The trusty automatic coffee maker has secured a permanent place on millions of kitchen counters around the country, and rightly so: it’s hard to beat the “set it and forget it” convenience. But when it comes to taste, there’s a lot that can go wrong and leave you with bitter, sour, flat, or otherwise bad tasting coffee. Keep reading below to find out the 9 biggest mistakes you may be making and how to fix them to get the best coffee possible from your coffee maker:
1. Dirty coffee maker
We’re all familiar with that bitter, dirty taste that builds up when you haven’t cleaned your coffee maker in a while. Keeping your coffee maker clean is one of the most obvious steps in brewing good coffee at home, but it’s also one of the easiest to overlook. A little bit of regular maintenance will pay off in the long run with better tasting coffee! Here’s all you have to do:
- Every time you make coffee: Wash your coffee pot with soap and water. Don’t just rinse it with some water and call it clean. If you have a thermal pot, be careful to avoid scratching or cracking the inner lining.
- Once a week to once a month, depending on how frequently you make coffee: Mix equal parts water and white vinegar - enough to fill your coffee pot. Run two “blank” brew cycles (with nothing in the basket) with this solution, then wash the pot thoroughly with soap and water. Finally, run another blank brew cycle with the maximum amount of water your coffee maker will hold - this will rinse away any lingering vinegar smell. There are all sorts of cleaning products on the market, but the water and vinegar combination is by far the cheapest and just as effective.
2. Old beans
In general, starting with fresh, high quality coffee beans is the most important step you can take to make a delicious cup of coffee. So if you buy your beans from a supermarket bulk bin or off the shelf from a corporate coffee brand, the best you can hope for is a mediocre pot of coffee. Your coffee will taste the best if you use it as close to the roast date as possible. This is because all the flavorful and aromatic compounds inside the coffee beans start to break down immediately after roasting. At Craft Coffee, we work extensively with artisan roasters around the country to ensure that the beans in your coffee subscription box aren’t roasted until the last possible minute before shipping them to you.
Avoid the beans from the supermarket bulk bin. Image courtesy of Flickr user lgkiii
3. Your beans were ground too soon
You know what we said above, about the compounds breaking down inside the coffee beans? Grinding your beans before you’re ready to use them speeds up this process exponentially.
We know it’s tempting to set up your coffee maker before you go to bed. But trust us when we say you’ll notice a profound difference if you grind your beans right before brewing. And there’s something about an amazing cup of coffee in the morning that changes your whole outlook on the day ahead of you. If you’re a zombie in the mornings, opt for a coffee maker that has a high quality burr grinder built in.
4. Wrong grind size
Choosing the right grind size for your coffee maker comes down to the shape of the filter you use. For flat-bottom filters you should use a medium grind. If your grinder has a setting for “automatic,” “drip,” or something similar, chances are it’s geared towards flat-bottom filters. For cone-shaped filters, you should grind your beans on a medium-fine setting. See our grind guide below for reference.
5. Bad water
Water makes up over 98% of brewed coffee, so it makes sense that you need to start with good water to make good coffee. The question is, what makes your water “good” or “bad” for coffee?
Essentially it comes down to the mineral content. If you live in an area with good tap water that isn’t too soft or too hard, it’s probably perfect for making coffee. However, if your tap water is hard (has a high mineral content), it may leave you with coffee that tastes flat and boring. On the flip side, soft tap water (low mineral content) can lead to coffee that tastes overwhelmingly bitter. If you think your water is the problem, we suggest using bottled water for your morning brew. Don’t use distilled water though! Its mineral content is far too low to make a delicious cup of coffee.
If your tap water is too soft or too hard, using bottled water may be your key to better coffee. Image courtesy of Flickr user stevendepolo.
6. Too much/too little coffee
Regardless of how you make your coffee, there’s a “golden ratio” of water to coffee that will give you the best results: 16 parts water to 1 part coffee. An easy way to remember this is for every 16 ounces (2 cups of water) you should use about 1 ounce of coffee. You can adjust this ratio a little bit in either direction depending on how strong you like your coffee, but don’t venture too far or you’ll end up with a bad pot of coffee. See our coffee maker brew guide for the right amounts of water and coffee to use for different batch sizes.
7. You’re eyeballing it
Making coffee is more like baking than cooking - precision is important, and small changes can make a huge difference. There’s almost no way to hit the right amount of coffee if you’re eyeballing it. We highly recommend you measure your coffee using a scale. This may seem kind of crazy at first, but we think it’s actually one of the easiest ways to remove guesswork from the coffee making equation. We guarantee you’ll notice a huge improvement in the quality of your coffee if you use a scale every time you brew.
Use a scale to weigh your coffee before brewing - you won’t turn back!
8. Water isn’t hot enough
The #1 problem with most automatic coffee makers is that they can’t heat the water to the right temperature for making coffee. There’s a pretty narrow temperature range, between 195-205, that produces the best results - any higher and the coffee will taste burned and bitter, any lower and the coffee will taste weak and sour. Most automatic coffee makers don’t even get anywhere close to 195. And a lot of the ones that do are unable keep the water consistently in that temperature range during the brew cycle.
You can check the water temperature in your coffee maker pretty easily by placing a kitchen thermometer in the brew basket and running a brew cycle without any coffee grounds. If the temperature is coming up short of the 195 mark, here’s what you can do: run a full pot of water through your coffee maker before brewing to “prime” the machine, then use the pre-heated water for the actual brew cycle.
9. Leaving the pot on the hot plate
While it’s a convenient way to keep your coffee hot until you’re ready for a second cup, leaving the pot on the heating plate after brewing will quickly make the coffee taste burnt and bitter. If you’re brewing a batch of coffee to serve over a period of time, we recommend transferring it to a clean, insulated thermos or vacuum pot immediately after brewing.
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