I’ve been drinking coffee for about ten years now, mostly taking breaks when the caffeine headaches start telling me that I’ve had too much. In that time, I’ve gone from drinking macchiatos from Starbucks to drinking black drip coffee. And now, I can impart some wisdom to you on how to brew a good cup of the same at home.
If you like to keep things simple like me, there are a couple things you really need to pay attention to, and most of the rest of the details give you marginal returns on investment. Oh, and I should mention – if you want to go down this road, start drinking coffee (or at least sip it at first) without cream or sugar. If you do use cream or sugar, at least give the cup a few sips first to get accustomed to the taste, because covering the taste up should only be necessary with truly horrid cups of coffee.
The most important thing (surprisingly) is the water you use. You want to use filtered water, not tap water. Tap water leaves a strange aftertaste in your mouth, and switching to filtered water produces a cleaner taste. Brita or Pur filters, filtered water from the fridge, or store bought filtered water all have worked for me in the past.
The second most important thing is to grind your coffee beans fresh. For drip, it doesn’t really make a gigantic difference whether you use a burr grinder or a cheapo blade grinder – the big payoff is just in grinding fresh beans every time you want a cup. Burr grinders with variable grind sizes should be set to medium – too small and the espresso-like grinds trap the water for too long, which can sometimes result in overflows in regular coffee makers or just really slow brew times.
After that, it’s a matter of your preparation tools. My current preference is to use a Chemex coffee maker, which pretty much just holds coffee grinds in a filter while you pour hot water in. To boil water, any stovetop kettle will do.
Chemex coffee makers look beautiful, are simple to use, and also produce smooth, delicious coffee with very low levels of bitterness. I bought one about six months ago after reading up on alternative coffee making systems, and it’s been one of my favorite additions to the home. In case the marketing materials confuse you like they did me, I made a simple video showing how the pour process works.
Normal coffee makers that vaporize the water tend to produce bitterness which I got used to over the years, but using a Chemex instead and boiling my own water makes the result much smoother, even for extra-bold coffee blends. A good cup should be like an ambrosia of flavors, deep and complex – kind of like the first sniff from a freshly opened bag of beans. It makes a lot more sense to drink coffee without cream or sugar once you’ve gotten rid of the bitterness and burnt tastes!
The result (if you follow these steps) should come kinda close to the general quality of high-end drip shops like Philz in SF, and even better than Starbucks or Peets drip, in my opinion. Actually, the Philz system is pretty much the same thing as the Chemex – just pouring hot, just-under-boiling-point water through regular filters held in place. The difference there is that they make some really incredible fresh ground blends with all sorts of interesting spices.
For extra credit, you can find zero-day beans from a local coffee roaster, and that will give you a coffee drink like nothing you’ve ever tasted, but that effect wears off in about a day, then you’re left with simple, delicious coffee.
That’s about all you really need for awesome drip coffee – good filtered water, fresh ground beans, and a good drip system like a Chemex. The fancy stuff is not really gonna help much more. You can get away with just fresh ground beans and good water in any case, but the Chemex is so much smoother that I think it really belongs in the list. Good luck in your search for coffee nirvana!