Coffee: Owners Manual Pt. 1

Coffee: Owners Manual Pt. 1

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.
Alton Brown: Salt in Coffee Rule

Alton Brown: Salt in Coffee Rule


Add yours
  1. 5

    I don’t mind the bitterness of coffee, but I don’t drink it black, I add cream but no sweetener – so there’ that. Out of curiosity I tried the salt in my coffee this morning. It worked. At first. While it was hot it truly was a smoother, less bitter flavor. I didn’t mind. Once it cooled to tepid, the salt sprang forth and it was disGUSting! So I suppose if one drinks their coffee before it cools, great. Otherwise, I would steer clear of coffee + salt.

  2. 6
    George K

    My grandmother who dies at 96, ALWAYS added some salt into the coffee grounds. We used a stovetop percolator. Best coffee ever! I’m talking the 1950’s as my earliest memory of this.

  3. 7

    Alton dear man, I added salt to the water dispenser of my nespresso machine and wow! Yes! Love it. Genius. There were pods I liked because of their intensity that were a tad bitter but the salt in the water worked to cut the bitterness and enhance the flavor. There is so much nonsense out there and too few gems like you.

  4. 9

    Hi. I have a coffee maker with a built-in grinder. Where would I put the salt? Could I put it in with the beans to be ground or sprinkle some in the filter so when the ground coffee drops it will filter with the salt?

  5. 11

    I just bought an under the counter black and decker thermas coffee maker and have done the vinigar treatment but they are hard to clean and the coffee takes bitter what can I do. Ann

  6. 12
    Curious coffee pod

    Hi! I have one of those “pod” coffee makers. I know I should grind at home but if I need to grind at the store what grind should I grind on for this type of coffee maker-auto drip, fine or other????

  7. 14

    Leaving water in your coffe pot for two weeks,
    You’ll have more than stale water to worry about! Filtering your tap water is probably best for removing taste and odors, leaving it out overnight will also accomplish this.

  8. 15
    Mark Jean

    Water in a coffee pot tank evaporates, and does collect some particulate matter from your home. Less water & more particles increases the “parts per million” of particulate matter. Those extra non-coffee particles make it more difficult to saturate your water with coffee particles. Small differences, subtle, but it’s easy to taste the difference.

    Try this: leave the water sitting for two weeks in your coffee pot tank, and then brew a cup of coffee and put it into a cup. Then use fresh water – filtered is even better – and compare the two cups.

  9. 16

    Ok use fresh water but boil the water to remove cl2 this works, but aren’t you changing the make up of the water at this point.
    Water gets stale?
    Millions of gollons of water is stored in tanks around your town waiting to serve you when you open the tap, sometimes for days.

  10. 17
    Oh come now

    Please, Mr. Brown, I was with you until:
    > Also, water that sits around for a long time
    > loses its power as a solvent.
    Assuming for a moment this logic is correct, might we please know how one measures this “power as a solvent” and if there is still time, may we please know where it goes? Shall we all brew our coffee in areas only where there are “good humors” and no “poor airs”? Plague stick, anyone?

    • 18

      You’re assuming of water only as “H2O”, ie, distilled water. Tap water contains a number of other compounds. Upon exposure to air, it begins to absorb particles from the air, reducing it’s ratio of actual H2O to other compounds. And yes, that reduces the strength of it as a solvent. Try leaving a glass of tap water out overnight (12 hours) and then sipping it in the morning. The ‘stale’ taste will be quite evident.

  11. 19

    I did leave a comment, to Kelly and Uuuuuuuuuuu erased it. Infuriates me that you ask for the email, and name after the comment …. then erase it and then ask for the comment. Madning. Omg. Hello. It is gone now. To Kelly. Dang it !!!!

  12. 21
    Kelley E Arndt

    I don’t get what he means by “water hanging around”. Where would the water be if was not in the pot? In the pipes. Doesn’t really matter …water is always “hanging around” somewhere!

  13. 24

    I’m a chemist, and I’m here to assure everyone that water loses none of it’s solvation properties upon sitting. Depending on what’s in the air where it is stored, assuming it is open, it may absorb compounds that alter the taste but it’s solvation properties are unchanged.

  14. 25
    Guilherme Carbonetti

    Water definitely does NOT lose its powers as a solvent after some time. Really, water’s been around for some billions of years, and it didn’t lose its powers yet, so why being for a couple of hours would do it?

    • 31

      Yes, I add a decent sized pinch of salt to the grounds in my French press before adding the water. Not an exact science, but it definitely smooths the flavor, and there never is bitterness or aftertaste.

  15. 32

    The typeface on your comments — light and thin — while pretty, is hard to read. It works fine on the menu choices (below) but not so much in full paragraph. Can you do something about that?

+ Leave a Comment