Knowing how to make coffee at home is relatively easy and well worth the effort. Whether you are brewing with a machine or by hand, a quality cup of freshly brewed coffee involves a few basic principles. Once you learn them, making coffee will be less mysterious and more consistent.
A common complaint people have is that making coffee at home never seems to have the same flavor as their favorite café. Assuming that you’re using quality beans, knowing how to make the best coffee requires proper dosing, extraction, and execution.
So this article will be your ultimate brew guide covering everything from a beginning to an advanced level. Making coffee is a science, but it doesn’t have to be a secret!
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How To Make Coffee 101
For some coffee lovers, coffee is mostly about caffeine—it’s a way to wake up and be functional. For other coffee lovers, the taste is most important. They dial in every detail, and often spend lots of money, to create the highest quality cup they can. The truth is it doesn’t matter what kind of coffee lover you are. The best cup of coffee is one that you enjoy.
And to enjoy the magic of coffee, you don’t need to know much. Making a delicious cup of freshly brewed coffee is about one thing: extraction. Extraction is everything when you are making coffee. Without it, you simply don’t have coffee.
Best Ways of Making Coffee: The Basics
We’ll go into more detail later on, but put simply, extraction is the process of water dissolving plant material (and caffeine) from the coffee grounds to create flavor. Even after this process, coffee is still nearly 99% water.
But that 1% of the beverage is everything. So whether brewing a pot on a machine or by hand, these extraction factors will make your coffee taste great:
- Brewing Ratio: This is the ratio of coffee to water. Generally, the ideal ratio is around 1:17 (1 part coffee to 17 parts water). On a scale, this would be 1 gram of coffee for every 17 grams of water. Without a scale, you can brew 1 tablespoon of coffee grounds for every 4 ounces of water.
- Water Temperature: Fill up a kettle, boil the water, and let it sit for a minute or two. Boiling water that sits for two minutes should get to the ideal temperature range of 195°F and 205°F. If brewing a pot on a coffee maker, the water temperature will probably be automatically set. Generally, hotter water means more extraction.
- Grind Size: Ground coffee comes in various sizes, from the fine powder of espresso to the coarse kosher salt-sized coffee grounds used in French Press brewing. With a coffee maker, set your grinder to a medium setting. Generally, brewing with a finer grind will extract more flavor.
- Time: The last factor when making coffee is how much time the coffee can be together. This one gets complicated, but for most brewing methods you can aim for 3-4 minutes of brew time.
Those are the basics, but of course, all of these elements play together in complicated ways. So for those who want to go deeper into the coffee rabbit hole, we’ll go over the brewing process in more detail.
Extraction & How To Make Coffee Taste Perfect
Coffee extraction is the process of hot water dissolving plant material from the inside of the coffee grounds. It is measured as total dissolved solids or TDS. Roasted coffee beans are water-soluble up to around 28%, meaning water can dissolve a maximum of 28%. Some tiny undissolved particles also float around in the water and contribute to the mouthfeel.
But 28% would be way too much dissolving, what we call over-extraction. The ideal extraction is somewhere between 18-22%. And less than 18% puts you in the territory of under-extraction.
Extraction can get complicated, but as a mental model you can picture it like a two-way street:
Adjusting the brew factors listed above—brewing ratio, water temperature, grind size, and time—all create different extractions. For example, a finer grind will always lead to more extraction, as will a higher water temperature. Learning how to balance the brewing factors is a subtle art, so at first, it’s probably best to adjust one factor like grind size and start to notice how it affects the taste.
Over-Extraction: Coffee Taste Bitter
One of the most common complaints coffee drinkers have is that their coffee tastes too bitter. We even find that many people put milk, cream, or sugar in their coffee simply because it covers up that bitter taste. We have nothing against sugar or milk—we love milk in espresso drinks—but covering up bad coffee is not a good reason to use it. And properly extracted coffee doesn’t need sugar anyway—it already has sweet flavors!
So as coffee lovers, we think it’s much better to fix your brewing process so that coffee tastes delicious all on its own. So if you are consistently noticing that your coffee tastes bitter, drying, and empty, you should adjust to lessen the extraction.
If you have a grinder, make the coffee grounds more coarse. Bigger chunks of coffee provide less surface area which means less extraction. You can also lower your water temperature to lower the extraction. But if you like your coffee piping hot, you’re probably better off adjusting the grind instead.
If, however, you purchase a bag of coffee ground, then you have to experiment more with your dosing and timing. Try brewing faster or using more coffee. Surprisingly, a stronger brew will result in a lower extraction.
Under-Extraction: Coffee Taste Sour
While over-extraction is probably the more common problem among coffee drinkers, under-extraction is also something to be aware of. And if you are falling into the specialty coffee rabbit hole(welcome to the club!), you might find that under-extraction becomes more common.
Under-extraction is when you don’t take enough flavor out of the ground coffee. And under-extracted flavors are sour, lacking in sweetness, and have a weak/quick finish. These flavors are still present in a properly brewed cup of coffee. But they are balanced out by the sweeter flavors that come later.
So if you consistently notice that your coffee tastes sour—it is acidic but not the sweeter more pleasant kind—you can assume you have an under-extracted brew. With a grinder, make the coffee grounds finer to increase extraction. You can also increase your total brew time to give the ground coffee and the water more time together.
And just remember that brewing coffee perfectly sometimes requires experimentation. Go too far into over-extraction and then back off into under-extraction until you find that perfect middle ground. When you take a sip of perfectly extracted coffee, you’ll know it!
While extraction is crucial, let’s be clear about one thing: a quality cup of coffee doesn’t happen without quality beans and quality roasting.
Great coffee is all about the details. It matters how you grow it, how you process it, and how you roast it. How you package the roasted beans in a bag is even more important.
So if you want to have the best chance of making amazing coffee, do yourself a favor and start with high-quality beans. There are so many roasters and subscriptions online that will send fresh coffee directly to your house.
Why does coffee need to be fresh? The answer is that oxygen slowly degrades the flavor of the coffee. Just like freshly brewed coffee tastes best, coffee that is within a month of its roast date will also taste best.
Plus, one of the best ways to keep your coffee fresh for a long time is to grind the beans right before brewing.
Just like leftover coffee doesn’t taste great the next day, pre-ground coffee similarly loses its flavor. Grinding coffee exposes more of a coffee bean to air, and oxygen is the enemy of fresh coffee. So the first rule of grinding is to grind just before you brew coffee. Having a coffee grinder at home is crucial.
Once you own a grinder (preferably a burr grinder), you just have to understand the relationship between grind size and extraction.
We’ll give recommendations for grind sizes on different brewers below, but let’s first go over the general concept. The more finely you grind, the more extraction you will get (more surface area). This effect augments with drip coffee because smaller grinds also slow down the flow of water.
And as you would expect, coarse ground coffee extracts less because there is less surface area for the water to contact. And likewise, water flows more quickly through larger particles of a coarse grind.
Outside of this concept, the main thing to know about quality grinders is evenness. High-quality coffee grinders (burr grinders) produce coffee grounds that are all even (or close to even) in size. This evenness allows every particle to extract at the same rate, what is called an even extraction.
Since water is the main ingredient in coffee, it’s crucial to get it right. In this section, we will go over the two most crucial aspects of water: temperature and ratio. Outside of that, just be sure to use filtered water or buy spring water from the supermarket.
Surprisingly, distilled water is not recommended because you need at least some dissolved minerals in the water for proper brewing to happen.
Temperature of Water
You can understand the importance of water temperature by running an experiment. Without agitation, put one tea bag in a cup of cold water and another tea bag in a cup of water just off the boil. What you should notice is that the heat of the boiled water more actively extracts tea into the beverage. The cold water takes much more time.
This is because, by definition, hot water has more kinetic energy. The water molecules are more actively moving around and interacting with the tea. And the same is true when you brew coffee. To properly extract coffee in a 4-minute brew time, you need hot water. And the higher the temperature, the higher your extraction will be.
The official range is a temperature between 195°F and 205°F, and that is a great starting point. But as you gain more experience in coffee, you might find that venturing outside of that range gives you some new and interesting flavors. Check out the best water temperature for pour-over coffee to learn more details.
Like brewing temperature, there is not one specific coffee-to-water ratio. The ratio is flexible and you can change it depending on how you want your coffee to taste. And it also depends on what kind of coffee you’re making.
Normal drip coffee, for example, has a brewing ratio of around 1:17 (1 part coffee to 17 parts water). But espresso, which is much stronger, uses a ratio of 1:2. The coffee makes up half of the mass of the finished espresso.
If you like strong coffee, use a tighter ratio (like 1:14 or 1:15). And if you like a more delicate cup, you can go for something like 1:18.
But do be aware that without a scale, it is much harder to accurately get these ratios. In that case, it’s best to use the volume measurements of 1 tablespoon of coffee grounds for every 4 ounces of water.
How To Make Coffee: Brewing Methods
When you’re first learning how to make coffee, the number of brewing methods can be intimidating. Each one seems to have its own specific rules and people are scared to mess it up.
However, we’ve found that once people understand the basic categories of how to brew coffee, they become more flexible and open to trying new methods.
Immersion coffee brewing is any method in which the coffee is immersed in the water for the entire brew time. Instead of passing through the ground coffee, water and coffee hang out in the same vessel until you serve it in a carafe.
Immersion brewing methods, like the French Press or the AeroPress, produce a full-bodied cup that has a strong flavor. Specialty coffee enthusiasts also rave about the superiority of siphon coffee taste, which looks more like a science experiment than a brewer!
Unlike immersion brewing, a pour-over is when the water passes through the coffee grinds. A home drip coffee maker and an industrial coffee machine are automatic pour-over machines. After you put the right amount of coffee into the filter basket, hot water will automatically drip through the coffee bed and into the coffee pot.
Expensive pour-over machines can do this well, but to make the best coffee, people prefer a manual pour-over. Manual pour-over drippers, like the Hario V60 or the Chemex, are delicate and require a gooseneck kettle to get a gentle pour. When done correctly, pouring manually gets an even extraction and produces a quality cup.
The basic steps for pour-over brewing are as follows:
- Start by filling up a kettle with filtered water. Heat it until it boils.
- Pre-wet the filter to get rid of the paper’s taste. This will also preheat your carafe.
- Measure out your coffee and grind it just before brewing. A medium grind works for most pour-over methods.
- Begin pouring slowly in a circular motion. It’s important to wet all the coffee while still keeping the pour calm and controlled.
- After pouring the desired amount of water, a quick stir of the bed will help stop the coffee from sticking to the sides.
- Before you serve, swirl and aerate the coffee in your carafe before pouring it into your cup.
- Take a sip and enjoy the flavor of a quality pour-over coffee.
Different pour-over methods can have slightly different directions, especially in terms of grind size, but those steps should be a great starting point. You can also dive deeper into the pour-over rabbit hole with these complete guides on pour over brewing and buying the best pour over coffee maker.
Espresso is an amazing way to consume coffee, and it deserves an entire article unto itself. The first known espresso machine dates back to 1884 in Italy. And espresso today is the most common way of consuming coffee in much of Europe.
Espresso uses finely ground coffee, and you compress those grounds with pressure to make a puck. Water would not naturally flow through these tightly packed grounds, but espresso machines pump water through them at 9-10 bars of pressure.
This pressure causes a thick and viscous liquid to pour out into the cup. The flavor of espresso is extremely strong because of this pressure and its 1:2 ratio. A common espresso shot in the specialty coffee world is 18 grams of coffee and 36 grams of espresso in the cup. You can sip on the espresso straight or you can fill up the cup with steamed milk to create a cappuccino or a latte.
**Check out how to make espresso at home without a machine.**
Cold-brew coffee is becoming increasingly popular, especially in hot weather when you don’t want a piping hot cup of coffee. Instead of using hot water and a shorter brew time, cold brew uses cold water and a long brew time. The brew time for cold brew can be well over 12 hours (usually 16 hours), which compensates for the slower extraction.
The ratio for cold brew coffee is usually 1:4 or 1:5. This coffee-to-water ratio makes a strong concentrate that you can dilute with water while serving. You should also serve cold brew over ice to further dilute the concentrate.
You can make cold brew coffee in a cold brewer or simply in a mason jar. If brewing in a jar, just be sure to pour your concentrate through a coffee filter after 16 hours or so. Cold brew coffee lasts in the fridge for up to 10 days, making it especially great for having leftover coffee.
Unlike cold brew, you make iced coffee with hot water and a more typical brewing method. Usually, you brew with a stronger ratio and then serve the liquid over ice. After some melting, the brew strength becomes a more typical ratio.
But there is a rabbit hole of geeky differences between iced coffee and cold brew, so feel free to jump in if you wish!
If you thought there were a lot of brewing methods, prepare yourself for the amount of brewing equipment out there. Brewing equipment is varied and can be expensive, but for this article, we’ll cover the most common coffee equipment.
How To Make Coffee in an Automatic Drip Machine
Whether you are making coffee with a coffee maker at home or on a bigger industrial machine, the basic concepts for drip coffee are the same. Unlike a manual pour-over, you have less control with an automatic drip machine. But there are still some tips to keep in mind.
Firstly, make sure your filter basket and spray head are clean. We’ve made plenty of coffee on home coffee makers and machines at restaurants, and you would be surprised just how dirty the insides can get.
So be sure to keep your machine clean!
Some other tips for making coffee on a drip machine include:
- If you can, grind the coffee beans right before brewing.
- Use filtered water.
- Use a stopwatch to measure your machine’s brew time. If it’s too short, consider a finer grind.
Every drip machine is different, so focus on the flavors of extraction listed above. As you continue making coffee you can zero in on the perfect extraction.
How To Make Coffee in a French Press
The French press is an immersion brewing method that is time-tested and one of the best ways of making coffee. It produces a quality cup of intense coffee. It has a full-body mouthfeel that makes a drip coffee maker seem weak. A French press works particularly great with a dark roast!
Besides the full-body taste, a French press is also great because you can brew multiple cups at once. And it’s low maintenance—you only have to remember a few basic steps.
The article above is an in-depth guide to French Press coffee, but the basic steps are as follows:
- Start by filling up a kettle with 900 grams of water (32 ounces). You can use more or less depending on the size of your French press. Stick with a ratio of 1:15 (2 grams of coffee per 1 fluid ounce of water). Boil the water.
- Grind the whole-bean coffee medium course. For 900 grams of water, this would be 60 grams of coffee.
- Add the ground beans to the French press, start your timer, and begin pouring the water.
- Stop around halfway to stir the grounds. This stir helps release excess CO2.
- Pour the remaining water and place the plunger on top of the brewer.
- When the timer hits 4 minutes, gently press the plunger down and serve it into your cups.
Since the French press is an immersion brewer, it is best to pour out all of the coffee after 4 minutes. Otherwise, extraction will continue and your second cup will be bitter!
Chemex Pour-Over Glass Coffee Maker
The Chemex is one of the most classic ways of drinking coffee. Invented in 1941 by Peter Schlumbohm, the Chemex is now a staple for coffee drinkers all around the world.
The Chemex is both brilliant and simple at the same time, and it consistently makes a clean drink. Unlike the French press which has a lot of coffee particles (body), the filter of the Chemex catches almost everything.
The Chemex is just like any other pour-over brewing method. The distinguishing factor is the thickness of the Chemex filters. The thicker filter catches most of the fines of the coffee grounds so that you can taste the flavor of your drink with clarity. Even if it’s not your favorite way of making coffee, be sure to brew a few cups on the Chemex for every bag of beans you buy.
The key to making coffee on a Chemex is to grind the coffee a bit coarser than a normal pour-over. The thicker filter causes a slower drip, and this coarser grind will balance it out. You can read our full instructions on making a Chemex pour-over here:
Best Ways of Making Coffee Without a Coffee Maker
If you don’t have a coffee maker, you still have some ways to make coffee. After all, the history of coffee was all about inventing new ways of making coffee. It might not taste as balanced as some of the methods above, but at the end of the day, coffee is just water and ground coffee.
Cowboy coffee, for example, is basically brewing like a French press but without a filter. Turkish coffee is also brewed without a filter. As long as you maintain a good coffee-to-water ratio, you should be good to go.
How To Make a Coffee in a Pot
If you don’t own a coffee maker, one solution is to make stovetop coffee in a pot. It’s not the most subtle method, but you will get your caffeine fix in. And if you do it carefully you can get a decent tasting cup.
For making coffee in a pot, roughly go by the following steps:
- Boil Water: Measure out how much water you will need, and add a little bit extra to account for water lost to steam.
- Add Coffee: Once the water is boiling, add in the ground beans (remember to stick to your ratio). A medium grind will work.
- Time: Turn the heat off and let the coffee brew in there for about 4-5 min.
- Serve: If you have a bag or a filter, you can pour the coffee through that. Otherwise, scoop the liquid out so that the ground coffee remains in the pot.
Making Coffee at Home: Common Questions
With the basic concepts behind brewing coffee out of the way, let’s go through a few of the most common questions/problems people face when they brew coffee. Whether you’re a seasoned coffee-lover or just getting into it, you’ll probably find something useful here!
Why does my coffee taste bitter?
Over-extraction is the most likely reason for bitter coffee. Because over-extraction takes too much from the coffee grounds, your cup will be filled with flavors that are bitter and drying. If you have a grinder, make the grounds coarser and see if that makes the brew less bitter. And for more detail, we have an entire article on fixing bitter coffee.
How to make coffee while traveling?
While on the road, sticking to your normal coffee routine can be challenging. But once you learn the basics of coffee brewing, you can technically do it anywhere. You can bring beans with you and use a hand grinder to make ground coffee wherever you are, especially with devices like AeroPress.
What is a good coffee to start with?
There’s no definite rule when it comes to starting your home coffee journey, but generally speaking, a medium roast is a good idea. Lighter roasts have a more subtle flavor profile and can be harder to properly extract. Medium and dark roasts will have a more bitter and intense flavor.
Enjoy Your Coffee!
If you’ve made it this far, thanks for reading our complete guide on making coffee in all its forms. Learning how to make coffee can be as simple or complex as you want. For those who desire to go all-in on specialty coffee, enjoy your journey. Brewing coffee with specialty knowledge will take you on a long and satisfying journey. A sip of truly delicious coffee is worth the effort!
But if you’re mostly here for the caffeine and wish to stick to the basics, that’s fine too. Implementing just a few of these concepts will immediately improve how you make coffee at home. And remember that ultimately, the best cup of coffee is the one you enjoy!
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