pour water over them. Here, we are going to completely wet the grounds and let sit for 30 seconds, letting the grounds “bloom“.

Continue filling the filter, don’t let it overflow, and keep adding water as the water level decreases. The time to fill a 6 cup chemex should be right at about 3 minutes 30 seconds.

Timing and Grind
For a dark roasted coffee:If your final fill time was longer than 3 minutes, your grind was probably too fine. If your final time was shorter than 2 minutes 30 seconds, you grind was likely too course. For a light roasted coffee: your sweet spot is a bit longer. Aim for 3-4 minutes. Make a small adjustment next time to the grind to get in that sweet spot. 

This method takes a little more manual  work than the french press, so I generally prefer making a pot of french press, but it can be fun for a special coffee treat or a relaxed saturday morning. Mix up your methods so your coffee isn’t always the same.

The Science Behind Timing
2/3 of a roasted coffee bean is insoluble cellulose. The other third is soluble in water. Of that soluble third, most of it is the good stuff: various organic acids and sugars. The rest are longer-chain molecules that we associate with the bitter tastes. We experience the happiest flavor balance when we can extract about 20% of the mass of the coffee. More than that and the bitter flavors start to dominate. Less than that and the flavors become thin and watery. Timing is what makes or breaks the brew process. Let a french press sit for 10 minutes and then see how much more bitter it tastes. The larger the grind size, the longer it takes to extract the good stuff. Balancing all this is part of the science of good coffee. The instructions I’ve written up here are a good guideline to get you started, but feel free to experiment.  

Don’t be afraid to spruce up your coffee with cream and sugar. 75% of coffee drinkers do, so your uncle who demands to drink it black because it’ll put “hair on your chest” is really in the minority. Try half and half instead of store bought creamers (which have a ton of sugar) and sprinkle in a little coconut sugar for sweetness. You’ll use a lot less sugar that way.

Make Your Own Pourover Coffee Maker

We learned how to make our own single cup pour over in a previous post. Come check out how to make your own for about $20! You'll be done in 2 hours.

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