We’re willing to bet that you’ve never found the “perfect cup” of coffee and that is mostly due to the fact that it’s all based on preference. There are also different ways to brew coffee and there is at least one coffee maker to suit each brewing style.
When you go and buy coffee from a drive-thru spot or a coffee house, they’re utilizing one of the most modern ways to make coffee in high volume, without much work—filter and drip systems. Coffee places offering Espresso methods are also popular.
Now there’s nothing wrong with filter and drip systems, and we’ll talk more about them in a moment.
They’re inexpensive to buy, don’t take much time to set up, but they do have a distinct flavor difference and volume.
Let’s first talk about the art of coffee making, and why we rely on baristas to handle the task.
Art of Coffee Making
The method in which you brew coffee matters almost as much as the coffee itself.
We’re all super specific about our coffee choices because there’s a lot of variables at play and a lot of things you need to know about coffee making.
Quality coffee isn’t synonymous with bigger machines that have more buttons and functions.
We’re shown a ton of flashy, multi-functional coffee units that aim to take the guesswork out of making a great-tasting brew, but that is rarely the best option.
Sure, you want a high-quality coffee machine, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s the right coffee brew for you.
Coffee is an art form when you get personal, hands-on, and intricate with your coffee.
Anyone can fill a reservoir and push a button to make coffee, but you didn’t find this article because you’re fully content with that level of coffee.
Instead, this is the step-by-step guide of making the very best coffee, which you can apply to your personal preferences accordingly.
1. Start With Good Quality Beans
What is a good quality bean?
When they can care for their crops without risking a major price drop due to lack of volume, those beans are grown to perfection.
Coffee beans that undergo minimal processing or are prepared in micro roast batches are also among the best, ensuring less time spent out of airtight packaging.
On that note, when the beans come in a bag with an airtight preservation seal, that’s a good sign. If your coffee beans are too dry, that means they were over-roasted.
Coffee has a certain amount of natural oils that are part of a quality brew.
2. Understand Different Roasts
Every roast has its own unique flavor.
You can start with just about any bean variety to achieve this because the roast is all about the method of basically curing the coffee.
Coffee beans, when harvested, are basically hardened caffeine pods that you really, really would not want to make coffee out of.
By roasting the beans, you’re changing them on a chemical level to release that fantastic aroma, and become crisper and drier (while still keeping as much of the natural coffee oil as possible).
There are a lot of ways to achieve this, each producing varied results:
- Light Roast: Most common arabica coffee, light brown in color, light flavor, and body with minimal bitterness.
- Medium Roast: Darker in color from a brown to a light black, less time roasting means more oil in coffee with a slight bitterness to it.
- Dark Roast: Nearly pitch black in color, stronger coffee flavor, lots more oil involved due to shorter roasting times, bitter finish.
You’ll see dark roasts in many different blends of coffee, including Italian, French, most European coffee blends, and even some here in the United States like New Orleans.
If you find yourself having three or more cups of light roast, consider bumping it up to get a more satisfying flavor and body out of a stronger brew.
3. Grind Them Yourself
There are a ton of benefits to hand grinders, such as bringing them with you on travel, not waking up the house when you grind coffee in the morning, and so on and so forth.
You can also use an electric unit if you prefer, but the point is that you will be the one to grind them.
That’s because you need to capture what is known as peak flavor, which is the height of its freshness, and therefore flavor.
When you grind coffee, you are creating the largest surface area of coffee out of each bean, and at the same time you are making them much more vulnerable to air and moisture.
Think of your bread: you want to use it the minute the package is open, not when it’s been sitting out in the air for twenty minutes.
You can store coffee grounds in airtight containers, but nothing is better than going from the grinder to the brewer with no more than a sixty-second wait in between.
4. Apply Them to Your Preferred Brewing Method
We’re going to talk about some of the main brewing methods in a moment through various coffee maker machines. Each offers a different experience, user interface, and level of involvement.
If you buy the same beans from the same brand and grind them the same every single day, you’re doing a top-notch job with quality control.
The next variable that factors the flavor, volume, and body of your coffee is your brewing method.
Try a few different machines/ways to brew so you can find a good brew strength and flavor for your personal taste.
Coffee Maker Machines
Each coffee maker is going to give you different results on bitterness, volume, flavor, and more.
The biggest thing to keep in mind is that nobody is able to perfectly brew coffee on every different kind of machine; some methods produce consistent results, others are easier to mess up.
It’s all up to you, but you owe it to yourself to try a handful of different methods at the very least.
Filter and Drip
If you’ve ever made coffee before, then you know what this is.
This is every basic $20.00 coffee pot that you can buy at Walmart and Target, and they’re in almost every corporate break room across America.
Pop the coffee grinds in the filtered basket, or put a paper filter into the basket beforehand, fill up the water reservoir, and flip the switch.
These get fancier with more functions, but more buttons on a coffee pot do not make coffee taste better.
As long as it has an on and off switch, you can expect to get the same medium-quality brew as with any more expensive filter and drip system.
Portable and Rechargeable
These are super cool units that you can bring on a business trip, car trip, or just have at-the-ready in the morning to save some time when you’re rushing out the door.
Most of them operate like a single-serve Keurig™ system that’s built on to the top of your cup.
Make sure it’s loaded up with water and grinds via the instruction methods, press the button, and brew on-the-go.
If you’re heading to a city where you don’t know the coffee shops, or internationally traveling to a culture that doesn’t consume coffee the same way that we do (at least not yet), this is a great way to stay caffeinated.
Also known as a carafe, these are the glass pots that many restaurants and coffee shops use to store coffee in with the help of a burner.
Decanters aren’t necessarily the machines themselves, but the storage methods of your coffee will affect flavor and taste.
If you just search for decanters, you’ll find a lot that is used for alcohol, and the idea is the same: storing liquid without allowing sediment to be dissolved or damaged.
Percolators take inspiration from older methods of brewing coffee and modern conveniences.
You can get an electric kettle, or go for a stovetop model, but they’re going to do just about the same thing.
A percolator takes all the water and coffee in the main chamber, boils it until the desired strength is reached, then pours it out of a coffee kettle-like spout.
The trick with using a percolator is that you need to have low acidity coffee since the heat and marriage of the grinds and water will bring out a bitter flavor.
You should only use a percolator with coffee that you grind and aim for coarser grinds.
Pressurized Filter System
Similar to espresso machines, a pressurized filter system is all about reaching a certain bar of pressure to squeeze out one of the best cups of coffee.
The pressure is imperative to a successful cup of espresso and can work wonderfully for coffee as well, but there are different levels for different machines.
If you applied 25% of the pressure to a normal drip feed system that you apply to an espresso machine, it would break.
As such, these are built sturdier, designed to last, but also undergo a lot more over the course of their life.
Basically what we’re getting at is that they’re more expensive, but get a smoother, less bitter cup of coffee just about every single time.
Capsules and Pods
Keurig™ systems and Nespresso™ systems alike use single-use coffee pods.
They’re efficient, convenient, but they can be costly. If you don’t have time to make that afternoon cup of coffee, you’re not alone—most of us are leading busy lives, and a capsule/pod system could be the perfect way to cut down on the time spent making coffee.
Most of these models will require a rack for disposable cups, a spinning stand for multiple pods to be stored, and will come with large water reservoirs that don’t need to be filled up daily.
XL units (regardless of brand) are designed with bigger reservoirs, such as 60 oz capacities, which will make ten 6 oz cups of coffee.
The point of getting a capsule/pod unit is convenience and ease: just pop in the pod, push a button, throw the pod in the trash and you’re done.
What could be easier?
Nespresso™ is a good coffee brand with a great pod-based espresso machine, but it’s not for everyone.
There is a clear distinction between properly made espresso, and a Nespresso™ cup, though that’s not to say that they are bad by any means: they’re just more simplified.
Nespresso™ still builds up pressure like you’d find in a standard espresso machine, it just distributes it differently.
There are handheld, manual units that require you to build pressure, and there are other smaller electric countertop units.
Nespresso™ is basically to the espresso world what Keurig™ is to the coffee world: versatile, comes with many models, and offers the most hands-free way to enjoy your favorite coffee.
It’s wise to invest in your own Nespresso™ pod filter so you don’t have to purchase single-use plastic pods all too often (they can add up quite a bit).
Espresso w/ Milk Frother Attachment
Espresso plus milk equals lattes, cappuccinos, and specialty beverages that you can use your own imagination to conjure.
Milk frother attachments are built into the unit, but have a separate milk tank that’s housed on the opposite side of the maker than the water reservoir for the espresso.
Milk frothers are tricky, because built-in models can be difficult to clean.
This is why a lot of people will get an espresso machine (there’s no other way around it; if you want good espresso, you need a machine), and separate handheld milk frothers.
These units are simple to clean, and aren’t as expensive to replace.
Espresso w/o Milk Frother Attachment
This is simply a pressurized espresso machine that strictly dispenses the espresso.
With no presence of a milk frother, this can be used for americanos, or be used in sync with a separate milk frother.
Depending on your beverage of choice and your budget, it might be better (and cheaper) to get two separate units.
Espresso machines that lack a milk frother attachment are easier to clean, and if you’re not into cappuccinos or lattes, it’s better to not have an unnecessary attachment.
Large urns are used for commercial purposes.
If you buy one of these for your home, it’s not going to do you any good, though we’ll talk about small urns in a moment.
Large urns use a distinct method of brewing coffee, where you fill the main basin, then add a metal filtration cover onto a spire that sticks out of the middle of the water tank.
Seal the lid, flick it on, and it begins to brew.
Urns are airtight, which helps maintain a certain level of quality over the coffee by cutting out oxidation.
Most big coffee chains use these to store hot coffee and dispense it.
The cool thing is, since most of these urns are made by big companies like Bunn, they have warming functions that flick on the moment that the brewing cycle is complete, keeping your coffee at the perfect temperature.
If you ever go to a coffee shop and see them getting hot coffee out of a spout, it’s an urn.
Small coffee urns work a bit differently, and are actually designed for personal home use instead of only meeting commercial needs.
You may have seen these at small church or work functions. These function just as larger urns do, though they require less coffee grinds to get started.
Aim for a light roast since the brewing time will take a toll on the flavor and add to bitterness.
You get two separate beakers, and you’ll fill the bottom one with a measured amount of water.
These have been around for nearly two hundred years, and use one of the most unique and theatrical methods of brewing coffee that you’ll ever see.
Turn the burner on that’s housed underneath the bottom beaker, and once the water is boiling, secure the top beaker in place.
You’ll create a suction that has the water siphon up to the top.
Once it’s nearly filled at the top, drop the heat, add and stir your coffee to the top beaker and stir it.
Time is accordingly, and when your coffee is fully brewed, stir it again, remove the heat from the bottom, and pressure will siphon the coffee through the filter and separate the grinds, leaving them in the top beaker.
The bottom beaker is now filled with your coffee, and you can serve.
If it sounds complicated, that’s because it is for the first few times that you do it, but you won’t be able to turn back from siphon coffee once you’ve tried it.
You can get this in multiple varieties, from sketos (which essentially means unsweetened), up to vary glykos (which means extremely sweet).
They use a similar brewing method to Turkish coffee, which we’ll talk more about in a moment.
You fill a metal pitcher-like container with a handle with coffee grinds, hot water, and cook it over a heat source.
Greek coffee has three distinct elements: dregs, which are the grinds that sink to the bottom, the strong coffee that sits above the dregs, and the foam that sits on top of the cup and is rich with flavor.
It’s an experience (and don’t worry, you don’t have to drink the grinds).
When people think of culture-specific, they often think of bacterial cultures, but it’s not the case at all—the Turks just have a different way of doing things, and this is their culturally appropriate way to blend coffee.
Using a (usually copper) open top urn, you mix in your coffee grounds, add water, and then using the long stem handle, you boil this over a heat source. It comes out extremely bitter, but that’s the point.
In Turkish culture, you serve this coffee with a sweet, maybe a few spoons of sugar in the coffee, and a glass of water alongside it to cut out the bitterness.
There’s also a layer of foam on top that adds to the flavor. It’s a different way of doing things, and it’s how you can expect to find coffee made in Turkey.
Not in the mood for coffee today?
A combination machine also has an espresso machine built right in.
The difference between the two is that one works as a drip feed, while the other has a pressurized system to produce single shots of espresso.
These machines typically don’t have a milk frothing system, unless you opt for a more expensive (and generally larger) model.
These can range from a small countertop machine that’s about twice the width of a coffee pot, or take up half your counter space.
If you’re a lover of espresso, it’s worth it to get a combination machine, so long as you get to use it once a week. Otherwise, it’s better to get two separate units.
This is more of an accessory to coffee making than anything else, but an important aspect nonetheless.
If you have a wooden stand or a manual coffee maker, a coffee kettle can greatly impact the flavor of your brew.
These are used strictly to heat up water, but most of them come with a built-in temperature gauge on the lid so you can monitor the perfect temp for coffee making.
You want around 190 F to 200 F for the perfect cup.
Coffee kettles also have a unique pouring spout, giving you a thin stream of hot water so that you don’t overpour and flood your filters. It beats microwaving a cup of water and hoping for the best.
As you might imagine, an ornamental coffee maker is more for show than it is for function.
If you’re really into coffee and want something to display your dedication to the caffeinated craft, these will make coffee, but you might be a bit too nervous to use them in case of breakfast.
Ornamental coffee makers can vary in price, though they usually don’t exceed a hundred-or-so dollars.
They’re mostly manual or stand-based coffee makers, meaning that it’s very unlikely (so unlikely that we haven’t found one of these) to locate an electric ornamental drip unit.
Good to have when impressing the in-laws or inviting friends over for a Sunday cup.
Manual coffee makers are a breed of their own.
Some people love them, some hate them, but they do provide a hands-on approach to making your own coffee.
One excellent example of this is the AeroPress, where you fill the chamber with coffee grinds, add water, and apply a topper where you gently apply pressure until the topper meets the coffee grinds.
It’s a quick way to get a good cup of coffee in sixty seconds, but the cleanup is usually a little more intricate, and you might need to add additional hot water into your coffee cup to complete it.
These aren’t for everyone, but they save a lot of counter space and require no electricity to use.
Pour Over System
Pour over coffee systems can be classified as anything where you have to pour the water through the grinds.
You could be using manual or wooden stands, so long as you’re controlling the flow and speed of the water over the grinds.
This is a preferred method from standard filter and drip systems by many coffee connoisseurs who want to avoid a burnt flavor from the bottom burner of a normal system, while still enjoying the way the coffee itself is brewed.
French press systems are still widely used today, and don’t require any electricity whatsoever to use.
Simply boil your water in a kettle off to the side, and fill the base of the French press reservoir with your coffee grinds.
The only trick here is that you need to measure on your own. Pour the hot water into the basin, and let it sit for about sixty seconds.
The longer you let the water sit, the stronger your brew can become, so it’s good to experiment with different times to find the right strength for you.
When it’s at the desired strength, use the plunger and apply gentle pressure as it descends through the basin.
This will separate the grinds from the coffee, just don’t push too fast or the grinds will pressurize and escape through the rubber edges.
It’s drip coffee to a whole new level.
A wooden stand coffee maker requires no electricity, and doesn’t use single-use paper filters or pods, like in Keurig™ machines.
The stand pole is adjustable, depending on what mug size you’re placing on the stand base, allowing you to put just about anything underneath to catch coffee.
Pour your kettle-prepared hot water in the long sock-like filter in the top, and let it run through your fresh grinds.
This takes about two minutes for a cup, and gives a distinct flavor. You’ll also lose a little bit of heat (no more than ten degrees Fahrenheit) since there’s no chamber to retain heat.
Toss the reusable filter in the sink or dishwasher, and you’re good to go with the rest of your day. You can always opt to build your own as well.
Single Brew Systems
These were basically the inception of Keurig™ system.
A single brew coffee maker is designed to make a single cup of coffee, which is perfect for those who get up early for work while the family is still asleep, and don’t want to waste a full pot of coffee.
These usually features a mix of pressure and a drip setting, allowing you to let it run over the catching lid of a single coffee cup with a lid.
You can typically get a 12 oz cup of coffee in about sixty seconds or less with most models, so if you’re trying to savor those few precious moments of sleep before you head out in the morning, this will help with that.
Which Type of Coffee Machine is Right for Me?
You’re not reading this because you’ve never had a cup of coffee before.
You’re reading this because you’re fed up with the coffee you have and the options that are available to you, and you want something completely new and refreshing.
Personal taste is something that no article can dictate for you, but what we can tell you is this: don’t try more of the same.
If you’re used to filter and drip systems, go for the polar opposite of that.
There are a lot of options on this list, so whatever methods you have already tried and already knew about, find whatever the exact opposite of that was and go for it.
Even if you have the notion that this is going to taste bad or just not be for you, go for it anyway.
It’s going to give you a scale to run off of.
You’ll know one end of the flavor, bitterness and body spectrum, and the extremes of the other side.
This will let you find a better grip on the balance in the middle, and designate what you really do not like.
From there, pick something in between the two brewing methods that you know, and work from there.
You don’t have to try every single type of coffee out there, but starting with extremes will give you some good footing.
What coffee system is going to serve your best interests and needs?
Which System is Right for You?
Coffee is all about preference, and each brew system and method gives you an entirely new and different way to experience it.
Keep in mind that each system has its own energy requirements, capabilities, drawbacks, and some can be far more difficult to disassemble and clean than others.