Do you want to improve your coffee brewing?
These are a few low-cost or free ways to improve your coffee brewing technique, and significantly upgrade the quality of the cups you drink and serve.
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How to Improve Your Coffee Brewing – Checklist
The key to a successful and tasty cup of coffee is making sure you have everything to hand and prepared. Whilst not all items on this list are necessary, items you already have at home like weighing scales, kitchen timer and a basic French press / Cafetière (when used properly), as well as adjusting your technique will be the easiest, and cheapest ways to improve your coffee, especially if you already have these items.
We have split the list below into two parts. Firstly, we have the essential items which we can upgrade later. The second part of the list “Next Level Coffee Brewing Essentials” are items and supplies that will take your coffee experience to the next level.
Essential Coffee Brewing Supplies
- Coffee* (duh!) – Try to buy freshly roasted ground coffee. More brands are putting the roast dates on their packets nowadays, making it easier to select better quality coffee. If at all possible don’t buy anything more than a couple of months old.
- Weighing Scales – normal food weighing scales that measure to the nearest 1 gram (0.03 oz.) will suffice.
- Kitchen Timer
Next Level Coffee Brewing Essentials
- Whole Coffee Beans* – Fresher coffee often means grinding it yourself. The supermarkets have wide selections of whole bean coffee, and online you are spoilt for choice!
- Coffee Hand Grinder – Essential if you want to use whole coffee beans.
- Coffee Weighing Scales – If you are brewing small individual batches of coffee for 1 to 4 cups, then a dedicated scale that can measure to 0.1 g (0.003 oz.) will help you achieve more consistent brewing.
- Water Filter / Purifier – If you live in a hard water area then without doubt the biggest impact on coffee flavour will come from using a filter on your water before you boil it.
- Notepad and Pen – For the experimentalist only, or if you are so meticulous you don’t want to miss out on any of the steps will we later talk about.
Equipment and Supplies
Before we start this journey, we need some equipment and supplies. I have broken down all the essentials from above into their own sections so that you can easily refer to them later. Make sure whenever you brew a new coffee that all your equipment is clean, nobody wants the taste of stale coffee in their fresh morning brew!
It goes without saying really that the key to a successful brew is the coffee itself. Whilst you can achieve good results with ground coffee from the supermarket, nothing beats freshly ground coffee from whole beans.
If you want to keep costs down, then stick to the pre-ground options that the supplier has ground specifically for a cafetière / French press. Our only advice in this case is to make sure you brew with as recently roasted coffee as possible. Look for a “roast date” on your coffee pack. If there isn’t one, then the next best thing to do in this situation is trying to pick the packet with the longest expiration date. Chances are the manufacturer will have roasted these the most recently.
If you have a local coffee shop who sell coffee beans, they will be the best option to acquire fresh coffee, as they will often buy whole-sale and wholesalers will often put the roast date on their containers and bags, they should also be more than happy to grind it for you, just remember to ask them to grind for a cafetière and ask if they have a batch of coffee suited for a filter machine as opposed to their espresso machines.
We would like to make one important point about selecting coffee for cafetières, and that is during the curious cyborg journey of coffee discovery we quickly found that the lighter the roasted coffee, the more flavourful the coffee was. Those numbers you see on coffee packets in the supermarket (often 2 to 5 on some arbitrary scale) often denotes the “strength” of the coffee. In our experience this is only partially true.
Coffee brand X may for example, offer a cafetière-style coffee at two “strengths”, let’s say a 3 and a 5. Joe Knowsnothingaboutcoffee may pick “strength” 5 as he may perceive it to be stronger, and therefore has the better coffee “taste”. From experience we have learnt that generally all the supermarket “stronger” coffees rated at a 5 or even a 6 tend to all taste the same and there is no real excitement or variation on flavour.
If you want variety and want to try and discover some new flavours, go for the low numbers (1s, 2s and 3s) if they stock them in your supermarket. If you are buying from a café or a delicatessen, then ask for the lighter roasts or those intended for filter coffee. If you are buying online, then most of the best websites will have a coffee selection tool that will help you select the best coffee for your brew method. Two of our favourite suppliers are Square Mile Coffee Roasters and Pact Coffee. These are non-affiliated / non-sponsored links.
Our top tip for coffee selection though is BUY WHOLE BEAN! A relatively small investment in a good quality hand-grinder (see below) will allow you to get the most out of those beans and set you up for years to come!
Unless you visit cafés often or have an antique coffee grinder like the one depicted below, most people will be unaware of what a modern grinder is, how useful it is and the fact you do not have to spend a lot of money to get quality results.
First off there are two main types of coffee grinder, hand-cranked and electric. Obviously, this pertains to their mode of operation, with electric being the easiest. There is however always a trade-off. With electric grinders you see a vast range in prices, and also two main different technologies used to do the actual grinding, blade grinders or burr grinders.
For consistency of quality in the grind we would only recommend a burr-grinder. Many reviews on YouTube, and on other blogs on the internet have far more information on the pitfalls of electric blade grinders, so I won’t be repeating that here. Also, if you are looking to improve your coffee brewing, and want to also be economical about it to, we would also recommend a manual hand-cranked grinder, though we do have a recommendation for an excellent electric grinder too.
Manual grinders have the advantage of not having money spent on electrical parts, therefore the manufacturer has been able to spend more on the construction or the selection of a decent burr (the part of the grinder that does the grinding). The only down-side to a manual hand grinder is that often they only serve one to two servings of coffee when we are considering filter-style or pour-over coffee, and it can be time consuming when using them.
You can purchase a decent, serviceable coffee grinder for less than £100. For example, our current daily work-horse the Timemore Chesnut C2 is currently less than £60 (at time of writing – normally ~ £65). With proper care and maintenance, we have not had any problems with this grinder and would heartedly recommend.
If you cannot find a local supplier, then the best price we have found is over on amazon. As always, all amazon links are affiliate links, and by buying on amazon we receive a small commission, which are used to support this site.
We highly regard the The Timemore Chesnut C2 hand grinder with conical burr set, as do numerous online reviewers. Whilst most people would regard £60-£70 to be an expensive purchase when you are starting your coffee journey, for this class of item, and for the quality and reliability, you will quickly come across much more expensive options. This should also last you a long (if not life) time.
For us the biggest selling point of the any hand grinder is the portability. If you commute and make your own coffee at work, and also drink coffee regularly at home then this is one item you can truly use anywhere, adding to its value.
Lastly, we would like to follow up on our earlier promise of providing an alternative to the manual hand grinder in electric form. There may be times you want to brew bigger batches of coffee, and manually grinding the beans becomes too labour intensive, or you may not be interested in portability. If this is you then there are certainly electric burr grinders that are every bit as good as a manual hand grinder, and with a little more investment and research the quality is often improved to.
Without hesitation the first (quite affordable) grinder we would recommend is the Wilfa Svart Coffee Grinder. At time of writing this grinder was sub £100, placing it into the same price category as the Timemore Chesnut C2, above. This review should give you all the information you need to make a decision, however there is an upgrade to this, the Wilfa Svart Aroma Precision, designed with a more powerful, yet slower motor to help improve grind consistency.
Once you have your grinder adjusting the grind size can impact the flavour of your coffee in subtle to significant ways. Our advice is to start by following the recommendations for the grinder manufacturer for the setting for your brew method. Make your first cup of coffee as per a set recipe.
After tasting your coffee you can then try your next cup on a slightly larger or smaller grind size to see what cup you prefer. Taste is subjective, so adjust to your taste. When you have found a suitable grind size you can then adjust other parameter such as coffee or water amount or even the brew time. For us we adjust grind size per new batch of coffee then adjust the other parameters the older that batch gets. You can however leave everything as it is though to avoid overcomplicating things.
You have your coffee, and you have your grinder. Before you weigh your beans out and turn the kettle on the next thing you might want to think about is the water you are using. Without doubt, the biggest impact on our journey to improve our coffee brewing has been making sure we have nice soft water. Overly hard water is the scourge of kettles and brewing machines, and if you don’t like the look of it in your kettle, chances are it probably won’t be good in your coffee either!
Let’s get straight to it. If you already own a Brita Filter jug, or have a soft water filter on your mains supply, or equivalent you can probably forget this part, as chances are you probably already fill your kettle from those. If you don’t, then we strongly recommend you do so.
If you are wondering why we have included a section on water, then first point to note is the one I have just mentioned, make sure you use filtered water, especially if you live in a hard water area, or you simply have not very good tasting water. Second point is we recently fell down a rabbit hole on this subject, and with experience and thoughts on what we have learnt, we wanted all of you to benefit from our knowledge!
A number of YouTubers have recipes/methods for making your own “coffee water” at home. Cafés and restaurants often have a filtered connection to their espresso machines and brewing equipment, so these try to replicate that experience. In our research this is overkill and can be quite expensive if you start purchasing all the necessary equipment and water additives. So please don’t do it!
We have two preferred methods (on top of just using filter jug water in our kettle) for ensuring consistent water quality.
The first is using a specialised water filter jug from Peak Water, that not only filters the water, but also helps retain some of the good tasting minerals automatically. The cost here is higher than our second method initially, but over the long run has made more sense for our use case.
The link above is non-affiliated, so is here just for your information and curiosity, and if you wish to purchase something then there is no pressure, as we don’t receive a commission. They have some great descriptions on their web pages, so we won’t bore you with repeated information. This is our top choice for home water filtering though, and best of all they will recycle your cartridges for free to!
Our second favourite method has been using water additive sachets to our water. The market leader here is Third Wave Water.
Like Peak Water above the information on their own website is pretty good, and our own unbiased opinion is that this does work, but you need to make sure you purchase the correct kind of additive for the coffee you want to brew, and either make sure you only do it on filtered or distilled water to begin with for best results.
We have found that in our area we need to filter the water first using the Peak Water jug set to its maximum filtration, and then add the sachet. We also need somewhere to store the water, as each sachet typically does whole gallon containers at a time.
Whilst this is not really a review article of either of the methods above, we would advocate sticking with the Peak Water Jug solely for continual daily use if your water is already of good enough quality (before filtering). If, however you live in a particularly bad area for water quality in terms of hardness and flavour, then a combination of both these methods is probably the only way to go, if you don’t mind the extra expense.
The final point in this section, is that whatever method of water “treatment” you use make sure your kettle is clean and free of scale! There is no point in investing in one or not of these methods if you then boil your water in a kettle riddled with limescale! Buy some cheap white vinegar or kettle de-scaler and make sure you give your kettle some TLC!
Okay, you have some lovely filtered water. Now all you have to do is heat it up! I think by now you may see where our advice is going! Either use the kettle you have, or buy a dedicated brewing kettle, maybe with added temperature setting (coffee brews better at just below boiling ~ 95-98 °C / 203-209 °F). Some kettles even have special pouring spouts to help direct your water as you pour over the coffee grinds.
We think that for expense then a kettle is a kettle, and you may as well take your pick. Our only pieces of advice here would be 1. make sure that your kettle is clean and scale free, 2. wait about 1-2 minutes after the kettle has boiled (when the bubbles have stopped) to ensure that the water is not boiling when you use it.
Decent kettle de-scaler is cheap, and you should use it regularly no matter what you use your kettle for to help maintain it and help prolong its’ life. Any de-scaler product is good (they all use the same chemicals), but our favourite is Oust Sachets. These are convenient, easy to use and you can use them anywhere in your home requiring descaling (showers, irons, washers etc.).
Dedicated pouring kettles come in two main flavours – stove top or electric. Whichever you choose, you should make sure that it has a thermometer or temperature control (not all do, but if you are choosing a pouring kettle specifically for coffee brewing then you may as well do it right!). Bear in mind also that most would regard pouring kettles as a luxury compared to any standard decent kettle, so you will always inevitably pay more.
Our home use kettle is the Coffee Gator Gooseneck Kettle. You can use this on an induction, electric or gas hob, has a decent capacity and an integrated Celsius/Fahrenheit thermometer. Just remember to turn off the stove once it has boiled or is up to temperature. Prices tend to sit around £45 – £50, cheaper than the Electric counterparts from other brands.
Electric pouring kettles come in a variety of budgets, ranging from £50 to £170. Capacities do tend to be smaller than standard and stovetop kettles, typically 700 – 1000 ml. A standard kitchen kettle can go up to 2.5 L, and the stovetop pouring kettle above has a decent 1.5 L capacity.
Don’t let the lack of capacity put you off though. Most people will only brew 1 – 3 cups at a time (250 – 300 ml per cup), so even an 800 ml kettle should be sufficient. The big advantage with smaller capacities is they tend to get to temperature quicker, thus having the added bonus of saving you energy.
In the office we have two pouring kettles (we have two kitchens on different floors of the building). The first (and most used) kettle is with the JBK Variable Temperature Kettle. It is a smart-looking kettle with easy-to-use controls and comes in a matt black finish that is easy to clean too.
The second kettle we have (only recently purchased as part of a kitchen refurb) is the Fellow Stagg EKG (Electric Gooseneck Kettle). We think 1st impressions matter sometimes. This looks nice, feels nice and is nearly too good-looking to actually want to use, it is almost a design statement, but clients seem decently impressed when we make fresh coffee in front of them, and the look of this kettle we are sure helps with that.
If you are sticking with the French Press/Cafetiere as your preferred brewer, then any kettle will do, as the gooseneck is really only beneficial if you are making a pour-over such as the Hario V60 or Chemex. Gooseneck kettles give you finer control on being able to pour water over your coffee.
This is quite simple really. You wouldn’t bake a decent cake without first weighing the ingredients. The same is true with coffee. To improve your coffee brewing you should strive for consistency, and that means knowing how much of each of your ingredients you are using, in this case we only have two, coffee and water!
In our opinion we would say that a decent set of digital home baking scales accurate to 1g (0.035 oz) would be consistently good enough for 8/10 users. For the aspiring coffee aficionado (cofficionado?!) a dedicated set of scales with a resolution down to 0.1g (0.0035 oz) is actually quite affordable and can make the difference when brewing smaller batches of coffee where small differences in quantity can have a noticeable impact on quality and flavour.
In our kitchen we use a dedicated coffee scale from Bemece, available on amazon. This is a decent performer with a built in timer (see below) to help with your recipe creations. At only around £20 at time of writing (with frequent deals bringing it down to ~£15) we have nothing to complain about. The rubber mat is a nice touch to, we have on occasion accidently knocked our smaller cafetière when pouring water and the mat has helped stop the pot sliding off and tipping over… more than once!
In our daily use the Bemece hasn’t failed us and using once a day the included batteries lasted almost 1 year, which we have now replaced with a set of rechargeable batteries. Our only issue has been that there is no audible indicator for the timer or pre-set weighing function.
For more features, audible indicators, better waterproofing, internal rechargeable battery and perhaps a smarter over aesthetic one can plum for something like the Timemore TES Mirror Coffee Scale.
Like all hobbies (let’s face it, if you’re this far already you may as well call coffee a hobby!) equipment can get ridiculously expensive and maybe excessive. If, however you are planning on becoming a home barista and at some point, want to include an espresso machine in your setup to, then you will no doubt want to take the weighing of ingredients to another level.
The Felicita Arc Espresso Scale can help you do that, and even connects to an app on your phone for added recipe granularity and flow control indicators (how fast you pour the water over your coffee). However, at around £180 this may be taking things too far in the beginning of your coffee brewing journey!
Brewer / Cafetiere
We assume that coming this far you may already have at least a cafetière or two. This article mainly focuses on brewing coffee using traditional immersion or pour-over brewers. Though you could take a lot of it over to espresso to.
The go-to brewer for most people will be the cafetière. They are cheap, fairly well constructed and when used correctly will make some really good coffee. The majority of the quality you get from them is mainly down to your brewing technique, which we cover later on.
Of course, like everything on this list, it is easy to either spend a little or spend a lot on cafetières, generally, if you are making for one person then a single serving size such as any on this page will serve you well. If you want to retain as much heat as you brew, then a double wall insulated pot might be best for you. For on-the-go good coffee our bodum travel mug with integrated French press has served us well for years, and we would highly recommend. Best results are had though if you pour your brew into a dedicated cup.
For larger batches we recommend definitely going with a double wall variety. Again, the Coffee Gator brand is serving us well in this department. They have a stylish double wall 8-cup variant that keeps your coffee hotter for longer and this version even comes with a storage canister for your coffee beans.
Whilst the French Press/Cafetiere will always be our top choice (for ease of use mostly) there are some other excellent brewers that are just as exciting to use. Below are two of our favourites.
Much like the weighing scales, you wouldn’t bake a cake without using a timer of some description, and for the best consistent coffee brews, timing is key!
If you are going to get one of the weighing scales mentioned above, or similar, then you already have this area covered. Dedicated coffee weighing scales always come with a timer. If however you are making do with your more-than-adequate set of kitchen scales, then using the timer on your watch, phone or oven will be just fine.
If you prefer to have something a bit more substantial, or simply fancy a new timer in your kitchen then I am sure Amazon has you covered!
Improve your Coffee Brewing – Technique
Hopefully by now you will have all the supplies you need to help improve your coffee brewing. The next step is to find a technique that works for you, and that you are happy with. There are two important things in brewing technique regardless of the method of brewing: The Coffee to Water Ratio, and the Brew time.
Coffee to Water Ratio
Whether you choose cafetières/French press or one of the other methods, the most important thing to note is coffee to water ratio. For example, many online calculators or recipes may simply give you ratio quantities, i.e., 1:16 or 3:4 etc. For some this might be confusing, especially if you are used to using explicit units like grams and millilitres or oz and cups.
It does however pay to explain the ratios method, as a lot of recipes will use it, and to be fair you can easily convert then to your preferred standard unit. For cafetières for example a common ratio you may see is in the region of 1:12 to 1:17 (though some may be outside this, and you can adjust how you like – remember taste is subjective!)
Taking a ratio of 1:16 (our own default starting ratio) this means for every 1 gram of coffee you add 16 millilitres of water. If we have a 400 ml cafetières and allowing room for the coffee, we add in 300 ml of water we need 18.75 g of coffee (300 divided by 16). We do however admit that maybe getting a calculator out first thing in the morning to make your coffee may be going a bit too far.
Therefore, to make things simple (and easier for your scales if you don’t have that level of precision), rounding the coffee weight to 19 g and 300 ml of water is probably the easiest thing to do. In oz and cups this is approximately 0.7 oz and 1.25 cups respectively for coffee and water. This handy coffee to water ratio calculator can be a good resource when you are creating your initial recipe.
Once you have your basic amounts set you can easily adjust to your taste. Remember that although we say there are only two ingredients, the third pseudo-ingredient is time! Keeping time as a constant we see that increasing water content does what you expect it to, it weakens the overall flavour. Increasing the coffee amount however increases acidity and aroma.
As mentioned above, you can consider brew time to be your 3rd ingredient. Making sure that you stick to regular brewing times you are ensuring the consistency of the brew the most, with only the other two factors, water and coffee left to adjust to your taste.
With brewing time (especially for immersion type brews such as the French press) generally the longer you leave it to brew the more of the bitter chemicals from the coffee you are dissolving into your final drink. So, if an overly bitter coffee is not your preference, then adjusting your brew time is the single biggest thing you can do after selecting lightly roasted coffee beans.
Brew time (especially long or accidentally leaving the brew for too long) can also affect the vegetable flavours in your coffee, with overtly long brew times tending to make the final drink taste more like a (bad) coffee vegetable soup than anything else.
Paying attention to your timer/making sure it notifies you at the end of a timing cycle will help you manage your consistency, and after a few brews is an easy habit to include in your brewing cycle.
Our Brewing Method
For completeness, below is our “recipe” for a cafetière style coffee. Based on the beans we have we will then adjust this to our taste. Rarely will we adjust the grinder once we have dialled it in for any one batch/bag of coffee. We also do not adjust the water amount, rather the amount of coffee instead. This is based on the “Ultimate French Press Technique” developed by James Hoffman on his excellent YouTube Channel.
- Coffee 18 g
- Water 300 ml
- Steep time 4 min
- Rest time 3-4 mins
- Weigh and Grind Coffee
- Tip coffee into cafetière and place on to the weighing scale
- Boil Kettle with filtered/conditioned water and wait for it to stop boiling/make no sound
- Start timer for 4 mins and immediately pour 300 ml of water into the cafetière (1 g water = 1 ml). Do not place lid on cafetière. All the coffee should be floating at the top.
- When timer ends stir the top layer of coffee so that it begins to fall through the brewed drink. Scoop the layer of foam and few remaining grounds carefully out of the pot and discard. Do this GENTLY.
- Place lid and plunger on the cafetiere, but DO NOT plunge, leave the plunger mesh resting on top of the liquid. Time another 4 minutes to allow the majority of the grounds and sediment to settle.
- When second timer has ended, GENTLY pour coffee into your favourite cup/mug and enjoy!
If you have got this far, thank you! As stated previously this article is largely based on the Cafetiere style of coffee brewing. If you want to apply the basics of this information on another method, then please feel free to look up other “Ultimate Brewing Methods”. It is our hope that the information in this article is useful as a basis to whatever brewing method you choose.
DISCLAIMER: The information contained in this post has been gathered over a few years of brewing and drinking coffee at work and at home. Naturally in the process of trying to improve our techniques we have read hundreds or coffee brewing articles, watched YouTube videos and read other reviews. Where we have been able, we have included links to the external sources of information that have been fundamental to this process. Apologies if we have forgotten to include any obvious sources. We do not take credit for the uniqueness of this information, only the fact of it all being in one place. In effect this is our “brain dump” on the subject of coffee brewing.