If you're one of millions of Americans who rely on a decrepit old office coffee pot to deliver your daily caffeine, you're in luck. Drew Scharnitzke, Director of Education at Cartel Coffee Lab, has shared some tips for making the most of your Mr. Coffee.
Let's start with your ingredient list: you're going to need coffee, and you're going to need water. That's a pretty simple list - so it stands to reason that if you want to have good results on your brewing endeavor, you're going to need both good coffee and good water.
As far as water goes, filtered is best. Drew dropped a little science on us to help illustrate this point. Most coffee pros pay attention to the Total Dissolved Solids percentage (or TDS) that water has; this is essentially a measure of the mineral and particulate concentration in the liquid. According to Drew, a TDS reading of 150-200 parts per million is optimal for brewing coffee. According to a report by the Sustainability of semi-Arid Hydrology and Riparian Areas, the TDS of average metro-Phoenix tap water is upwards of 500 ppm, and can vary pretty dramatically depending on where exactly that water is coming from at the time.
Drew broke all that science down to this simple point: "Depending on your water source, charcoal filters can be adequate. Bottled water (never distilled) can be a great option for brewing. There are online resources that give TDS information on various brands." So start with good water, and you're halfway there.
Next, the coffee. You'll have to think about a few different factors if you want to improve your brews: grind, freshness, and dose (or the amount of coffee you're using).
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We'll start with dose. Many people follow the "two scoops per cup" rule, which, as it turns out, doesn't necessarily need to be broken. But make sure that the "scoop" is a tablespoon measure, which will give you roughly 7 grams of coffee. And when make sure that the "cups" are actual measured cups - eight fluid ounces. As Drew puts it, you're looking for a ratio of about one part coffee to 15-18 parts water; a tablespoon of coffee per half-cup brewed will put you right right around a 1:18 ratio, so use heaping tablespoons if you want a little more kick.
If you don't have access to a grinder at home or at work, no worries. Your friendly neighborhood barista should be able to help you out. "By mentioning the brew device or method you are using, most knowledge-based shops will know how to grind the coffee on their specific grinders. Mentioning a medium-coarse grind for a basic drip coffee maker is appropriate for most medium to light roast coffees."
Once ground, coffee goes stale quickly (yet another excellent reason to buy fresh, high quality beans from a local roaster and grind in small quantities!) Drew says you can expect whole beans to hold on to tight to their flavor for about fourteen days after they are roasted. Once they're ground they'll stay fresh for only about two to four days. Look for whole bean bags that are air-tight and have a gas release valve- they're best for flavor maintenance.