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.
Top: Medium grind for flat-bottom filters. Bottom: Medium-fine grind for cone-shaped filters.
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.
What did we miss?
Do you have any good tips for getting the most out of your coffee maker that didn’t show up on our list? Share them with us on Facebook or Twitter!
You’re already receiving the world’s best coffees each month in your Craft Coffee subscription box - but are you sure you’re getting the most delicious cup possible? We’re proud to introduce the "How To Make Coffee" section of our website, featuring instructions for the six methods we use to brew and evaluate coffees in our office: automatic coffee makers, French press, Hario V60, Chemex, Aeropress, and Kalita Wave. Our detailed, easy-to-follow brew guides are perfect for trying out a new brew method or even just brushing up on your skills! Continue reading below for a breakdown of all the information you’ll find on our all new brew guide pages.
Short on time? Making coffee for a group? Want a bolder brew? “At A Glance” covers the basics: how long it will take, how much coffee you’ll end up with, and what qualities you can expect in your cup. You can also find out how long each Craft Coffee bag will last you. All of our guides are fine-tuned to work perfectly with the specific amount of coffee you receive in your bags, meaning less wasted coffee more caffeinated bang for your buck!
Have you ever made it halfway through a recipe before realizing you don’t have that one vital piece of equipment? We made sure to include every little thing you’ll need to make a perfect mug in this section - even the mug itself! - to avoid any surprises that would keep you from enjoying your delicious brew.
Some brew methods - namely single cup pour over - work best with specific amounts of coffee and water. With automatic coffee makers and French presses, though, you can make anywhere from a single serving to a large batch for a group. The “Measurements” section on the coffee maker and French press pages makes it easy to scale up or down as the occasion demands.
"Before You Brew" has tips on how to achieve the best cup possible at home with each brew method, as well as more general suggestions that will help you step up your coffee game overall.
All of our instructions are based on the tried and true methods that our tasting team uses to evaluate the world’s best coffees each month. We’ve broken them down into easy-to-follow steps accompanied by detailed photos, making it simple to check whether you’re following each step properly.
We’d love to see our new brew guides in action. Show off your skills and your favorite Craft Coffee on our Facebook or Twitter!
Let’s face it: coffee labels can be confusing. Sometimes it feels like trying to crack a code to unlock secret knowledge, when really it should be simple and straightforward. We want to make it easy to look at a Craft Coffee label and learn about our featured coffees, so take a peek at the label below and keep reading for a pain-free breakdown of what it all means.
While it may look sparse, this label actually tells you everything you could want to know about this particular coffee, which is featured in our February coffee subscription box. The label is designed to give you an easily digestible snapshot of the “who, what, where, when, and why” of each coffee. Let’s dive in and tackle each of these categories…
Who was involved?
Producer: A coffee producer is a farmer, a group of farmers, or a farm itself (seen in the label above). Sometimes a group of farmers in an area will join together and form a cooperative society (coop), which helps them earn more money for their beans.
Roaster: This is the company that buys the “raw” coffee beans from producers around the world and turns them into delicious, toasty brown, ready-to-brew beans. We work exclusively with roasting companies that roast their beans in small batches to give them the special attention they deserve.
Farmers from the Sopacdi Cooperative in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, whose coffee is featured in our February coffee subscription box.
What kind of coffee is it?
Variety: Just like apples or tomatoes, coffee beans come in an array of shapes, sizes, and colors. These different types of beans are called varieties, and each variety grows best in different conditions. For example, the varieties grown in Ethiopia are much different than the ones grown in El Salvador.
Process: Coffee beans are the seed of a fruit that looks a lot like a cherry - the fruit is even referred to as a coffee cherry. Before roasting, the beans need to be processed to remove all the fruit from the outside of them. There are numerous ways to do this. Washed, natural, and pulped-natural are the most common ways to process coffee beans, and each affects the flavors of the beans differently. Don’t worry about what these mean just yet - we’ll get into the nitty gritty in future posts.
Coffee beans are drained after being processed in the “washed” method.
Where was it grown?
Origin: Coffee is produced all across the world, from Central and South America to Africa and Asia, and coffees taste remarkably different between countries. Even within each country, specific regions (like Huila in the label up top) are known for the distinct characters of their coffees.
Elevation: In general, coffees grown at high elevations are sweeter, more flavorful, and flat out better than coffees grown at low elevations. This mainly comes down to the cooler temperatures at higher elevations, which allow the coffee beans to develop slowly over time. Elevation is measured in meters above sea level (commonly abbreviated as “MASL”) and the best coffees grow well above 1,000 MASL.
Mountainous regions such as this one in Colombia produce some of the most spectacular coffees in the world.
When should I drink it by?
Roast Date: A bag of coffee beans doesn’t “go bad” the way a gallon of milk or a piece of fruit does, but your cup will taste best if you use the beans while they’re fresh. We work closely with roasters to make sure your coffee isn’t roasted until the last possible minute before shipping. It costs us more for expedited shipping, but it’s worth it to put the freshest possible beans in your box each month.
Why is this a Craft Coffee?
Our Notes: You can think of our tasting notes as a guide to help you find the flavors, aromas, and cup characteristics that our expert tasters loved so much about each coffee. But our notes are by no means definitive. Everybody’s palate is different, so we encourage you to seek out your own unique tasting notes in your cup!
The Bourbon variety (which comes in red and yellow forms) is one of the most commonly grown coffee varieties worldwide.
And there you have it - a basic and functional understanding of what you’re really looking at on each Craft Coffee label. We think understanding the label sets you up to have an amazing coffee experience by giving you the context you need to appreciate each coffee for its distinct qualities. Stay tuned for more advanced courses in the future, where we’ll dig deeper into different origins, varieties, and processing methods to highlight why each coffee we feature is truly unique.