Food & Drink

Do you love your joe? Here’s 5 tips for making your coffee better

A Counter Culture Coffee employee releases beans from the coffee roaster. Roasting brings out the aromas and flavors locked inside the green coffee beans.
A Counter Culture Coffee employee releases beans from the coffee roaster. Roasting brings out the aromas and flavors locked inside the green coffee beans. File photo

Whether you like it brewed, French pressed, poured over or iced, coffee lovers will tell you that not much beats a day that starts with a fresh cup.

You could run out to your local coffee shop – some are even offering free cups today for National Coffee Day – or you could brew some fragrant roast coffee beans at home.

Coffee beans are actually the seed of a cherry-like fruit that originated in Ethiopia, said Robbie Roberts, president of Joe Van Gogh in Hillsborough. The story is that it spread – maybe carried by birds – to Yemen, where they began to experiment with ways to drink it.

Coffee today is grown around the world, in a band between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Tropic of Cancer. The flavor of individual varieties comes from the soil, the weather and the altitude at which it is grown. Arabica, for instance, grows at more than 4,000 feet above sea level, Roberts said.

A longer ripening time creates a denser the bean with a stronger flavor, he said, but no matter your personal choice of coffee bean, temperature and water to coffee ratio will make a great cup.

5 tips for great coffee at home

▪ Start with great beans. Pre-ground coffee will save you time, but cost you in oils, aromas and flavors, experts say. Buy only enough beans to last for a couple of weeks and grind them just before you make the coffee to extract the best flavor.

Store them in an airtight container in a cool place, away from moisture and direct sunlight, so the oils on the coffee don’t turn rancid. Do not store coffee in the refrigerator, where it can be exposed to moisture, or in the freezer, which can damage the taste, roasters say.

▪ The size of your grind depends on your brewing method. A coarser grind is good for longer, slower methods, such as an autodrip coffeemaker or French press. Finer grinds expose more of the beans and don’t a long brew time, making them better for espresso or a small pourover.

Counter Culture officials offered this tip: “If your mouth feels dry with an ashy aftertaste, you’re likely grinding too fine. If the coffee tastes weak, sour, or a little papery, you may be grinding too coarse.”

▪ The right amount of ground coffee to water is important, Roberts said. Start with 2 regular teaspoons of ground coffee to 6 ounces of water, adding more or less until you like the taste.

▪ Unpleasant water will make unpleasant coffee. It comes down to the minerals in your water, whether it’s tap, filtered or bottled from a spring, Roberts said. Distilled water can make coffee taste flat.

“If the water has enough minerals in it, just basic mineral content, you’re going to get good extraction,” Roberts said. “Distilled water, you’re not. It doesn’t have enough minerals to carry some of the flavors that coffee has, so it typically does not do well to make coffee.”

▪ Just right. That scalding hot cup of coffee won’t just burn your mouth, but it also scorches your coffee. The right temperature is between 195 degrees and 205 degrees Fahrenheit. Roberts suggested bringing water to a boil and letting it cool for 45 to 60 seconds.

While different brewing methods bring out different coffee qualities, what matters is what you like, Roberts said. However, home coffeemakers are “a problem waiting to happen,” he said, because they are designed to heat up instantly to around 200 degrees.

“You can’t spend $50 on a coffee maker and expect the heating element to last for years and years and really give you the temperature of water that you need, so that would be the first thing I would say start looking (at) if you’re worried about, hmm, the coffee’s not as good as it used to be.”

Tammy Grubb: 919-829-8926, @TammyGrubb

Want to know more?

Here’s some of the coffee events happening in the area:

▪ Counter Culture Coffee hosts a free public coffee tasting and tips from 10 to 11 a.m. every Friday. The Tastings at Ten are held in Durham at the 812 Mallard Ave. Training Center.

Counter Culture also offers Home Brew Classes and online video guides to different brewing methods.

▪ Carrboro Coffee Roasters, 101 S. Greensboro St. in Carrboro, offers coffee tastings and workshops on Saturdays.

The next workshop will teach participants about Craft Coffee Brewing, beginning at 11 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 7. Learn more or register for an upcoming event at

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