Because you only get out what you keep in.
- Buy whole beans and keep them stashed in an airtight canister. Only freeze beans for long-term storage, as each time they are removed from the freezer condensation will form, degrading the beans.
- Beware beans in open bins, where light, air and moisture can degrade quality.
- Grind immediately before brewing. Think of coffee as you would nutmeg or black pepper. It’s technically a spice full of essential oils and other volatile substances that start dissipating the moment you crack the safe (so to speak). If you must grind ahead, consider air-proof containment such as a heavy, zip-top freezer bag with the air sucked out.
- If you don’t have a coffee grinder or don’t want to mess with grinding, buy small batches of beans from a neighborhood roaster or shop (here are some of my favorites), have them do the grinding right then and there and use the coffee within the week. Oh, and see above note.
- Use enough coffee. The golden ratio for drip or press coffee brewing: 2 heaping tablespoons ground coffee for each 6 ounces fresh water. It’s a popular misconception that brewing with less coffee will give you a “lighter” brew. This is not so. Brewing with less coffee most-often results in over-extraction of the bean, and that’s what leads to bitterness. If you like weak coffee, brew full strength, then cut it in the cup with hot water. Caffeine levels drop as the roast level darkens.
- Use fresh or filtered water. Your coffee will never be better than your water. I suggest you use filtered water or at least boil it for a couple of minutes to help drive away excess chlorine. Also, water that sits around for a long time loses its power as a solvent. So if you really love your brew, consider skipping the overnight timer function on your drip machine; eight hours is a long time to have water just hanging around.
- Salt and Coffee: Not only does salt cut the bitterness of coffee, but it also smooths out the “stale” taste of tank-stored water. I’ve taken to adding a quarter teaspoon of kosher salt to every 6 tablespoons of grounds. That isn’t really enough to taste, but it’ll do the trick. And by the way, research has proven that salt is actually better at neutralizing bitterness than sugar.
- Heat kills. The longer the pot sits on that heat element the faster the subtle flavor compounds in your brew go belly up. Better to brew into an insulated carafe or Thermos. If you really have to have a hotplate-style machine, go with one that has a variable hold temperature and keep it dialed down as low as it’ll go.