Many readers ask us about the best way to brew coffee, and the short answer is: whatever way is best for you and your tastes is the surest way. Although there are some worthwhile guidelines that can help even a first-time brewer prepare a good cup of coffee, I follow three fundamental rules: How-Hot, How-Much, and How-Long. Which can be elaborated to: What is your water temperature? What is your coffee-to-water ratio? And how long are you going to let the coffee saturate (and thus extract) in the water?
A basic frame for brewing a good cup of coffee is based on the standard brewing recommendations from the SCAA (Specialty Coffee Association of America). Brew water temperature ≈195°F-205°F (which is a minute or two offboiling); 10 grams (about two level tablespoons) correctly ground coffee per 6 ounces of clean, slightly mineralized water (100ppm-200ppm; if you’re not sure about mineral content in your water district, bottled supermarket “drinking water” is about right). The time on the other hand is very dependent on the coffee brewing device used and preference, and can be anywhere from 1 to 6 minutes of saturation. Coffee is best when ground fresh and brews best when the grind is consistent, which means that the best option for a really good cup is an electric or mechanical (hand-powered) burr grinder. These devices make producing the right grind for your brewing device a cinch.
Although all of those numbers are important to know, there is no reason to fuss over them every morning. With enough practice, and a keen sense of what kind of cup you’re looking to taste, anyone with enough diligence can produce a delicious cup by looking and watching how the coffee reacts to the water, over time; and most importantly, how the coffee tastes at the end of your extraction. It might be helpful if you’re just beginning to keep a small notebook with the grind setting, water-to-coffee ratio, and brew time annotated with your experience with the flavor; and then adjust the ratio, time, and grind until the cup matches what you enjoy.
For example: I wake up and start the slow rolling boil of a water kettle, then turn the kettle off, calmly open the bag of whole-bean coffee I will be enjoying, pour my preferred amount into my burr grinder set to fine, hum along with the quiet whirr of the burrs, tap the ground contents into the gold-filter basket sitting inside a ceramic cone above a glass mason jar, then slowly pour the water until the grinds are evenly wet. Then I pause; at this point no water has traversed the grinds into the mason jar. I wait a few moments until the foaming crust begins to settle, then I slowly and carefully continue pouring to keep the grounds wet, but I don’t pour with enough force to make the water pass through too quickly; I pour with a motion and tempo that is right for me and my taste. I continue until the (now yellow-white) foam breaks, as gaps in the foam form, and then I stop, my personally crafted extraction done.
Of course, you may have a different method which is equally valid; this ever-changing dialectic is what pushes each of us to find that inspirational morning cup. Amid the chirping birds and honking cars, good days or bad, regardless of where you are in your life, something can truly be said for that moment of ecstatic clarity a sip can bring.