Ultimate Guide to Making the Best Coffee

Ultimate Guide to Making the Best Coffee

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Whether you’ve just decided to explore the world of home-brewed coffee or if you’re an experienced coffee aficionado, there’s a lot to know about making a great cup of joe. 

This guide starts from the beginning, telling you not only how to make coffee taste better at home, but also delivering the goods on different types of coffee-brewing methods—there are a lot! We’ll also share tips and tricks from professional coffee connoisseurs to help you level up and start making the best tasting coffee at home without going through all that trial and error. 

By reading this article, you’ll not only skip the lines and save money on your daily trips to the cafe—you’ll be making great coffee like a professional barista. Be careful though, because your undercaffeinated friends and neighbors might just start showing up at your house!

Coffee: not all of us drink it, but those who do, love it. And there are as many opinions about the best way to make coffee as there are coffee drinkers. 

But what exactly is coffee? 

Before telling you all about the roles of water quality, water temperature, bean weight, and grinder quality play in the coffee-making process, let’s spill some tea about what makes coffee, coffee.

What Is Coffee?

Coffee is made from coffee beans—but more on that later. 

We call them beans, but they’re really seeds, and they come from the fruit of the Coffea plant—a shrub or small tree that grows in tropical and Southern Africa and tropical Asia. 

The earliest evidence of coffee consumption dates back to the 15th century, and today, drinking coffee is a multi-billion-dollar industry. 

Once harvested, coffee beans are roasted. The degree to which they’re roasted depends on the desired flavor, referred to as a light or dark roast. There’s disagreement about which roast is stronger in terms of flavor, light or dark, and which roast has more caffeine. 

The most accurate answer to that question is, “it depends!” 

But really, there isn’t much difference between light and dark roast in terms of caffeine content.  What is different between the two different kinds of roasts, however, is flavor. Light roast is tangy and even a bit bitter, while dark roast tastes more charred.

There are lots of different ways to turn ground coffee beans into coffee: espresso, French press, and cowboy coffee, for example. Keep reading to find out more about all the different methods to make coffee. Some you’ve heard of, while others are recent developments in the world of coffee making.

But no matter the method you choose, the basic idea behind any coffee-making method is pushing hot water through ground coffee beans, producing a rich, dark, stimulating beverage that’s known for a bitter and acidic flavor. 

Coffee is usually served hot, but not always; many people prefer their coffee iced, and many drinkers like their java mixed with cream, sugar, or even chocolate.

Above all, knowing as much as you can about coffee beans, and how to grind them, is the first step in making the best coffee, says Shabbir Nooruddin for the coffee blog Coffeeinmyveins.com. So let’s begin there.

The Ultimate Guide to Making the Best Coffee: What to Consider

The Beans

“The best machine in the world will not make good coffee if the grounds are old or stale,” Nooruddin says, and the secret to fresh coffee grounds is to grind your beans just before brewing.

Nooruddin also recommends sourcing fresh coffee beans from third-wave roasters and coffee companies. “Third-wave coffee” refers to a trend in the coffee industry toward prioritizing artisanship, aesthetics, and traceability in their ingredients, products, and business practices.

But Alex Azoury, founder and CEO of HomeGrounds.co, a site teaching world-class coffee skills for the home barista, says finding the right beans for you can take some trial and error.

“That’s because you have thousands of choices,” he says, and what you most enjoy is all about personal taste. 

“If you can, find a high-quality local roaster who roasts your beans after they’ve been ordered,” he continues. That way, you’ll get freshly roasted beans from someone who knows and understands coffee, and, Azoury adds, “you’ll know the beans haven’t been sitting in a bag for months.”

“This also allows you to try smaller amounts of different coffee beans and pick your favorites,” he says. 

Bean-sourcing alternatives are online roasters or a coffee club that will send you locally roasted beans to sample, he adds. For example, Nooruddin says for the best beans, check out Trade Coffee or Atlas Coffee Club for regular deliveries.

Pro Tip: Avoid buying beans at the grocery store or from Amazon—even if they say they’re freshly roasted. 

The Scale 

After picking your beans, the next priority is to get a good scale. And once you do, Noorudin says to make that scale your best friend.

“Not only do you want to measure out coffee with the scale,” he says, “you should put the cup or French press on the scale, tare it”—find out the weight of the cup or mug on its own without any liquid in it—” and even measure your water by mass,” Noorudin says. 

“This gives you a very repeatable process to make a consistent cup of coffee each and every time,” Noorudin says.

Weighing your beans is especially important because most brewing methods, when done correctly, rely on having the correct ratio of coffee beans to water, Azoury continues. 

“Weighing your beans before grinding them ensures that you get this right,” he says, “and also means you’re not left with a surplus of pre-ground coffee to store. Of course, you can adjust the amount of coffee once you’ve figured out the strength and flavor that suits you,” he adds.

But there are some advantages to brewing a big batch of coffee, according to Ali Sumi of Yesplz.coffee. “Obviously, no one likes to waste coffee,” he says, but using as much of the brewer’s capacity as possible creates a more stable brewing environment. 

“More mass in the brewing environment helps with creating a thermal flywheel effect,” he says, but you may need to grind a touch more coarsely for this to combat the increase in overall brew times.

Tip: The method of brewing dictates how many grams of coffee you need and the type of grind, so check this before you start. Ali says a good guideline is 1 gram of beans for every 15 grams of water. “If you don’t have a scale, you can use a ratio of 2.5 tablespoons of coffee for every one cup of water,” he says.

The Water

Understanding the role of water quality and water temperature in the coffee-making process is also very important in making the best coffee. 

“Use the correct water temperature and good-quality water,” Azoury says, adding, “you can’t simply pour boiling water over any coffee and expect a decent brew.” 

Drip coffee, in fact, is typically around 98.5% water, says Asser Christensen for the CoffeeChronicler.com

“Switching from tap water to soft bottled water will be a significant improvement,” he says. “Calcium and bicarbonates block fruity and floral flavor notes,” he adds, making soft bottled water especially important if you brew light roast specialty coffee around the house. 

“Depending on where you live, your tap water may be fine,” Azoury says, but he recommends staying away from distilled water.

“Your water should contain a few minerals,” he says. “I’d steer away from mineral water for the opposite reason; it has too many minerals, which affect the taste of your finished coffee.” 

“If you’re using bad water then it doesn’t matter what else you do, your coffee will taste bad,” Azoury continues.

It’s also important to understand that different coffee drinks require different water temperatures, and the brewing temperature is not the same as the serving temperature, Azoury says. 

On that note, here’s a quick overview of water temperature in relation to different kinds of coffee drinks. The standard temperature for brewing coffee is between 195 and 205 degrees Fahrenheit. But if a cafe served coffee at that temperature, then they’d probably be battling a few lawsuits, Azoury says. 

The generally accepted water temperature for an Americano is between 160 and 170 degrees Fahrenheit, and for a French press coffee, 200 degrees.

Another water temperature hack is to heat your water to different temperatures based on the roast level of your bean, Christensen says. 

“If you have light roast coffee on hand, you can use boiling water,” he says. However, if your beans are medium or dark roast, stay somewhere between 185 and 200 degrees fahrenheit. 

“Darker coffees tend to over-extract easily,” he continues, “so keeping the temperature a bit lower helps to make a smoother and more balanced cup.”

If you’re using a French press, just boil the water and leave it to sit for a minute before you pour, Azoury recommends.

Tip: Buy a thermometer to remove any guesswork. 

The Grinder

Next, let’s talk about the grinder. Having your own coffee grinder gives you the flexibility to try lots of different styles of brewing. For example, if you’re in the mood for an Americano, then you’ll want a really fine grind, Azoury explains. But if you’re fixing a French press, your beans should be medium to coarsely ground. 

Manual grinders are inexpensive and a good place to start,” Noorudin adds.

No matter what, you should always grind your beans just before brewing your coffee. 

“Use a medium-fine grind for drip and pour over and a very fine grind for espresso,” Noorudin recommends.

Tip: Purchase a burr grinder for a consistent grind. 

With this in mind, the next step is to choose your favorite method of brewing coffee. Let’s now take a closer look at all the different ways ground coffee becomes the drink we all know and love.

What Is the Best Way to Make Coffee?

You’ve committed to making coffee at home. The biggest question you’re faced with is, what is the best way to make your coffee?

Ready to experiment with different coffee-making techniques? Here’s a comprehensive list broken down into the following methods of brewing, with expert tips and tricks included:

  • Steeping
  • Brewing with pressure
  • Filtration and drip
  • Boiling

Find one that seems interesting for you, or experiment with them all. Here’s your ultimate guide to making the best coffee.

Steeping Coffee

When it comes to making coffee, this method is a classic, so we’ll begin here. Steeping, or immersion, means mixing coffee grounds directly into hot water. Filter the grounds off, and you’re left with a tasty cup of joe. 

Wait too long, however, and the results are bitter. Don’t wait long enough, and you’re left with watery mud. Perfecting the steeping method takes practice. Here are some examples of ways to make coffee by steeping.

French Press

French Press

Super affordable and easy to use, French press coffee is the granddaddy method of making coffee using the steeping process. The resulting concoction is also distinctive. Some people actually prefer French press coffee over all other varieties! 

Here’s how it works: once coffee grounds and hot water are adequately steeped in a beaker, the mixture is then pushed by a metal mesh filter to the bottom of the beaker, separating out the coffee grounds from the liquid coffee. Sounds pretty simple, but it does take some practice. 

Sumi Ali from Yesplzcoffee.com says when making French press coffee, don’t depress the filter all the way. “Just depress the mesh plunger an inch or so,” he says, “and decant the entire brew out of the French press.”

This helps avoid agitating the grounds more than necessary, which can lead to a bitter over-extracted flavor. 

More importantly, he says, “decanting the entire brew right away will help fight over-extraction by effectively ending the brewing process by removing the brewed coffee from the spent coffee grounds.”

Pros:

  • Many people prefer the taste of French press coffee 
  • Makes a lot of coffee

Cons:

  • Distinctive flavor isn’t for everyone
  • Takes some practice to get just right

The SoftBrew

The SoftBrew

A relative newcomer to the world of steeped coffee, the SoftBrew works a lot like a French press. Here’s how it works: fill the “SoftBrew” stainless steel filter with ground coffee, add hot water, and let steep  for up to eight minutes. 

The difference is in the filter. The SoftBrew filter has hundreds of thousands of super tiny holes. It will work for coffee grinds of any size, much finer than a regular French press.

Pros:

  • Fast and easy coffee, comparable to a French press
  • Available in a wide range of sizes

Cons:

  • Fragile; not for traveling
  • Not a lot of versatility—makes a regular cup of coffee

Coffee Bags

Coffee Bags

Making coffee with a coffee bag is a lot like making tea. To make coffee this way, put ground coffee in a filter bag, insert it into hot water, and let it steep. It’s cheap, easy, and most importantly it works—which is why a lot of people use this method while camping. 

It tastes okay when done right, but it takes some practice to not over or under steep the coffee, making watery or overly bitter brew.

Pros:

  • Cheap, easy, and portable
  • No equipment required except the filter bag

Cons:

  • Loses the taste of fresh-ground beans
  • Coffee bags are pretty wasteful

Vacuum Pot or Siphon Coffee

Vacuum Pot or Siphon Coffee

Here’s a coffee-brewing method you may not have heard of: making coffee with a vacuum pot, sometimes called siphon coffee. This approach takes a lot of time and effort, but many love the taste. 

A vacuum pot has two chambers. Heating and cooling the lower vessel changes the vapor pressure, pushing the water into the upper vessel where the coffee grounds are located. The water then falls back down into the lower vessel, and your coffee is ready.

Pros:

  • Great taste, once you master the process
  • Appeals to gadget-heads

Cons:

  • Slow process
  • Best with medium/coarse grind

Brewing with Pressure

You can make a lot more than just espresso by brewing coffee with pressure. No matter what, brewing with pressure is quick and makes a potent dose of whatever kind of coffee you prefer.

Here are some examples of coffee-making methods that extract coffee from beans using pressure.

Espresso Machine

From pricey to affordable, espresso machines all work pretty much the same way: they push pressurized water through a chamber—sometimes called a puck—of finely ground coffee beans and then through a filter, producing what is universally recognized as a shot of espresso.

Sumi Ali from Yesplz.coffee has some words of advice when making espresso. “Purge baby purge,” he says. “The number one thing we recommend with home espresso is purging at least two ounces of water through the group head just before pulling a shot.”

Pros:

  • Nothing compares to the kick of espresso
  • Quick brewing

Cons:

  • Can be pricey, and cheaper models are low quality
  • Large and tough to clean

Stovetop Espresso Brewing (Moka Pot)

Stovetop Espresso Brewing (Moka Pot)

You don’t need an espresso machine to make espresso, however. There are stovetop options as well, sometimes called Moka pots or Italian coffee makers.

Moka pots use a three-chambered brew process. Once the water in the bottom chamber comes to a boil, steam creates pressure and pushes water up through the coffee grounds resting in the top chamber.​ 

With practice, this process can make a passable shot of espresso, but most people feel it just isn’t quite the same.

César Díaz, founding editor of Spanish-language coffee website Todosobrecafe.com, says it’s important to boil the water separately, and then fill the Moka pot. 

“Once you do that,” he says, “put the coffee in the filter and close the pot.” Once the Moka pot is on the stove, put it on medium heat and wait for it to boil. Otherwise, your coffee might end up too bitter. 

“The more time the ground coffee is in contact with heat, the more it can become bitter,” he says. 

Pros:

  • Cheap and portable
  • Quick and easy once you get the hang of it

Cons:

  • Takes practice and finesse
  • Not quite true espresso

AeroPress

AeroPress

A favorite among travelers, portable AeroPress machines are three-piece manual tools that combine the right water temperature, air pressure, and coffee grind to make regular coffee, cold brew coffee, and even what some call “almost-espresso.”

Pros:

  • Best for a standard cup of coffee
  • Highly portable

Cons:

  • Needs a filter
  • Only makes two cups at a time

Filtration, Pour Over, and Drip Coffee

The next three ways of making coffee all work on similar principles, and the names for these methods are pretty interchangeable: filtration, pour over, and drip coffee. 

These are some of the most popular ways to make a cup of coffee, including different methods of filtration, cold brewing, and drip machines, to name only a few. 

Overall they’re pretty simple: grind your beans fresh and put them in a filter of some sort. There are specific filters that fit over the top of your coffee mug, for example. Then, simply pour the hot water over the filter. 

As the water passes through the ground beans, coffee emerges from the other end. The average home coffee maker works just like this.

When trying a filter method, Sumi Ali from Yesplz.coffee says to rinse your filters first. “A little rinse of hot water will help knock down the inherent papery taste and also help preheat your brewer,” he says.

Drip coffee, on the other hand, works by heating water to boiling or near-boiling. The steam then rises through a tube system, reaching a drip area. Once there, the heated water flows through the grounds and filter, producing coffee. 

Pour-over coffee is the most basic of all these methods, and fans love the clean, clear, and light-bodied flavor. 

There are a lot of ways to make coffee through filtration, pour over, or drip. We’ll start with perhaps the most familiar: the electric percolator.

Electric Percolator

Electric Percolator

Using filtration, electric percolators are common in greasy-spoon diners everywhere. A little like an electric tea kettle, there’s a long stem extending from the bottom carafe, where the water is, to the top basket, where the coffee grounds are kept. 

As the water heats in the percolator, steam and water rise up the stem and move through the coffee grounds, producing coffee. Electric percolators boil the coffee multiple times, which can lead to over-extraction, producing coffee that is often too bitter for discerning coffee fans.

Pros:

  • Easy for beginners
  • Lots of nice coffee aroma

Cons:

  • Requires a lot of cleaning and maintenance
  • Not the best flavor

Chemex Brewer

Chemex Brewer

Next up, the Chemex Brewer. Using a Chemex takes some practice in terms of coffee volume, water temperature, and grind size, but they work pretty much like any other pour over method: insert grounds, douse with water, enjoy. 

Chemex Brewers produce great-tasting coffee, however, and have a much larger capacity than other styles of drip coffee makers.

When using a Chemex, David Hoch of Bigcupofcoffee.com says to use a medium-coarse grind. 

“You want the grounds to ideally immerse the natural flavors in the water,” he says. “If the grind is too fine or large there will be hints of acidity and overly sweet notes.”

Pros:

  • Makes large quantities
  • Lots of flavor and aroma

Cons:

  • Takes practice—it’s easy to over extract
  • Not for small batches

Hario V60

Hario V60

A portable drip coffee option is the Hario V60. Again, there’s not much new under the sun in terms of how the V60 makes coffee—hot water, a filter, and coffee grounds. But what’s different about the V60 is its unique cone dripping system. 

There’s a large hole at the bottom funneled by spiral ribs on the sides.​ It takes a bit of practice to get just right, but the Hario V60 makes a great-tasting cup of joe and is highly portable, an advantage it has over the Chemex. The Hario V60 won’t cost you much money, either. Bonus!

David Hoch of BigCupofCoffee.com has some advice for using a V60. 

“A light roast is better,” he says. “Pour over coffee features very gentle flavors and aromas, and a pour over highlights these notes the most.”

 You can use a medium roast, but you “may miss some of the subtleties,” Hoch says.

Pros:

  • Fast and tasty brew
  • Good for camping and travel

Cons:

  • Some learning curve
  • Requires hard-to-find filters

Kalita Wave Brewer

Kalita Wave Brewer

The Kalita Wave Brewer works very similarly to the Hario V60. The primary difference, however, is that while the filter in the V60 is conical, the filter used in a Kalita is flat-bed, making for longer dwell-time—a technical term among coffee aficionados that refers to the amount of time when water and coffee are in contact. 

There’s also a bit of a steeper learning curve than the Hario V60. Those who’ve used a Kalita, however, swear by its flavor and consistency.

Pros:

  • Quick brew, easy to clean, portable
  • Very affordable

Cons:

  • Special filters often need to be special ordered
  • Not much control

Vietnamese Phin

Vietnamese Phin

The Vietnamese Phin (or dripper) is a single-cup dripper, perfect for making one cup of coffee in just five minutes. 

It’s also easy to use, working in much the same way as the other drippers we’ve mentioned, but without a filter. Just pour the water and let physics take care of the rest. 

What sets the Phin apart, however, is that it’s known for making particularly good iced coffee in addition to the hot stuff.

Pros:

  • Easy to perfect
  • Light, portable, durable

Cons:

  • Single serving only
  • No filter can equal coffee “sludge”

Portable Plastic Cone (or a Melitta Ready Set Joe)

Portable Plastic Cone (or a Melitta Ready Set Joe)

The portable plastic cone is drip coffee stripped down its most basic elements: it’s literally just the part of a drip coffee maker where you’d put the filter. Put that over your mug, pour the water, and you have your coffee. 

Okay, it might not be the highest-quality cup of java you’re ever going to drink, but it’s cheap, easy, and perfect for travel or camping. 

Pros:

  • Virtually no cleaning
  • Cheap, easy, and portable

Cons:

  • Not the highest-quality coffee
  • One mug at a time

Beehouse Dripper

Beehouse Dripper

Originating in Japan, the Beehouse Dripper is easier to use than other kinds of drippers. It drains slowly and works well with even a coarse grind. It’s also really cool looking. 

Overall, the Beehouse Dripper is a great, entry-level option for any coffee lover just getting into the world of pour over coffee. Plus, they’re small and compact and will look great in any kitchen!

Pros:

  • Uses standard filters
  • Made from ceramics (holds heat longer than plastic)

Cons:

  • Ceramics are fragile
  • Not portable

Clever Dripper

Clever Dripper

More of a steeping/pour-over hybrid, clever drippers combine the best of both worlds. What’s different is the little valve that lets you control when you drain the coffee into the mug. 

Otherwise, it works pretty much exactly the same as any other kind of dripper: water, grounds, and a filter. 

Let it steep for as long as you’d like, and then put the filter over the cup. By doing so, you open the valve and the coffee flows into your mug, giving you more control over the results. Clever, ain’t it?

Pros: 

  • More control than other drippers
  • Cheap, easy, and portable

Cons:

  • Made from plastic
  • Not super aesthetically pleasing

Cold Brew

Cold Brew

People who love cold brew coffee, really love cold brew coffee for the singular flavor and less acidity in the mug than other methods of making coffee.

To be clear, cold brew coffee is not iced coffee. The secret ingredient to cold brew coffee is time. That, and cold water. 

When making cold brew, Tony Raffa of Zombie Donuts, a Georgia– and South Carolina–based coffee and donut chain known for its cold brew, says to first grind the coffee beans to medium-coarse. 

Then, add the ground beans to a container before adding the cold water. A good ratio is one part coffee to four parts water, he says. Next, allow the mixture to steep at room temperature anywhere from 12 to 24 hours. 

If you want it a little stronger, you could also cut your ratio in half, says Sumi Ali from Yesplz.coffee, “and when in doubt, err on the side of more ground coffee,” he says.

After steeping, strain the grounds with a coffee filter or cheesecloth into another container. 

“Steeping the beans longer will bring out subtle flavors that can make all the difference,” Raffa continues. “Some coffee beans may taste better with a longer brew time, but others may turn bitter if they steep for too long,” he adds.

And maybe best of all, the coffee stays fresh for up to two weeks!

Pros:

  • Unique taste, smoother results
  • Less caffeine crash

Cons:

  • Take a long time to make
  • Getting the right grind takes some practice

Nitrous Coffee (Nitro Cold Brew)

Nitrous Coffee (Nitro Cold Brew)

A trendy, cold brew-like method of making coffee, nitro cold brew is nothing more than cold brew pumped full of nitrogen. This gives the coffee a crisp, sweet flavor, and it even has a head like a big pint of Guinness. 

You can find nitro cold brew at trendy coffee shops, but you can also pick up a home-dispensing system and try it for yourself.

Pros:

  • Light and creamy flavor
  • Very cool

Cons:

  • More concentrated caffeine
  • Equipment investment required

Boiling Coffee

From one of the trendiest ways to make coffee to one of the oldest and most basic methods of brewing java: just boil it, because ultimately all you really need to make coffee is ground coffee, water, and heat. Here’s what you need to know about cowboy and Turkish coffee.

Cowboy Coffee

Cowboy Coffee

Probably the oldest way to brew a cup of joe is called cowboy Coffee. 

All you need to do to make cowboy Coffee is to boil water in a pan and dump in the coffee grounds. Let them steep, and once they’ve settled to the bottom, pour out the coffee. 

Just go nice and slow to be sure not to get any grounds in your mug.

Pros:

  • No fancy equipment required—not even a coffee pot
  • Great for camping

Cons:

  • Not the best tasting
  • Easy to get coffee grounds in your mug

Turkish Coffee

Turkish Coffee

If you think cowboy Coffee is old-fashioned, Turkish Coffee is even OLDER. Turkish Coffee has been around since the 1300s, and it’s potent. All you need to make Turkish Coffee is a coffee pot, finely ground coffee (the fine grind is important), and hot water. 

Making Turkish Coffee a lot like making cowboy Coffee, with one vital difference: you’ll simmer the brew a few times, producing a potent, aromatic, and highly flavorful concoction that’s frothy and creamy. 

Pros:

  • Quick and easy, minimal equipment
  • Unique flavor

Cons:

  • Easy to burn
  • “Silty” coffee is common

There you have it: the ultimate guide to making the best coffee. There really are a lot of options. No matter which coffee-making method you choose, however, patience is always a key ingredient, says Alex Azoury from HomeGrounds.co.

“You can’t hurry the actual process,” he says, regardless of your preferred method of making coffee, “but you will get faster with practice. Getting that practice requires a little patience, so don’t give up too soon. You’ll be amazed by the rich, aromatic coffee you produce, and your friends will be impressed by the taste—and your skills,” he says.

William Kennedy

William Kennedy is a staff writer for RAVE Reviews. He lives in Eugene, OR with his wife, daughter, and 2 cats, who all politely accommodate his obsession with Doctor Who and The Smiths.