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5 steps to brewing exceptional coffee

With a little effort you can wean yourself from coffeehouse brews

Published: June 22, 2015 04:30 PM

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The best coffee, for many of us, is what you pick up at your local coffee haunt on the way to work. But that can get expensive, with a medium-size coffee every workday adding up to $500 or more a year. Here’s how to improve your chances of making top-notch coffee at home:

Start with clean water

If your tap water has an off taste, that’s reason enough to filter it for your coffee and tea. Some drip coffeemakers tested by Consumer Reports, such as the $100 KitchenAid KCM1202OB, come with water filters. Any other means of filtering water would do as well, provided you replace the filters as often as the manufacturer recommends.

Use a high-performing machine

Among drip machines we’ve tested, those with excellent scores for brew performance reach 195° to 205° F and maintain it for five or six minutes, the industry standard for optimal brewing. Examples include the KitchenAid as well as the $150 Mr. Coffee Smart Optimal Brew BVMC-PSTX91WE. Single-serve (pod) coffeemakers operate differently, but our expert tasters haven’t found one that makes coffee that's better than mediocre for taste. Whatever you use, experiment to get the best ratio of grounds to water.

Grind top-quality beans

Most of us aren’t about to start roasting coffee beans as does one of our coffee-taste experts. But quality beans stored away from moisture, heat, light, and strong odors will produce better taste than something ground at the store—or before making it to the shelves. Grind your beans just before brewing; the $100 Black + Decker Mill & Brew CM5000 grind-and-brew model is one possibility, though its brew performance was only so-so. A separate grinder lets you set grind size suitable to what you’re brewing.

Viante Brew-N-View CAF-05T.

Keep it from sitting

While you have to let coffee cool before sipping, there’s no getting around that brewed coffee is best the moment it’s done brewing. A thermal carafe is meant to keep coffee hot, as is a brew-and-dispense coffeemaker such as the $100 Viante Brew-N-View CAF-05T. But neither can keep the rich flavor of fresh-brewed, fresh-ground beans from dissipating. Like to program your coffee to brew as you’re getting up? Fussy coffee drinkers, keep your hand off that snooze button.

Clean your coffeemaker

Various deposits in your coffeemaker, including minerals from your water and oily residue from coffee, can build up over time and affect taste. Coffeemaker owner’s manuals typically advise running a cycle of white vinegar through the machine every month or so; the process differs by model. Pod coffeemakers have a similar process, though the it might vary further. Keurig, for example, sells a special Descaling Solution ($13 for 14 ounces), which it calls “the only Keurig-approved cleaning solution for Keurig brewers.” The one-year warranty excludes damage from using non-Keurig pods and accessories; that could include using another cleaning solution. But after the warranty is up, there’s no reason not to try white vinegar instead. As always, run at least one cycle of just water afterward.

Looking for a new coffeemaker?

See our coffeemaker buying guide for a rundown on the available types, before checking  our coffeemaker Ratings of more than 110 coffee and espresso makers.

—Ed Perratore (@EdPerratore on Twitter)

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