Prepare to upgrade your coffee game.

By Alex Van Buren
Updated May 25, 2016
Barista pouring water over coffee
Credit: Maskot/Getty Images

Coffee time, for non-morning people, can be a challenging moment to do things by the numbers: “Is this water hotter than room temperature? Close enough!” might be as ambitious as your brain can get before caffeine. No judgment.

But! There are coffee best practices, whether you use a drip machine, French press, pourover, or another go-to method. And in a world where good beans routinely go for $14 to $20 for 12 ounces, don’t you want each cup to count? Here, two trained baristas—one of whom now co-owns her own café, the other of whom co-owns a roasting company—school us in making each cup of joe…joyful.

Barista pouring water over coffee
Credit: Maskot/Getty Images

Use filtered water.

The number one tip from both caffeine geeks? Look to your H20. Whatever minerals are lurking there—care for a splash of chlorine with your cream and sugar?—will affect flavor. “If you’re not using filtered water, your coffee’s gonna taste off,” says Katie Weinberger, co-owner of King Bean Coffee Roasters in Charleston, South Carolina. In New Orleans, Jane Srisarakorn, co-owner of Arrow Café, agrees. “Distilled water or purified water will automatically improve the flavor of your coffee. … Even if you use a gallon of water from the store it would [help].”

Check the date on your beans.

Good coffee should be stamped with a roast date. And though different baristas dispute the precise shelf life of freshly roasted beans, they agree that you don’t want to shell out for ones roasted more than three weeks ago. Indeed, says Srisarakorn, ideally you should aim for a window of two weeks.

Don’t brew coffee the day it is roasted.

Ironically, you don’t want to brew coffee the day it was roasted, either! As Weinberger explains, “it takes a few days after being roasted to release its full potential.” Both pros like to brew about four days after the roast date, although Srisarakorn acknowledges, “It depends on what you’re into. Some people think it needs [even more] time to mellow out, like adding a couple drops of water to whiskey or Scotch.”

Use a burr grinder.

“You always want to grind your coffee fresh, and [you] want to buy a burr grinder,” explains Weinberger. Why? It’s all about the extraction process, or how much of each bean gets exposed to water during a brew. Your goal should be even extraction throughout the pot of coffee—and evenly ground beans help ensure this result. “No matter how you use it,” says Weinberger, “a blade grinder (like the kind you might use to grind spices) just won’t chop the beans evenly.”

Watch the water temperature.

Stop pouring boiling water on your coffee! As Srisarakorn says, “198° F to 203° F water gives you an ideal brew. Boiling water (212° F) is way too hot. It over-brews the coffee immediately.” Consider buying a kettle that registers the temperature—or waiting about 25 seconds after boiling before pouring.

Try coffee ice cubes.

“Cold-brewed coffee is so popular right now,” says Weinberger, “so I always tell people to make coffee ice cubes.” Put them in your cold-brew, and voilà, you never have to worry about watered-down coffee.

Forget the fridge and freezer.

Somehow the myth continues to circulate that storing coffee in the fridge or freezer will do better by your beans. Not so. “Your coffee will absorb all the odors from the fridge—like the fish that’s in there—so just leave it at room temperature in an airtight container,” advises Weinberger.

Mind the scale.

Srisarakorn often observes people eyeballing their pourovers but says for the best results you should use a culinary scale to weigh out not just your beans but your water, too. Her advice? Try 19 to 27 grams of coffee per 400 grams of water.

Prep the filter.

“It’s important to wet the filter first when you’re doing a pourover because it removes the flavor, especially if it’s not a natural filter,” says Srisarakorn. In other words: read the paper with your coffee; don’t drink coffee that tastes like paper.