Coffee is such a universal drink that at times, we don’t really give much thought to it.
It’s just everywhere.
Maybe we’re just too used to something, and never really sat to think about what could be. So if you’re still new to coffee, you’re in the right place, because this is the ultimate guide to coffee for beginners.
Some time ago, I was in the same position. I would drink months-old ground coffee, add coffee creamer to it, and think it was amazing, because at the time, the only thing I had to compare it to was instant coffee, which is, in most cases, eek.
Over the years I’ve learned quite a lot and attempted to share it with you here. This post will assume you’re a complete beginner to coffee(or you’ve been drinking coffee for a while but want to start to really drink coffee).
I’ve tried to organize the post as logically as possible so you’re progressing from one step to the next in a meaningful way.
- 1 Coffee for beginners: What makes a good cup of coffee?
- 2 Use freshly roasted coffee beans
- 3 Grind to the correct consistency
- 4 Brewing for the intensity you want
- 5 Adjusting and fine tuning your coffee
- 6 Use a scale to measure
- 7 Coffee drinks worth trying if you don’t like black coffee
Coffee for beginners: What makes a good cup of coffee?
As a beginner to coffee, you first have to understand what makes a good cup of coffee.
Essentially, there are three golden rules to making coffee:
- Use freshly roasted coffee beans
- Grind the beans to the correct consistency
- Brew for the intensity you want
- Fine tune from there
It’s really that simple! There are a few steps involved within the four rules I’ve stated above, but if you’ve got those four covered to any extent, I can guarantee you’ll be brewing better coffee than you have ever tasted in your life.
With that said, let’s talk about the first rule:
Use freshly roasted coffee beans
Coffee beans have the most flavor when they’re freshly roasted. There is often a short resting period of 2 or 3 days immediately after roasting, but once that resting period is over, you have about 15-20 days of freshness in the beans.
After 15-20 days, you’ll notice that the flavors become a little dull and the bitterness and acidity begins to take over.
You have the choice of three kinds of roasts: light, medium, and dark. Medium roasts are generally the safest options as they have the best balance of flavor and intensity.
You may find light roasts to be a little tasteless, or dark roasts to be too intense. But feel free to experiment and see which you like the best.
A good way to do this is by starting with medium, and upping or lowering the intensity depending on how it tastes. Some people are purists and will only drink dark roasts with espresso or french press, which tend to be quite bold anyway, but my philosophy is to drink what you enjoy.
That said, from my experience, a light roast espresso shot just doesn’t cut it 🙂
Where can I get freshly roasted coffee beans?
Freshly roasted coffee beans are pretty easy to find. If you have a local craft roaster, I highly suggest you pick up coffee from them. Otherwise, you can always order online. Shipping in the United States is pretty fast and you’ll have your coffee within a few days of ordering.
Another great place to start is Trade Coffee. Trade Coffee lets you take a quiz that will match a coffee to your drinking preferences and brewing style.
They’ll send you the matched coffee, and you can rate it based on your experience. They’ll then use that data to send you another personalized coffee, and you rate that again, and the cycle continues.
If you find a brew you really like, you can just turn that into a subscription and receive that brew regularly on an interval of your choosing.
Grind to the correct consistency
Now that you’re using the right kind of coffee beans(freshly roasted, of course), it’s time to grind right before brewing.
Grind just enough beans to make the amount of coffee you need. You’ll need about 10-15 grams of coffee beans for making a 6 ounce cup of brewed coffee or one shot of espresso.
Here’s how you can think about grinding coffee. Grinding allows the coffee to come into more contact with water, which enables a proper extraction of the oils and flavor compounds in the coffee beans.
If your grind is too coarse for your brewing method, you’ll end up with under-extracted coffee that tastes like water.
If your grind is too fine for your brewing method, you’ll end up with over-extracted and gritty coffee, and may be repulsed.
Getting the grind consistency right is kind of like finding a Goldilocks zone.
Here’s a quick cheat sheet for grinding:
- Cold brew: Very coarse
- French press: coarse
- Drip/Chemex/Filter: medium
- Aeropress: medium-fine
- Espresso(includes cappuccino, macchiato, latte, flat white, mocha): fine
- Turkish coffee: very fine
The best way to grind is with a burr grinder. You can pick up a manual burr grinder for very cheap, and it’ll take you about 3 to 4 minutes and some upper arm strength to grind enough beans for one cup.
If you have the budget, get an automatic burr grinder.
Brewing for the intensity you want
As you saw above, there are quite a few methods for brewing coffee. Generally speaking, they can be split into three categories:
- Methods that utilize gravity
- Methods that utilize immersion
- Methods that utilize pressure
Drip coffee and filter coffee are examples of brewing methods that use gravity. You put coffee grounds in a filter, pour hot water over them in a slow, controlled manner, and gravity pulls the water through the coffee, through the filter, and into your cup.
Brews that are made with methods that utilize gravity are often very balanced and bright. Additionally, using a paper filter ensures that the resulting cup is very clean, meaning there’s no grit in it.
Chances are that the coffee you’re already used to drinking is drip coffee, since that is the most common kind of coffee maker in diners, offices, hotels, and indeed, homes.
Drip coffee is a great place to start on your coffee journey as a beginner. It requires a minimal investment, too, as you can pick up a cheap drip machine for less than $40 to $50.
Remember, it’s the beans that will make the main difference!
French press and cold brew are examples of immersion methods. Here, you immerse the coffee grounds in water for a certain period of time, and then you separate the coffee grounds from the water using a filter.
French press takes about 4 minutes to brew, and cold brew around 12-24 hours.
Immersion methods generally produce very intense cups. French press coffee is intense and bold, and that’s why medium-dark and dark roasts are best suited for this method.
Additionally, french press coffee is a little gritty in the last few sips. Still, if you like intensity and you like 6 ounces of it, the french press is a classical method to brew with.
French presses are comparatively inexpensive, too.
Interestingly enough, even though cold brew uses immersion, the cold brewing process actually results in a less intense cup. Cold brewing tends to bring out the more pleasant coffee flavors and leaves out the more undesirable ones.
Espresso and Aeropress are examples of pressure methods. Here, pressurized air or steam is used to extract maximum flavor in a short amount of time. Pressure methods tend to produce the most intensely flavored coffees.
The moka pot or stovetop coffee maker also utilizes pressure to brew.
Steam pressure is generated by heating water and forcing it through a small tube, as it happens in an espresso machine and a moka pot.
Pressure brews are very versatile. You can brew an espresso shot and drink it straight, mix it with milk to make a whole variety of different beverages, or dilute it with water to make an Americano, which is classic black coffee.
Aeropress is also incredibly versatile. You can use it to make brews similar to an espresso, or even regular black coffee or cold brew coffee.
In pressure brews, the price range is all over the place. Espresso machines range anywhere from less than $200 all the way to beyond $1000, depending on the kind of features you’re looking for.
A proper espresso machine will always be able to generate more pressure than an Aeropress or moka pot, so you should bear that in mind.
What should I start with as a beginner?
Personally, I feel like the Aeropress is the best place to start. It’s just so incredibly versatile and it opens the door to brewing almost every kind of coffee, all with a single inexpensive device.
Aeropress coffee has:
- The intensity of espresso and french press
- The “clean cup” associated with drip coffee
- The light, refreshing taste of cold brew
It’s also super easy to travel with and take everywhere, especially if you use the Aeropress Go.
Adjusting and fine tuning your coffee
As you say above, the traditional measurement is for brewing one cup is 15 grams, but you may find a brew with 15 grams to be rather overpowering. That’s why I am recommending you try anywhere between 10 to 15 grams. Just adjust up and down if you feel the brew is too intense or too weak.
A good way to start would be to use a higher grammage. If you find the brew too intense, just dilute it to weaken it. It’s much easier to dilute a strong brew than it is to strengthen a weak brew.
Then just use a little less coffee the next time you brew.
There’s no bookish definition for a perfect cup of coffee. The perfect cup of coffee is what you enjoy. Once you’ve got the basics down, you can start making small adjustments to see which coffee you like best.
Perhaps you find that you prefer 14 grams of coffee instead of 15, or you prefer to steep french press for 5 minutes instead of 4. There are numerous small adjustments that you can make, most importantly, experimenting with different kinds of beans!
Testing variables and taking notes
Each of the four steps that we’ve talked about can be tweaked and adjusted. Tweaking and adjusting is a very important part of the coffee drinking process.
Assuming you’re sticking with one particular brewing method to start, the first thing to try and tweak would be the grind size.
Grind size is more of a spectrum than an exact science, since nobody is going to bother measuring the width of a single grain of ground coffee!
Most descriptions you’ll hear will be “consistency of fine sand” or “consistency of coarse rock salt” and the like.
Even automatic grinders have 10-15 grind settings, which means there is a lot of room for adjustment.
For the first time you grind, you can find yourself in a particular range, and then adjust the grinder wheel one click up or down to see what difference it makes in your cup.
The best way to fine-tune would be to brew three or four variables at once and taste them all together.
For example, if you’re brewing french press coffee and you’ve got your grinder set on the coarser end(some may even have a marking for french press), grind 15 grams of coffee and brew it.
Then adjust the grinder wheel to one or two degrees coarser, grind and brew again.
Then adjust the grinder wheel to one or two degrees finer, grind and brew again.
Now you’ll have three brews in front of you, which you can taste and determine your preference from.
You can even spread this process out over a few days, but if that’s the case, remember to take notes so you know what you are comparing against.
Use a scale to measure
While a brewer and grinder are absolutely necessary to make coffee, measuring out your coffee and indeed water with a scale will help you be even more exact.
You can use any old kitchen scale as long as it measures in grams and preferably to 1/10th of a gram.
There are also specialized coffee scales that have extra bells and whistles like timers. Either way, the important thing is to use a scale.
Coffee drinks worth trying if you don’t like black coffee
Good coffee is best enjoyed black, and if you brew it using the methods above and using fresh beans, you actually won’t taste the typical bitterness or acidity normally associated with coffee.
Still, if you find black coffee too intense, you can always add things to the coffee to neutralize the intensity or enhance the flavors.
Cappuccinos and lattes are prime examples of what’s considered “traditional” coffee but still contains milk.
There are also a lot of sweeteners you can add, like sugar, honey, or even maple syrup.
Last update on 2022-08-26 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API