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12 Mistakes Everyone Makes When Brewing Coffee

A co-author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Coffee & Tea shares her secrets to brewing coffee that'll make the best cup of joe you'll ever taste—right in your own kitchen.

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Aleksandra Suzi/Shutterstock

Ah, coffee… my favorite morning ritual and source of caffeine. As co-author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Coffee & Tea and a frequent contributor to Fresh Cup Magazine, I’ve given coffee a good deal of thought. Brewing a great cup of coffee seems easy, but how often does yours taste like it does at a local coffee shop? (Never?) The good news is, unlike other culinary endeavors, making good coffee is more about technique than splurging on gadgets. A bold and delicious cup is attainable at home if you avoid these common mistakes. Here’s your ultimate guide to every type of coffee.

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Horizontal photo of male hand pouring water, from coffee pot, into coffee maker with fresh coffee grounds in white bleached coffee filter with stone kitchen counter top ; Shutterstock ID 156211847

Using water that isn’t hot enough

Many commercial drip brewers never reach the ideal temperature (195 to 205 degrees) for perfect coffee. Water in this range extracts the most flavor from the beans. Switch to a French press or pour-over method (Chemex or a ceramic filter), where water just off a boil is poured over ground beans and steeped for three to four minutes. These generally cost around $30, which is cheaper than the average electric brewer. These coffee jokes will have you cracking up.

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closeup to ground cofee in silver spoon;

Using beans that were ground a long time ago

Buying pre-ground beans is a no-no. The minute coffee beans are ground, they start to release their nuanced flavors. The longer you wait to brew, the more the flavor will have diminished. Grind whole beans in the grocery aisle or do it yourself at home: Invest in a low-cost blade grinder or spring for a burr grinder for an even finer grind. Power it up while the water is heating up. Check out these surprising uses for coffee you didn’t know about.

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Coffee cup

Pouring into a cold cup

Think about it. If you pour hot liquid into a container of a lower temperature, it won’t stay hot for long, right? Prolong your sipping pleasure by pre-warming the cup. The best part is that the water is already on its way to boiling—just pour some of the water into the cup, leave it in there while the coffee’s brewing, and empty it before filling with coffee. It’s also a good idea to rinse out your French press or pour-over with hot water before adding grounds. Here’s how much caffeine is in a cup of coffee.

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coffee cup filled with coffee beans;
Liv friis-larsen/Shutterstock

Drinking from the wrong kind of cup

Those dainty china teacups you pull out for a tea party or the super-functional Corelle coffee cup you’ve had for years are going to drop in temperature quickly, leaving you with (gasp!) room-temperature joe. A thick-walled cup maintains the coffee’s steaming hot temperature for longer. Try to find a diner-style white coffee mug with a thick wall. We also like sipping from sturdy, handcrafted ceramic mugs.

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Coffee beans in the Glass bottle;

Using stale beans

This is getting into coffee geek territory… but again, who wants to drink subpar coffee? Ideally, you want to use beans that have been roasted within the last three weeks. The easiest way to ensure this is to know the roast date. Coffee roasters who sell their beans on site will often label the bags with this info. If you grab a bag of local beans at your grocer or farmers market, check the bottom of the package-they often stamp the date there. Bad news, if you like your coffee black, you could be a psychopath.

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Ground coffee background / coffee scoop
Shulevskyy Volodymyr/Shutterstock

Eyeballing the measurements

Spooning your recently roasted and carefully ground beans into the filter by eye is a habit you’ll want to break now. Measuring grounds allows you to control the strength of the cup. A good rule of thumb is to use eight heaping teaspoons for a 34-ounce French press (standard size). This will result in coffee that is bold and assertive—but not as strong as espresso.

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Someone adds milk to black coffee

Not upgrading your sugar and milk

How one takes his or her coffee is a matter of personal choice, but we always recommend trying to get the most flavor for your sip. Many coffee shops have those little brown packets of raw sugar (aka turbinado sugar). This sweetener simply tastes better than white sugar. In terms of milk, we like to splurge and use whole milk or half-and-half. Nonfat milk can water coffee down.

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Coffee pot

Using an incorrect coffee-to-water ratio

Ever taste a cup of coffee and think, wow, that’s really weak? Perhaps there is too much water—or not enough coffee—for the proportion to work. The convention is to start with two heaping tablespoons of coffee per cup and then modify future brews if needed. Only coffee lovers will get these trivia questions right.

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Metal tap with running water

Skimping on water quality

It’s tempting to use tap water because it’s free and you just flick on the faucet, but you really will taste a difference when you switch to filtered water or bottled spring water. That’s because these elevated waters are free of minerals and are not acidic. Otherwise, tap water’s impurities will affect the taste of your morning brew.

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used white coffee filters with coffee ground
Nor Gal/Shutterstock

Leaving old grounds in the filter basket

If you’re only an occasional coffee drinker, make sure that you remove the used grounds directly after brewing. If they sit in the filter for a few days, they can get moldy and you’ll need to thoroughly clean the machine before using it again.

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coffee beans in transparent pack

Storing your coffee in the wrong place

There isn’t one right place to store coffee. But you do want to find a spot free of humidity. This can mean using a container with an air-tight lid (such as a mason jar) or storing a bag or can of coffee on a shelf or back of the pantry (and, nope, not your freezer: it’s humid in there).

Next, find out the real reason behind that hole in your coffee bag.

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Making drip black coffee by Coffee Maker Machine

Forgetting to clean your machine

Like everything else in the kitchen, your coffeemaker needs to be cleaned regularly. Wash the carafe, filter basket and lids in soapy water after every use. And at least once a month run a brew cycle with equal parts water and vinegar. Next, check out these secrets Starbucks employees won’t tell you.

Taste of Home
Originally Published on Taste of Home

Kristine Hansen
Based in Milwaukee, and a former Californian, Kristine Hansen is the author of Wisconsin Cheese Cookbook: Creamy, Cheesy, Sweet, and Savory Recipes from the State's Best Creameries (Globe Pequot Press) and writes about food/drink, travel and art/design for outlets that include--in addition to RD.com--ArchitecturalDigest.com, Fodors.com, TravelandLeisure.com and MarthaStewart.com. She earned a bachelor's degree in English, with a focus on writing, from the University of Wisconsin-Parkside and enjoys yoga, reading, knitting and hiking.