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Best Coffee Brewing Practices

By Cook's Illustrated Published September 2009

Honing in on the perfect brewing technique can be difficult, but struggle no longer. Our best brewing practices are sure to streamline the process.

For perfect coffee, the goal is to extract 18 to 22 percent of the soluble solids—coffee brewed below this range tastes sour and weak; above this range, it tastes harsh. Here are tips to ensure ideal extraction and flavor.

1. USE FILTERED WATER A cup of coffee is about 98 percent water, so if your tap water tastes bad or has strong mineral flavors, your coffee will too. We found that the test kitchen’s tap water masked some of the coffee’s complexity, compared to coffee made with filtered water. Don’t bother buying bottled water—just use a filtration pitcher.

2. HEAT WATER TO THE PROPER TEMPERATUREThe most desirable flavor compounds in coffee are released in water between 195 and 205 degrees. A panel of our tasters judged coffee brewed at 200 degrees as having the fullest, roundest flavor. Once water has boiled (212 degrees), let it rest 10 to 15 seconds to bring it down to this temperature.

3. USE THE RIGHT GROUND, BREW FOR THE RIGHT TIMEThese two components go hand in hand. Brewing time will dictate how you grind the coffee. In general, the longer the brewing time, the coarser the grounds should be. As a rule, brewing should take 4 to 6 minutes. Don’t try to adjust strength by changing the grind; grounds that are too fine for your brewing method will result in overextraction, while grounds that are too coarse will be underextracted.

4. ADD THE RIGHT AMOUNTThe norm is 2 tablespoons of ground beans for every 6 ounces of water. If you prefer stronger or weaker coffee, adjust the amount of grounds per cup; changing the amount of water can easily lead to over- or underextraction, because the less water you use, the shorter the brewing time and vice versa.

5. KEEP THE POT CLEANSince coffee beans contain oils, every time you brew a pot, some oil is left behind. Over time, that oil will make your coffee taste rancid. Rinse your pot with hot water after each use and scrub all brewing apparatus with hot soapy water at least once

a week.