Making a perfect cup of coffee is easy enough if you know what you’re doing. The taste and mouthfeel of every cup is affected by the beans, the roast, and even the water quality. And if there’s anyone who knows what they’re doing, it’s a food scientist. “There’s definitely a rabbit-hole of coffee science to explore,” says Makenzie Bryson Jackson, MS, food scientist and product development manager at Panaceutics.
While Jackson has certainly taken in a lot of important intel about coffee-making over the years, there are a handful of simple tips that allow you to make barista-level coffee in the comfort of your own home. Here’s what to keep in mind the next time you’re brewing yourself a pot.
How to make a perfect cup of coffee at home
1. Choose the right beans
If you’re not choosing high-quality beans, your coffee isn’t going to taste good. It’s as simple as that. “Bean selection is the most important part of a good cup of coffee. Hands down,” says Jackson. And there are two main species you should know: “There’s Robusta, which has low acidity and high bitterness, and Arabica beans, which are less bitter and often more flavorful,” she says. “Knowing how old the beans are, where they were grown, and how they were handled and stored is important as well.”
2. Consider the roast
The roast plays a big role in how your coffee ends up tasting, too. “The roasting process initiates one of the most magical reactions in food science: Maillard browning,” says Jackson. “This reaction brings out the delicious caramelized complex coffee flavor and aroma, but too much browning will definitely increase bitterness.”
When choosing a roast, you’ll see there’s a range from light to dark. According to Jackson, the lighter the coffee, the fruiter and more acidic it will be. And when you choose a darker the roast, the beans are more bitter—but the flavors are more complex. “A medium roast is a good place to start with a nice balance and a bittersweet finish, but it’s good to try a range of roasts to find what your unique palate likes best,” she says.
3. Rethink your storage
Where and how you’re storing your coffee beans can make or break how it’s going to taste once you brew it. “Your coffee should be stored in an airtight vessel with no light exposure,” says Jackson. And the reason behind that? Both can cause your beans to go bad… very quickly. And no one wants to start their morning with a stale cup of coffee. Try this airtight container from Coffeevac ($14).
4. Grind your beans correctly
When you’re grinding your own coffee beans, Jackson says to make sure the grind is uniform. “A burr grinder is typically best for this,” she says. “The blade grinders don’t uniformly break the beans up, so you’ll have small dust-sized particles and larger bean bits.” Also, make sure you’re not grinding your beans too far in advance of brewing. “This will alter the flavor of your coffee, as you’ve exposed more surface area of the bean to oxygen,” she says.
5. Check your water quality
While Jackson says water quality is lower on the list of priorities when making a cup of coffee, but it’s still something to consider if you want to take your brew to the next level. “There are research scientists who have studied this—legitimately. I could nerd out here,” says Jackson. “The hardness of your water will affect the coffee’s flavor; a harder water has more minerals, which may increase the bitter perception of the coffee. I use distilled water when I brew coffee.”
6. Be aware of water temperature and brew time
When you’re brewing, you don’t want your water to be too hot or too cold. “If the water is over 205 degrees, your coffee will be prone to over-extract and be bitter and harsh. If it’s under 195 degrees, it will make it more difficult to extract, leaving you with sour flat coffee,” says Jackson. “This isn’t a hard and fast rule, but general guidelines.” With these tips, you may never want to order coffee elsewhere ever again.