Your coffee has been sourced from the best origins, grown, picked, blended and roasted to aromatic perfection. How you go about brewing it has a serious impact on whether all those complex flavours and aromas make it to your cup.

Whatever brewing method you choose, following some fundamental guidelines will ensure your coffee is served at it’s best.

Use high quality coffee beans

Start with the best quality coffee beans you can find. Specialty coffees are expertly graded for superior quality, carefully produced in exceptional regions and roasted gently – all to help ensure those wonderful flavours and aromas stay in the bean until you are ready to brew.

Beans should be used as fresh as possible, and bought within a month of roasting. Opened packets are best kept cool, dark and in an airtight container. For brewing at home, buying smaller packets more often can help avoid having unused beans hanging around too long.

Grinding your beans

Ideally grind your coffee just before brewing. Ground coffee will start to lose peak freshness straight away, staying really fresh for only 20 to 30 minutes, so it’s best only to grind what you intend to brew immediately.

Find out the recommended grind size for the equipment you are using. The longer the extraction time – how long the beans will be in contact with the hot water – the larger the grind you will need. For short extractions like espresso, grind your beans to the texture of flour. For a longer French press or drip brew you’ll need a coarser grind. If you buy your coffee ready ground, make sure it’s fresh and a suitable grind size for your specific type of coffee maker. If you think you could be getting more flavour from your beans then experimenting with grind sizes is a good place to start.

Water purity

Filtered or bottled water is best. Tap water can be okay if it’s not too hard or chlorine heavy, but if you’re really striving for that perfect cup of coffee investing in a water filter is the way to go, especially if you have hard water. Minerals in hard water make coffee taste bitter, and chlorine is best filtered out if possible. A filter will prevent limescale build up damaging machines and brewing equipment too.

Water temperature

“Coffee boiled is coffee spoiled.” This pearl of specialty coffee wisdom is an almost universal truth – water for brewing coffee (and also tea) should be off the boil. Boiling water will scald the coffee, destroy the more complex flavours and make it bitter. An exception to this rule is Turkish coffee which is boiled in the pot, using coffee produced especially to suit the brewing style.

The ideal water temperature for brewing coffee is between 95 and 96 degrees celsius. You can approximate this by wating for about 30 seconds after your kettle boils, or switching off the kettle just before it starts boiling. Using boiling water poured into a long necked pouring kettle is a more precise way to consistently get the right temperature. These are considered an essential piece of kit by baristas for slow pour coffee and drip methods.

Coffee to water ratio

For the most common brew methods a good start is a ratio between 1:15 and 1:18 is generally a good place to start. That is, one part coffee to fifteen to eighteen parts water – 1: 15 for a stronger cup, up to 1:18 for a more regular strength brew.  This translates as about 15g of coffee for a regular espresso, or around 58g of coffee for a litre of French press or pour over coffee. 

That being said, there isn’t really a perfect ratio to cover all the different brewing methods and taste preferences. Cold brew coffee for example needs a lot more coffee in relation to the amoount of water. French press users often prefer a stronger cup, so you might start with a 1:15 ratio and go as strong as 1:12.

To help calculate the best ratio for your brew, with these handy charts and coffee ratio calculator  The Little Coffee Place website has done the maths  already.

Extraction time

Start by brewing your coffee for the length of time specified for your equipment. Each brewing method and coffee maker has tried and tested timings for producing the best tasting coffee.

Use the following extraction times as a rough guide:

  • Espresso – 20 to 30 seconds

  • French press / cafetiere – 4 minutes
  • Chemex drip coffee – 4 to 5 minutes
  • Filter cone drip coffee – around 3 minutes for 400ml,  5 to 6 minutes for a litre

When using a mocha pot, stove top or Neapolitan coffee maker, your coffee is ready as soon as the coffee has finished percolating or filling the upper chamber. Take it off the heat immediately so it doesn’t start to boil.

With perfect extraction a good specialty coffee can be a cup of pure joy. Under-extraction (not brewing for long enough) won’t give the water time to bring out all those lovely flavours, sweetness and aromas, and your coffee may lack body. Over-extraction will make coffee taste bitter and muddy. With this knowledge, it makes sense to pour French press coffee as soon as it’s brewed. Leaving unused coffee in there means your second cup is sure be over-extracted.

Once you know the recommended brewing times for your equipment you can tweak and experiment (if you so desire) to get your coffee exactly the way you like it.

Brewing coffee to suit your taste

With the multitude of methods available for brewing coffee, finding the brew style you like best really is just a matter of taste. There’s no substitute for tasting the different types of brew, whether it’s getting out there and trying slow pour or cold brew in a coffee shop, or experimenting with equipment bought to use at home.

If you want to find out how to brew the kind of coffee you really love, our introduction to manual brewing methods is a great place to start.