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Higher ground: the expert guide to making the perfect cup of coffee at home (theguardian.com)
29 points by edward 33 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 29 comments



Burr grinders are a big help as far as making the coffee taste better. The other large change I made as far as "leveling up" my morning coffee was using the 15:1 water ratio, which is alot more coffee bean per ounce of water than the normal back-of-the-box "Use 1 tbsp of coffee per 6oz of water". Actually measuring your coffee and your water precisely yields a big difference. Buy a small scale for measuring the bean weight, and either use a precise measuring cup for water volume, or just weigh the water as well.

I make my morning coffee for my girlfriend and myself via French Press, and so I also tweaked the measurements a few time to account for the fact that 8oz of water + ground beans will not actually yield 8oz of coffee, due to the loss of liquid that is retained by the ground beans even after pressing.

If anyone wants to use my ratios, I've listed them below:

15:1 water to coffee ratio

1g == 1 ml

12 oz coffee:

340 ml water: 22.66~g beans

17 oz coffee:

482 ml water: 32g beans

20 oz coffee:

591.471 ml water: 39.43g beans

25oz coffee:

740 ml water: 49g beans

Again, my own tests suggest you lose about 2oz of water to absorption, so my 12oz measure above is when I want to make a single cup for myself (yields about 10oz of drinkable coffee), and I use the 20oz marker above in the morning when I'm making a French Press for myself and my girlfriend.

Strictly my own preferences. Others might have different ratios, particularly since this is geared at French Press where there may be more water loss than a pourover.


Speaking as someone who is less of a connoisseur, and who even uses a drip coffeemaker, I wholeheartedly agree that a burr grinder is a huge help. The quality of the grind probably matters, but the biggest difference for me was consistency. No matter how hard I tried to be consistent with the blade grinder, I got a different grind every time, and that extra variable was enough to make the process a little too opaque for me to easily get better at.

With my burr grinder, everything fell into place. When you are brewing coffee every day with the same grind, the same amount of water, and the same brewing method, all you have to do is use fewer beans today if yesterday's coffee was too strong, or more beans today if yesterday's coffee was too weak. I use a scoop instead of weighing the beans, and that's precise enough for me to consistently make coffee I enjoy.


FWIW, I'm too lazy to weigh my beans every morning as well. I basically measured exactly only long enough until I could get to the point where I can eyeball where it needs to be. 39.43 g of coffee beans that I need for my morning FP is about five rounded scoops from my scooping tool, so I've just used that. We tested a few pots over a couple days and found that we couldn't discern much of a difference between the coffee that was made with 40g of coffee exactly and the pot that was made with 5 scoops.

I have the 20oz line marked on my Pyrex measuring container as well. Like I said, the end-goal is to be as lazy as possible while still remaining within acceptable levels to make a great cup of coffee.


Lots of people, including those that stop at Pret in the morning, are probably selecting for convenience rather than any other measure of quality.

They would probably be best served by something like a Nespresso machine.


I've tried a number of different approaches and have found that my sweet spot is coffee made from really great beans in a drip machine that turns on at a set time. I use a burr grinder but it's not a real game-changer.

The beans make the biggest impact. The convenience matters the most. Everything else is just a waste of mental cycles to me.


Yeah, moving from blade grinder to burr grinder probably made the biggest single improvement in my coffee making for French press & pour over.

With the blade grinder, the grounds were so uneven that sometimes, smaller grounds would go through the French press' mesh (probably up the side) or so big that there wasn't enough flavor extracted. With my burr grinder, my coffee now tastes the same every time.


Question: Do you think this is the case for all blade grinders vs. burr grinders, or only some blade grinders being unable to produce consistency? Legit asking because you've got me wondering out loud if it is worth the upgrade at our house.

What I've noticed with our cheap blade grinder is that there is a set number of seconds I need to hold down the button to get a consistent grind - not too long or its powder, and not too little or it is still chunky beans. My own experience is that the bean quality is the single defining difference between a good cup and a not so good cup, and so long as I'm not going completely cheap on the coffee, a French press and an electric kettle start the morning right. But - you've got me questioning whether I could create greater consistency with a different grinder.


If you don't wish to pay for a burr grinder (which is fair--mine was a cool $140 when I bought it, but it's paid for itself), you can carefully manage the use of a blade grinder to get a better grind size. See the below videos:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wS8igZyhNFw

https://youtu.be/O7LAzSKgeoQ?t=278

It's more involved, but can save you some money if you don't want to buy new equipment.


ah ha! This was excellent, thank you so much for posting it. Two things stood out: one, I was already doing the shake-and-grind without realizing that someone had studied it and two, that Krups grinder is the one I've been using because my partner was convinced it was a better grinder than the old cheap one I was previously using. This was a super helpful video!


I've only used a couple blade grinders (think like a $19 Hamilton Beach grinder) so I can't speak to if there are any super fancy ones, but it is inherent in their basic design that you won't necessarily get uniform coarseness from the grounds. The blades chop up the beans basically at random as they fly around in the grinder. Compare this to a decent burr grinder (like a $99 OXO) which the beans all fall through and get caught in the burrs in the same way. $80 is a big difference (to me, anyway), so I feel bad suggesting someone else spend that, but I can say I taste the difference between the two, and I've made up for it with the fact that I no longer feel the need to treat myself to a nicer cup of coffee from a coffee shop on a Friday morning.

The other benefit of getting a burr grinder is that you can dedicate the blade grinder to whole spices. Having a little residual cardamom in your coffee might be agreeable, but that's not the case for cumin or cayenne. :)

Good point about the beans. I didn't think about that because I've been buying the same beans from my grocery store's bulk bin for years. These same beans have seen every grinder and brewing gadget that's come through my house.


This is an excellent clinical trial you've undertaken though, given that you've used the same beans with both grinders and have noticed a distinct difference. Guess I need to watch the Black Friday specials this year for a burr grinder.


Is this common when giving such recipes to mix imperial and metric units?

You mention 20 oz coffee so I assume you are in the US. Yet you use g and ml for the measurements.

I realize that I actually never saw a balance when in the US but I assume they are in imperial units as well?

Or is it just a coffee measurement tradition to mux the two?


The switch was for accuracy, basically. Your average coffee instructions in the US are very vague: "To make one cup of coffee (where 'cup' means a mug, not a standard unit of measurement cup), add one scoop of coffee using our included coffee scoop tool (which holds maybe 1 tbsp of ground coffee, but can vary wildly) per 4 oz water."

My method assumes you're buying coffee in ounces and ultimately measuring your coffee consumption in ounces--since no one I know makes themselves 227ml of coffee in the morning. But for all the precise measurements, I used grams and millimeters.

It also makes the 15:1 ratio more obvious; that's why I reiterated that 1 gram equals 1 ml.


This mixing made sense to me (I'm in the US) but you're right that it's odd.

Drinking cups and mugs are often sold in oz units in the US, but if you have a measuring scale and cup, g an ml are sometimes more precisely reported/demarcated. I also think buying ingredients online sometimes increasingly is in metric.

The US is increasingly more mixed in unit use than is acknowledged. Temp and speed are the main holdouts.

[As an additional later comment, I also realized I don't like measurements for recipes in oz because it can be confusing if it's referring to weight or volume.]


i'm not that discerning of a coffee drinker, but i splurged anyway on a baratza sette burr grinder a few years ago, and along with locally roasted beans (trystero), it's been a wonderfully consistent and convenient addition to my morning coffee richness. i use ~17:1 ratio in a clever dripper (like a hybrid of french press and pour-over) on the coursest grind available (a medium grind).


For anyone who doesn’t know what Pret is, they’re a British sandwich & coffee chain (coffee that’s a tad above McDonald’s quality). The article should have been marked as an ad; Pret have recently been running promotions to entice customers back into their stores with cheap coffee (first 20 cups for £20, now £20/month unlimited subscription).


McDonald's has really good coffee! The biggest issue is getting it fresh, but if you go in the morning, that's typically not an issue.

Just be sure to ditch the plastic lid so it doesn't impact the taste.


It’s not the style of coffee I prefer but it will do in a pinch! I’m one of those obnoxious snobs who get freshly roasted coffee delivered weekly and grind each morning, so I’m admittedly not the easiest to please ;)


Each to their own, but having done a few roadtrips around Canada fueled by coffee stops at McDonalds and Tim Hortons I can reliably say I am not a fan.

Then again I also find Starbucks coffee to be sludge.


Best coffee you can get for $1.


In the US at least, McDonald's coffee is pretty good. It might just be because nobody goes into McDonald's with high expectations.

Panera also does a coffee subscription. $9 / month for unlimited coffee.


Pret is also in the US, have been before and didn’t notice anything that remarkable


"The perfect cup" is a mirage. Get a tolerable cup, and get on with things. Humanity is facing several existential crises, involving global climate disruption, deforestation, collapsing wildlife populations, acidifying oceans, government by self-serving billionaires, and (not coincidentally) rising Fascism, and their worry is "the perfect cup".

Bloody first-worlders, anyway.


I'm lazy, but I also have many coffee friends who are not lazy. The best low-effort upgrades I've learned to improve your coffee are:

1. Use a burr grinder to grind your beans just before brewing.

2. Use filtered water (a Brita pitcher works fine).

3. Use the right grounds/water ratio (another commenter went into depth about this).

4. Use tasty beans. This is personal preference, try a bunch of different roasters & levels of roast until you are happy. It's perfectly OK to enjoy the store brand or even Starbucks, it's your coffee.

The next level of "fancy" is using the correct water temperature.

If you're going to use a drip machine, do some research on which machines actually get to temperature and maintain it during brewing. Off the top of my head, both the Bonavita Connoisseur and Technivorm Mokccamaster are good.

If you're doing french press/pour over/aeropress, get an electric hot water pot with accurate temperature control (these usually have a cute gooseneck for precise pouring of water over the grounds).


Not even mentioned in the article -- IMHO cold brew just seems so much easier (make a big batch at once) and tastes so much better.


I love cold brew and pretty much only drink regular coffee when I don't have any. Coffee heads really seem to look down on it though - I suppose because less of the bean comes through in the flavor, but I'll take the lower acidity/bitterness and the higher caffeination, please.


Funny, I just clicked on this after the piece revealing the Guardian's disgustingly biased coverage of the assange case.

Its hard to enjoy fluff like this when you know they are doing truly evil things.


James Hoffman just reviewed a few burr grinders: https://youtu.be/AVYGxext8XI


I've owned all the brewing contraptions and a home roaster.

Using fresh beans, and (burr) grinding them fresh is 95% of the equation.




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