Troubleshoot Your Way to a Perfect Cup of Coffee

Does your morning brew fall flat? Here's how to make coffee at home like a barista. 

Published Jan. 18, 2024.

What is it about brewing your morning cup of joe at home that doesn’t quite measure up to the coffeeshop? Even if you’ve invested in a pricey coffee setup complete with everything from a high-end grinder to an espresso machine, your coffee can sometimes just taste . . . mediocre.

A few simple and quick tricks might make a big difference. Here are some things to look out for on your quest for the perfect cup. 

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1. Choose the Right Roast Level

Coffee beans are typically roasted to three levels—light, medium, or dark. The dark roast coffee is sometimes called “French” or “Italian” roast. The darker the roast, the more oily the coffee gets. 

The roast level can also determine a coffee’s best brewing method. Thanks to the high oil content, dark roast coffee is particularly good for making espresso, as the oils help produce a thicker and lasting crema, the foamy, beige-colored hat on top of a shot. Light roast coffee retains more original flavors from the coffee beans and processing, which could taste floral and fruity and pour-over is the quickest way to extract those nuances. 

2. Grind Your Own Beans 

If you haven’t done it yet, start grinding your own beans! One coffee bean contains hundreds of flavor compounds that are prone to escape once pulverized. Grinding coffee right before use will keep the “escaping” to the minimum. You’ll begin by weighing the beans before you grind them, regardless of the brewing method. 

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3. Dial in Your Grinder

Not all coffee beans are the same. Because of the roast level and variety of the beans, different brewing methods and types of coffee require different grind sizes to produce the most flavorful cup. 

Not sure what you’re tasting for? The general rule of thumb is that when a cup of coffee tastes too sour, you should grind the beans a touch finer to reduce underextraction; if your coffee tastes too bitter, grind the beans a bit coarser to not overextract the coffee. Once you reach the perfect-tasting coffee, that means your grinder is fully dialed in. 

4. Clean Your Grinder

Set up a reminder to clean your grinder regularly to avoid residual grinds and oils clogging up your precious machine. We recommend at least once a month if you drink one to two cups a day or once a week if you drink more than two cups and prefer oily beans.

You can “dry clean” your blade coffee grinders with rice, but for burr coffee grinders you’ll want to take a gentler approach—read more about how to clean burr grinders here

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5. Test Your Water 

Oftentimes, water is the most overlooked factor when it comes to brewing coffee at home, as most people use tap water and the chemicals in different areas can vary. Not only does hard water impart a chlorinated flavor to those with sensitive tastebuds, but it could also wear out machineries faster than soft water. 

Coffee shops sometimes even install reverse-osmosis systems to treat their water before using it for making coffee. That’s a little next-level for the typical at-home brewer, so for the rest of us, test your water by using a test kit to check hardness. If the test results indicate your tap water is too hard, consider switching to distilled water, which can be purchased at grocery stores.

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