The Most Common Coffee Mistakes
By Lisa Frania — / Coffee Talk
16 Coffee Mistakes You're Probably Making at Home
Millions of people drink coffee every day. In fact, each of those caffeinated, coffee-loving people likes to drink about two cups every day. Although making coffee seems like the easiest thing in the world to do, a lot of us don’t always make it right and end up choking down a sub-par cup instead of enjoying the caffeinated bliss of a well-brewed masterpiece. You deserve the best of both worlds. Making coffee is an artform, but you may be making a few coffee blunders that affect the taste and quality—and stand in the way of the perfect cup.
Here are the Common Coffee Mistakes You're Probably Making at Home:
1. Buying low-quality coffee
Buying coffee should not be the same experience as buying tuna fish. When it comes to coffee, you get what you pay for. If your coffee doesn’t taste very good, it’s probably because you’re skimping out and buying low-quality coffee beans. I know we all like a good bargain, but it’s not really a bargain if we have to hold our nose or make a face when we drink it. So look for the best coffee beans that are also Organic and Fair Trade Certified. Your taste buds—and your wallet—will thank you.
The perfect cup needs a perfect blend of acidity, bitterness and sweetness. If you aren’t an expert yet, then test the blend by grinding some beans and putting a spoonful on top of a glass of ice water. I know that sounds strange, but if you purchase a high-quality coffee, the color shouldn’t leak into the water in just a few minutes. If it’s garbage coffee, expect it right away.
2. Choosing coffee grounds instead of whole beans
Do you buy coffee beans or grounds? If you love your coffee, that's a big—and important—decision for you to make. Buying grounds is easier, for sure. You don’t have to buy a grinder—or listen to it every morning. And honestly, why not skip the step and fast forward to caffeinated bliss?
Here’s why: Whole beans will get you to a perfect cup better than ground. Whole beans will stay fresh for longer, and they just taste (and smell) better. Think of it this way: Grinding coffee releases gases and oils that hold the best flavor. So even though buying pre-ground may be convenient, just remember that every hour after you grind the beans, the coffee starts to age.
3. Using an incorrect coffee-to-water ratio
It’s 5:30 a.m. and you can’t pull your eyelids apart. You need that caffeine in the worst way, so you carelessly toss a few random scoops toward the coffeemaker, throw in some water and go on your not-yet-so merry way. Many people simply don’t pay attention to the coffee-to-water ratio when brewing a cup (or a pot). That’s a mistake.
If you are a beginner in this world of coffee, don’t just add too much coffee to make a stronger brew. It could turn into a sour experience for you. Remember that when ground beans and water interact, there’s only so much caffeine you can extract before you ruin the flavor—that's due to contact time, extraction rate AND the coffee-to-water ratio.
As a general rule, use 2 1/2 tablespoons of coffee grounds with 6 ounces of water. Then just assess and adjust the coffee and water amounts according to your taste buds.
4. Using old or stale coffee beans
Ok, so let’s assume you know what a high-quality bean and roast is. Some people still might be wrecking a good thing by hanging onto those beans or roasts for too long. Just like when you buy veggies or bread, the taste of a good cup of coffee relies on the freshness of the beans.
Old coffee doesn’t make you sick, but its taste and aroma will fall short of getting you to your caffeinated state of euphoria. Always check the roast date on the package. Any bag older than two to three weeks has already started to lose its flavor. Make sure to only grind when you’re ready to brew.
If you want a truly flavorful, satisfying cup of coffee every time, then rethink your plan a bit. Signing up for a coffee subscription service offers you the option to pick your style of beans, brewing method and how often those delicious (and fresh) beans are delivered to your door.
5. Grinding your coffee beans ahead of time
You can’t argue that pre-ground beans are more convenient for brewing coffee. Although it might seem like the best idea for well-intentioned NON-morning people, spend the extra seconds to grind right before you brew. It's worth it.
When the grounds are exposed to open air, they begin a process called oxidation. Oxidation breaks down the acids, evaporates the flavorful oils in the bean and allows aromas to escape, and that leaves you with either a tasteless cup—or a stale cup—both options aren’t great for starting out your day. Never grind all of your beans at once. The beans only have a life expectancy of 2-4 weeks, while ground only has 20-30 minutes.
6. Failing to store your coffee beans the right way
Storing those beans and keeping them as fresh as possible is also often overlooked. Not all coffee bags are made to store coffee for a long time. To prevent oxygen and humidity from getting to that coffee, an air-tight container is a must.
Remember to store your coffee beans in a cool, dark place like a pantry or cupboard. Also, keep the beans away from strong-smelling spices—coffee will absorb smells that are near it. And do not put the coffee beans in the fridge or freezer or you’ll have coffee tasting like last week’s leftovers.
7. Reheating your coffee in the microwave
We know you’re busy. We know you’re forgetful at times. We know you’re at home or at the office and get bombarded with important tasks in the time you brew your coffee and when it’s going to hit your lips. So there it sits—on top of your table or desk, getting colder by the minute.
You might think a quick zap in the microwave will help you salvage that cold mug of coffee, but reheating it actually accelerates the bitterness. If you want tasty coffee, then drink it when it’s hot and ready. If you have a bad habit of letting your coffee go cold, then try a nice, kanteen instead.
8. Using low-quality water for your coffee
If you’re using the highest-quality beans or roast, then don’t cut corners on the water either. It might not be the first thing you think about when you’re making your favorite cup of coffee, but a cup of coffee is almost 99% water—so don't make a mistake with the water.
Tap water—hard or soft—contains minerals (and contaminants) that can spoil the taste of brewed coffee. Water quality is dependent on so many variables, as well as the region you live in, so using water straight out of the tap could be a detriment to that cup. Use filtered water instead. Better water means a better cup, and it will be nicer to your equipment too.
9. Using water that's the wrong temperature when making coffee
Using the right kind of quality water is a good start, but you also have to consider the temperature of the water you use. The right temperature will extract the best flavors and aromas from the coffee grounds. If it’s too hot—you could have a bitter brew. Brewing requires water that ranges from 195 – 205 F, not too hot and not too cold.
That temperature decision is based on the brewing method you use. If you’re using a traditional drip coffee maker, then add cold water. If you are using a French press, however, you’ll need to heat your water—but not boil the water. That will burn your coffee and ruin the taste. When using a French press, the ideal temp is 195 F, just below boiling, and since water boils at 212 F, then just wait another 30 seconds off the boil.
10. Using the wrong kind of coffee mug
Choosing the right mug for your coffee-drinking experience is often overlooked, but it shouldn’t be. Grabbing the perfect mug for that delicious brew is paramount to the overall coffee experience. If you enjoy your coffee as hot as it can be, then a plastic mug is out. And forget the mugs that feel thin and flimsy. That heat escapes quickly and will change your hot cup to a room temperature cup in no time.
Opt for a thick-walled, handcrafted ceramic or glass mug. If you’re on the go, then invest in a high-quality travel mug so you can take your hot coffee with you—and keep your coffee hot too!
11. Drinking coffee from a cold mug
A hot cup of coffee sipped from the right mug is a Nirvana-esque experience, but once your coffee cools down, the taste starts to disappear and it’s time to toss it down the drain. In those moments, you mistakenly feel like a warm-up is in order, which doesn’t really solve the taste problem. Instead, try making your coffee and then putting it in a prewarmed mug. Simply pour some hot water in that favorite mug of yours and let it sit for a few minutes. When the cup is warming, grind those beans and get the coffee ready. Your warm mug can then keep that coffee hot and lock in that great flavor for a longer stretch of time.
12. Only using one coffee brewing method
Most of us make our coffee the old-fashioned way every time. The drip coffee maker has become routine and old reliable. Or maybe it’s your single-pod coffee maker that gets you through life. Your loyalty is honorable, but stop the (coffee) press for a word of advice: You might just be missing out on the best method ever—you just have to try something new!
The drip coffee maker can brew a big pot, and it’s simple to use. But you may not have the best-tasting product at the end of the day. Get creative and look into other coffee-brewing options like pour over coffee, Chemex or French press brew options. You can tweak the taste of your coffee because each method offers a different level of quality, taste and aroma. Experimenting could offer you the chance to fulfill your dreams of becoming an at-home barista.
13. Using the wrong grind for your coffee-making method
If you are trying new brewing methods, you're obviously ready and willing to make better coffee. But don’t forget you’ll need to grind those beans a bit differently too, depending on the brewing method you’re using. Some methods require a super-fine grind, while others like the French press method demands the opposite—a coarse grind. Grinding beans for style AND method of the coffee will provide flavor, color and aroma in the cup.
14. Not cleaning your coffee maker often enough
Don’t neglect the coffee maker. That coffee maker is your anchor for clearing early morning fogginess and propelling you into a productive day. So don’t forget to take a few minutes to clean that friend of yours. Make that a regular habit.
Generally speaking, coffee makers rank 5th as being one of the germiest items in your kitchen space—more germs than your bathroom faucet! One study done by the National Science Foundation found that 50% of us have yeast and mold inside our coffeemakers. Those germs that build up over time can also reduce the strength of your coffee.
If you’re regularly using a French press, then clean it every time. On the other hand, if you rely on the drip coffee maker, then a once-a-month clean will be sufficient. Just remember to err on the side of cleaning too often—your coffee experience will thank you!
15. Messing with your brew time
One of the big draws of the traditional drip coffee maker is its ability to offer a preset brew time option. Why wouldn’t you want to set that bad boy the night before so you can roll out of bed, rub those sleepy eyes and dive into a delicious cup of Joe. Although that is a definite “perk,” there are a couple of downsides to consider.
First, water and grounds should only sit together for 5 minutes. In a French press, the interaction lasts for 2 to 4 minutes, and with espresso, no more than 20 to 30 seconds. So to get that perfectly brewed cup, take care of the brewing time. Letting water and grounds stay together for too long will cause over-extraction (of flavors), and if too short, then under extraction could occur. Unlike betting on a sports game, if you love your coffee, don’t bet the over or the under. Get it just right every time.
16. Adding too much sugar to your coffee
If you buy high-quality coffee, there should be no reason to mix in a bunch of low-quality additives like sugar or creamers. Usually, people opt for the sweeteners because the coffee doesn’t taste good to begin with. That's another reason the home-brewed coffee is the best. You can guarantee your own flavor by using the proper process and focusing on quality beans, storage, water temp and quality. You’ll taste the difference. If you still need a little sweet something, then make your own plant-based creamer.
Brewing strong coffee at home can help you attain that early-morning Zen you seek, or the afternoon pick-me-up you need. Just make sure you’re making coffee you can brag about. It doesn’t take a bunch of expensive equipment to raise your coffee game. Just avoid a few common coffee blunders, and you’ll be well on your way to achieving the most flavorful, delicious cup every time!
RELATED: How to Perfect Your Pour Over
Let's drink coffee and throw things at happy people