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. 1

    I use cold press during the work week. I make two quarts at a time in a covered pitcher. I grind enough beans for 12 cups of coffee, then immediately pour cool water over it. Then I let it sit for a full 48 hours. I strain it off and keep it in a lidded carafe in the fridge. Then each morning I pour it over ice and add a dallop of cream. So smooth and easy! On the weekend, I use a french press. I heat cool water to boiling in my tea kettle, pour it over a 1/4 cup of fresh ground beans. Then I let it steep for three minutes and press it out. The creamy head from French press can’t be beat. Add adobe vanilla sugar and I’m in heaven!

  2. 3

    My daughter had typically made coffee that I considered too strong and too bitter. It didn’t have a smooth taste and I really couldn’t do anything to it to improve it. I finally told her that her coffee was just too strong and I couldn’t drink it! She is an avid Alton Brown fan (aren’t we all!) and decided to see what A.B. had to say about coffee. She made coffee for us the “A.B.” way and it was a huge success. All of us agree it is excellent coffee. We are happy to have coffee brewed the Alton Brown way. Smooth, tasty but not strong or bitter. Makes me glad to have a cup! Thanks, Alton Brown for your excellent advice on how to brew great coffee.

  3. 5

    Tried this this morning. It was not good. It was like drinking hot sea water, and yes I followed the recipe to the “T”. I think this is the first Alton recipe I didn’t care for. Makes me wonder if using a different brand of kosher salt would work. I used Mortons.

  4. 7
    Alisha Hester

    I miss good eats! I like to grab clips for my high school culinary class! They love you too! Gastonia NC- hope you are touring through Charlotte again!

  5. 11

    I use a pour through funnel with a filter to make my coffee. It goes through the funnel right into my excellent travel mug.
    I bring the water to just about boiling and pour it over the grounds making sure to catch the grounds that gather on the side of the filter.
    When I have to use a drip coffee maker I add about 2 oz of water to the pot and then brew. The idea is that it prevents the brewed coffee from hitting a hot pot and tainting the brew.

  6. 12

    I agree with Jared. I MISS GOOD EATS! Such an entertaining AND informative show. I love knowing WHY things do what they do! Please bring it back!! PS: Cornish game hens with pearl onions and bacon, still one of our favorites!

    • 17

      It’s the same ratio for the salt if you’re using a percolator, just tested it. Don’t listen to the people dissing percolators by the way, they just don’t have the patience or don’t know how to do it right. I brew my coffee on vintage glass Pyrex percolators and it comes out great every time.

  7. 19

    AB… the world is a much less enjoyable place without Good Eats. I know you’ve gone one to higher and higher feats of greatness, from the steel-clad contestant of the Iron Chef to the mafiosi-style underworld of Cutthroat Kitchen.

    But really all we want is good entertainment, good science and great food.

    Won’t you PLEASE bring back the bright spot of my week, my month, or even my year? I MISS GOOD EATS DAMMIT!

    Sorry, I won’t yell anymore. 🙂

  8. 20

    I concur, roasting your own coffee is really the way to go. The green beans are quite stable before they are roasted so you can buy in bulk and save a bit of money. And you get all kinds of geek cred…

  9. 21

    LOVE it. I know that when you buy beans, you want to make sure there’s a roast date on the bag/container. Coffee is always at it’s best to consume around 2 – 14 days (give or take) off-roast because of the “degassing” phase the beans go through post-roast. Not too early, not too late. Although, I will say that I haven’t always had TERRIBLE experiences with stale coffee, once it gets to over a month or two old, it’s rancid. (There have been no discoveries of old coffee affecting your heath, though.)

    Also, water sitting around or not, you should make sure your water has an appropriate amount of minerals in it. I buy a water filter that ADDS minerals back into the water after it’s purified. If you use water that’s completely sterile, you’ll get coffee that tastes flat and/or lacks character. Don’t use distilled if you want your coffee to reach it’s potential.

    Once last thing; GET A GOOD GRINDER, EVERYONE. A top-of-the-line coffee machine will not compensate for a crappy grinder. What happens is the coffee grounds become inconsistent from one another (big and small coffee particles in one), leaving you with a brew that is both over-extracted AND under-extracted. No one likes that.

  10. 22

    The caffeine content in brewed coffee does not vary by roast level enough to speak about. The light roast = more caffeine In your body is a myth.

  11. 23

    I woke up this morning to find that all of the water that’s been sitting around since the beginning of time was no longer a solvent!

  12. 24

    Good comments however (having been in chemical R&D and teaching college level chemistry for a number of years) I would question the comment that water loses its power of solvency after sitting overnight.

  13. 25

    Alton, have you tried the Aeropress coffee maker? You’ll love it! It allows you to control the thermodynamics and extraction rate so you get the fullest, richest coffee without any bitterness. Salt is a terrible thing to do to coffee.

    • 26
      Brian B.

      Thermodynamics of Coffee is a subject that must have eluded me. I wasn’t aware we cared enough to measure the conversion of energy from grounds to liquor.

  14. 27

    I grind the night before and set my machine to make coffee just as I’m getting up. I can’t tell the difference between this and coffee I brew on the weekends with beans I grind in the morning and water that hasn’t been sitting around.

  15. 28

    inre: Heat Kills.
    First, try cold brew. It’s really wonderful, recipes abound.
    If you’re using a heat brewer (probably a drip), turn the element OFF as soon as the gurgling stops. If you want coffee later in the day, well, microwave ovens are used more for reheating coffee than anything else. Short time on heat = long preservation of flavor. It also prevents the specter of gray coffee.

  16. 29

    I work at Starbucks, and everything on here is what we are told too. Except we tell people to never put it in the freezer. When the oil from the beans thaws out, it basically waters it down.

  17. 30

    fwiw, I stole some tips from a guy named George Howell for manual drip. I use 25-8g of coffee grounds per cup of coffee. If you use paper filters, fold a crease along each seam to insure they don’t fail, and rinse them before putting the coffee in. Once the water is the correct temp, wet the grounds first. You want a nice hump to develop and you should see lots of bubbling, which if I’ve been told true is CO2. Stale coffee outgasses less. Then, pour, but not much past the hump at a time.

    All of these things have made a difference in my morning cuppa and really aren’t a major deviation from what I was doing before.

    And yeah, the salt trick is sweet for old coffee.

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