Coffee 101

I was recently reminded just how much of a difference fresh-ground beans makes. A friend of mine was visiting and poured out a cup of the coffee I’d just ground and brewed. I watched his eyes go wide with surprise as he stated, “Wow, this is great!” … it was a cool compliment.

Coffee 101: How to Make the Perfect Cup

The fact is that while the price on that bag of beans might look shocking, coffee is one of the most affordable luxuries in life. You can get great coffee for just a few cents per cup, so you might as well get the best quality beans possible. In the long run, it will cost less than visiting the local coffee house, and taste much better than the pre-ground cans you can purchase.

The most important factor of quality in your cup of coffee is freshness. This means coffee beans that were roasted within the last week, and ground just before brewing.

Freshly roasted and ground coffee beans is the top trick to improve flavor in your cup |
Make sure your beans have been roasted within the past few weeks and grind just before brewing.

A close second to freshness determining quality is your equipment. A good drip coffee maker will brew at about 200 degrees, and the total time it takes to finish brewing should be under 6 minutes.

Why is all this so important?

Coffee, the beverage, is an extract of the ground bean. Without it being heated at the right temperature, it doesn’t fully extract the essential ingredients that we call “coffee”, and it will usually contain too much acidity.

Step-by-step, here’s how to serve the perfect cup:

1. Start with clean equipment – Never use soap to wash your equipment. Instead, soak removable parts separately in baking soda and give them a thorough cleaning under water. The “insides” of a coffee maker can be cleaned out by brewing regular white vinegar – just make sure to run a few pots of water through after the vinegar.

2. Use purified water – 98% of what we call “coffee” is actually water, so it makes no sense to seek out the best beans only to pour tap water over them. Fresh and pure, filtered water will affect the flavor of your coffee.

3. Grind the beans – Ground coffee stales quickly, so you will need to make sure that you grind only enough for the amount you want to brew. Also be sure you’re getting the right grind. Espresso makers need a very, very fine grind but auto-drip coffee makers work a bit better with thicker, coarse grounds. And the French press requires the coarsest grounds that home grinders will produce.

4. Measure the grounds – The standard measurement for coffee is 6 ounces of fresh water to 2 tablespoons ground coffee. Most coffee lovers will quote a standard “3 tablespoons for 12 fl oz”. It’s easy to measure out – and will save you the frustration of using up your grounds (and cash) too quickly.

5. Keep it fresh – If you’re using an auto-drip coffee maker, you will need to either drink quick (20 minutes) or remove your brew from the pot. Warm a carafe by running hot water through it, and place your brewed coffee in this. It will stay warm and fresh, and not taste “burned”.

Gourmet Coffee Recipes at Home

Anyone can make a cup of coffee … but how good that cup is depends on more than just taste. What it looks like and smells like is just as important as what it tastes like if you want to make an awe-inspiring impression.

Here are just a few recipes for coffee that go way, way beyond the standard cup with cream and sugar.

Coffee Ice Cream Cooler AKA Affogato

Brew 2 cups of strong coffee (about 2 tablespoons coffee grounds per cup of water). While it’s brewing, mix 1 cup of cold milk and a few drops of french vanilla syrup in a tall glass.

Coffee Ice Cream Cooler - Affogato |

Add the brewed coffee to this once it’s finished, and top with 1 scoop of vanilla ice cream. Garnish, if you like, with shaved chocolate. An easy take on the traditional Italian affogato!

Frappuccino(r) Copycat

Brew 1 cup of dark coffee (4 tablespoons grounds per 8 ounces of water). While brewing, blend 2 cups of vanilla ice cream with 2 cups of cold milk. Add 1 teaspoon cocoa for a mocha variation.

Mocha Frappuccino Copycat |
This one is the mocha version.

Add brewed coffee immediately and blend again to make it smooth and creamy, and serve. It helps to have a decent blender to make sure things come out smoothly.

Spiced Mexican Coffee (Cafe de Olla)

Mix 2/3 teaspoon ground cinnamon with 4 tablespoons fresh ground coffee and brew with 2 cups water. While brewing, combine 1/3 cup milk, 1 teaspoon light brown sugar, and 1 tablespoon chocolate syrup in a saucepan and heat over low heat until the sugar is dissolved.

Cafe de Olla or Mexican Spiced Coffee |

Pour into large glasses and stir in brewed coffee. Add 1/3 teaspoon of pure vanilla extract. Top with whipped cream and garnish, if you like, with a sprinkling of cinnamon.

Chocolate Orange

Brew any dark roast coffee. While brewing, juice 1/2 of a medium orange in a large cup and add 2 squares semi-sweet chocolate.

Chocolate Orange Coffee |

Add the brewed coffee, pouring it over the top of the mixture, and stir well to melt the chocolate. Add ice if desired for a cold drink.

About Mike Quinn

Mike Quinn spent 20 years in the US Army and traveled extensively all over the world. As part of his military service, Mike sampled coffee and tea from all virtually every geographic region, from the beans from the plantation of an El Salvadorian Army Colonel to "Chi" in Iraq to Turkish Coffee in the Turkish Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan. He spent nearly a decade in the Republic of Korea where he was exposed to all forms of traditional teas. Mike formerly owned and operated Cup And Brew, an online espresso and coffee equipment retail operation.

25 thoughts on “Coffee 101”

  1. While I am an avid coffee drinker, I will admit I am not the best at making it as I am impatient. I do rinse any coffee equipment as it doesn’t really need washing so I can do that part, but I do find it can be messy.

    The smell of ground coffee is good, but I don’t grind myself, but maybe I will one day. I may have to go to a coffee workshop by the sounds of things.

  2. I always said clean coffee is mean coffee! I’m going to share this on my FB feed. Been to a few friends who don’t clean the machine and use bad water. The result is they drink take out coffee instead. Why waste money on mediocre product!
    Good post Mike! Once in a while I will do the fresh ground beans too but not always.
    Hey Bella you don’t need a workshop! Just try one day to follow all these steps. You can always have your beans group at the store too. Sure it’s not super fresh but it’s still fresher than pre-ground.

  3. We’ve been making brewed coffee at the office. Someone brought some pre-ground beans from Hawaii and I don’t know if they might be stale but the brew doesn’t look as dark as our usual blend. It looks a bit like a dark iced tea color, if that helps. Is it because of the type of coffee beans we’re now using or because we might be brewing stale grounds?

  4. Articles like this always make me long for a fancy machine to replace my cheap and cheerful French press.

    Great tip about getting your beans ground instore, for a while I never knew this and didn’t realise I had other options than cafetiere blends.

  5. I love coffee. I love it a bit too much in all honesty. I just have a simple stove top espresso maker but I would love to have a grinder and a decent espresso machine but I just can’t seem to able to spend all that money.

    I love my java juice in the morning. It may not be the fanciest mokka pot that I have but then again I am quite happy. I may wait until my birthday to ask my other half to gift it to me so I can justify getting it.

    As far as coffee goes I love to get my grounds from my local café, they actually roast and grind on the premises and it is absolutely incredible!

  6. This article is very interesting. I have been getting more and more interested in coffee and I blame this site. I feel like such an amateur when it comes to brewing. The recipes that you posted look wonderful. I wish I still worked at my old job because there was an Starbucks in there and I would always watch them work. It seems like a lot of work but it always taste good that I really want to learn to make them at home.

  7. I love coffee, I drink it every morning and it really freshens up my day a little bit. That being said, I enjoy the dark one since it’s kind of strong and puts me back on track.
    I’m not really experienced on how to prepare it but I think I’ll try some other options since this post is really informative!

    • Lucky you, you can drink and enjoy the dark kind and have no after-side effects 🙂 in my case, one cup of the dark coffee will put me in jitter mode instantly, work being done will cease and desist 🙂 either way, I still love my hot cup of joe.

      • I think I just got used to it since I drink coffee everyday. When I was a teenager I couldn’t even drink half a cup without my stomach feeling sick. Persistence is key, even though that sounds kind of corny for just drinking caffeine.

  8. Page bookmarked no hesitation 🙂 just licking my lips in anticipation and in deep thought as to when am getting my own coffee machine, I probably ought to have a birthday gift registry..right?! 😀 Otherwise I’ll keep dreaming till eternity 🙂 …the ideas one can come up with are endless 😉

  9. My oh my do these look delicious. I am always looking for ways to spice up my morning cup of joe. I mean, I hate having to go to Starbucks to get the fancy drinks, and $7 a day on coffee is just ridiculous! I have never ground my own coffee beans, because I don’t know how. Do stores still have the machines, or do I have to buy them? I can’t remember the last time I saw a store have the beans out to where you can grind your own. I want to know what it tastes like to have fresh ground coffee. How many beans equal one cup? The dark chocolate orange coffee sounds so good! I’m definitely going to bookmark this page so I can try a different one each time I’ve got a day off and brew my own cup! Thank you for these great ideas!

  10. I like coffee occasionally but I’m more of a chocolate person. Chocolate is delicious but the sheer amount of calories that are consumed in pure chocolate drinks…!! But your recipes make coffee look so yum that I cant help but want to have it.

  11. Wow. I do not regret clicking this article because not only do I know more about coffee, I now have different recipes to try at home. And I do see a huge difference with a beverage that’s brewed right. I’m a java junkie (to use your term) and take whatever is available there is so sometimes I’d just go for 3-in-1 if I’m in a hurry.

    When I went on a trip with my family up in the mountains in my country where they’re known for their coffee beans, I was amazed by how wonderful their brew tasted. The swill from 3-in-1 will never taste the same to me because of that experience.

  12. I don’t drink coffee much. I have to watch my caffeine intake. If I can find a decent decaff I might consider it. There are some interesting ideas here and it seems way better than paying 7 to 10 dollars a pop for somebody else to make it. Speaking of caffeine I can’t believe I’m up so late!

  13. Last year I became addicted to coffee. It gives me a great energy boost and helps me wake up. I have two coffee makers at home – an Italian espresso maker and a turkish pot.

    I rarely use the latter because I can never get the proportions right and add too much water or too little grounds (plus it takes forever grind the beans as fine as Turkish style requires – and it is done with a manual grinder).

    I’ll make sure to try the measurements you mentioned in this post. The Italian espresso machine is really conveniet. It doesn’t take long to brew while my Turkish pot is really slow.

  14. With summer coming, I’ve been searching for the perfect Iced Coffee recipe. We’ve tried a few batches at home recently that just seemed to fail. Can’t believe we never thought to add ice cream to it! That is going to make things very delicious.

    Also can’t say I’ve ever been tempted to add orange to my morning joe, but chocolate orange? Yeah, that sounds like something I’m willing to try. Seems so easy to make too.

  15. “The standard measurement for coffee is 6 ounces of fresh water to 2 tablespoons ground coffee. Most coffee lovers will quote a standard “3 tablespoons for 12 cups”. How is it that 50% more ground coffee is sufficient for 12 times as much water?

    • Thanks for all of your comments! This is most definitely a mistake- working on getting a correction from the original author ASAP. 3 tablespoons for 12 oz is likely the intended measurement- though this may be a bit strong for some coffee drinkers.

  16. Hi Good article on coffee. I did read “3 tablespoons for 12 fl oz” Not 12 cups. I do a pour over with fresh roasted and ground beans.????

  17. I grind my coffee in my oster blender. ????‍♀️ Why not. Just on 4 or 5 speed, not ice crushing speed or anything. The grinds turns out perfect, not too fine and not too coarse so just right for the average coffee maker machine.

    • Not a bad idea, Lia! Some prefer to avoid the blender for grinding coffee since it can be difficult to remove all of the residue – which may result in coffee-flavored spices or smoothies later. Burr grinders provide more consistent, uniform grounds.

  18. Dear Mike, it’s a great article. My favorite is always Turkish coffee. You know, Turkish coffee is balanced and low in caffeine. It was the Ottomans who brought the coffee from Yemen and made it spread to Europe. Thank you again for the article.


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