You say you want to make a great cup of coffee?
If you are going to go through the trouble of making a great cup of coffee, why not take a few steps to ensure that you are getting the best possible result? The difference in effort is slight, but the difference in results will be, to steal a phrase from Mark Twain, the difference between lightning and the lightning bug!
Start with a clean machine. Take a few seconds and wipe the splash plate and water spreader, or spray head, to remove any buildup of oil which can give your brew an off taste. Rinse the brew basket, and once or twice a week plug the drain hole with a pencil and fill the basket with water and a few drops of a cleaner made for the purpose—“Squeak’ n Clean” is one brand that we know works well. Rinse thoroughly.
Use fresh coffee, which means buying coffee in small amounts which is easy these days as so many roasters are packing 10 and 11 ounce packages. Be sure to squeeze the air out of the package and tightly reseal. Keep the coffee stored in a cool, dry place.
Unless you have a commercial burr grinder, it is better to buy the coffee ground. For a French press, coarser coffee is better; for a drip style, finer grounds work well but avoid coffee ground so finely that it impedes the flow of water through the basket. There is an optimum time for water and coffee to interact with each other. Most commercially ground coffee is set up for a drip machine.
Experiment how many tablespoons of coffee work best for you and your maker for each cup of water that you put in the machine. Not only do tastes vary, but different kinds of coffee, different roasts, and different grind make all the difference.
The brew temperature of your machine should be around 200 degrees, and this is why home brewed coffee sometimes doesn’t measure up to that cup you had at the coffee shop. Home units rarely are hot enough for perfect extraction, that is, pulling the most and the best from that good bag of coffee you bought. Remember, clean, hot water, sprayed over the grounds for thorough saturation, and a total brew time of 3 to four minutes gives up your best coffee. In this, the best home unit may be the venerable French press, which happens to be the cheapest maker you’ll find as well!
Again, it is important that your brewed coffee finds its way into a spotlessly clean vessel, whether it is an airpot or a glass decanter.
Finally, drink that coffee now, as it begins to age as soon as it is brewed. It is never as good as when it drips into the decanter, and will keep on a warmer only 15 or twenty minutes before taking on that characteristic bitter burnt lightning bug taste.