How to Brew Coffee

The NCA Guide to Brewing Essentials

Coffee is personal - the right way to make it is how you like it best.

That being said, mastering a few fundamentals will help you perfect your technique. From here, we encourage you to experiment with different roasts, origins, or preparation methods.

Here are our tips to brew a classic cup of coffee.

The Equipment

Make sure that your tools — from bean grinders and filters to coffee makers— are thoroughly cleaned after each use.

Rinse with clear, hot water (or wipe down thoroughly), and dry with an absorbent towel. It’s important to check that no grounds have been left to collect and that there’s no build-up of coffee oil (caffeol), which can make future cups of coffee taste bitter and rancid.

If you’re using a single-serve coffee maker, check our guide for keeping your machine in top shape.

The Beans

Great coffee starts with great beans. The quality and flavor of your coffee is not only determined by your favorite brewing process, but also by the type of coffee you select. There can be a world of difference between roasts, so check out our roasting types guide.

Some of the flavor factors include:

  • The country and region of origin
  • The variety of bean - arabica, robusta - or a blend
  • The roast type
  • The texture of your grind

While there are a lot of choices, remember that there’s no right or wrong — for instance, you can choose a dark, flavorful espresso roast coffee and still have it ground to be brewed in a drip system. Have fun trying and enjoying different combinations.

Freshness

Purchase coffee as soon as possible after it’s roasted. Fresh-roasted coffee is essential to a quality cup, so buy your coffee in small amounts (ideally every one to two weeks). Check out our helpful tips on how to store coffee to keep it as fresh and flavorful as possible.

And please, never reuse your coffee grounds to make coffee. Once brewed, the desirable coffee flavors have been extracted and only the bitter ones are left. Instead, check out these six ways to recycle your old grounds.

The Grind

The beans you brew are actually the processed and roasted seeds from a fruit, which is called a coffee cherry.

The coffee cherry's outer skin is called the exocarp. Beneath it is the mesocarp, a thin layer of pulp, followed by a slimy layer called the parenchyma. The beans themselves are covered in a paper-like envelope named the endocarp, more commonly referred to as the parchment.

Inside the parchment, side-by-side, lie two beans, each covered separately by yet another thin membrane. The biological name for this seed skin is the spermoderm, but it is generally referred to in the coffee trade as the silver skin.

In about 5% of the world's coffee, there is only one bean inside the cherry. This is called a peaberry (or a caracol, or "snail" in Spanish), and it is a natural mutation. Some people believe that peaberries are actually sweeter and more flavorful than standard beans, so they are sometimes manually sorted out for special sale.