Why Your Coffee Tastes Lousy

Why Your Coffee Tastes Lousy
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Why Your Coffee Tastes Lousy

The biggest mistakes when brewing coffee (and how to fix them).

Credit: Jane Bruce

Mistake #1: Your Coffee

We’re obviously not proponents of waste, but bagged coffee goes bad faster than you think. Coffee’s biggest enemies are oxygen and moisture, says Starbucks — and the moment that the coffee is ground is when it starts losing freshness. (It’s why Ultimo and coffee connoisseurs are proponents of freshly ground, freshly made coffee and espresso drinks.) But a major problem can occur even before you grind the beans (which, if you’re not doing it already, should be done right before you start brewing). It’s often how coffee is stored that causes a loss of oxygen and moisture.

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How to fix it:

First off, don’t buy so much coffee — Ultimo says that a bag of coffee should be used within a week for ultimate flavor. If you want a small bag of coffee, hit up your local coffee shop for smaller bag, or ask the baristas to grind the beans for you in a smaller quantity — just make sure you use the grinds right away.

Always store coffee in an airtight container at room temperature, says Starbucks — and never in the refrigerator or freezer. Despite what you may think, storing coffee in the refrigerator or freezer can result in moisture from condensation. If coffee needs to be kept for more than two weeks without being used, store it in the freezer in an airtight container.

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Mistake #2: The Grind

Grind, grind baby: your cup of coffee depends all on the grind of your coffee bean. Different brewing methods require different grinds, says Starbucks. It boils down to a science, says Aaron Ultimo, owner of Ultimo Coffee Bar, referring to over-extracted coffee and under-extracted coffee. That means when the water passes through the coffee, it will either over-extract or under-extract all of the flavors from the coffee. If your coffee is ground too coarsely, the coffee will be weak and less flavorful; if your coffee is ground too finely, the coffee will be bitter.

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How to fix it:

Starbucks advises that over-extracted coffee tastes much worse than under-extracted coffee; so when in doubt as to the brewing method, always err on the coarse side. Coffee connoisseurs agree that the best coffee — thick, rich and truest to its flavor profile — is made in a traditional coffee press. A coffee press requires a coarse grind.

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Mistake #3: The Proportions

You might think you can eyeball how much coffee to add to the coffeemaker or prepare in the pour-over? Yeah, don’t guess that. Too few coffee grounds result in over-extracted or bitter coffee. Too many grounds result in under-extracted coffee that does not achieve the full flavor of the blend.

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How to fix it:

According to Starbucks, "The general rule for coffee-making is 2 tablespoons (10 grams) of ground coffee for each 6 ounces (180 milliliters) of water." So measure it — it’s not hard!

Credit: Jane Bruce

Mistake #4: Your Water

We don’t always hate on tap water, or even filtered water, but for this purpose, we’re not fans. Imagine the flavors of tap water ending up in your cup of coffee — not OK. While it may not seem like an important ingredient, coffee is 98 percent water, says Starbucks. The type of water used when brewing greatly affects the final taste.

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How to fix it:

Ultimo advises that using bottled water is your best bet for a clean-tasting cup of coffee. Starbucks advises to use always use clean, fresh water that is filtered or free of impurities (although Ultimo says that a Brita filter will still leave behind a flavor), and to avoid soft water or well water. Starbucks says that water heated to just off the boil (195 degrees to 205 degrees Fahrenheit) does the best job of extracting the coffee’s full range of flavors; water that is too cool will mute the flavor and dull the coffee’s aroma.

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There's nothing worse than that moment when you pour yourself a cup of coffee first thing in the morning, whether from your coffeemaker, your French press, or your Chemex — and it tastes awful. Too bitter, too weak, too thick, too watery... it's definitely not the way to start your day. What gives? Well, you're doing it wrong — and here's why.

Learn Why Your Coffee Tastes Lousy

As we've learned from our coffee experts (everyone from the good people at Starbucks to the owner of "America's Best Coffee Shop"), there's a science to brewing coffee. From the size of your grounds to the water you use to brew, every step of the process plays a significant part in the brewing process. And each little thing can affect just how good your cup of coffee is; and no one wants to waste a perfectly good coffee bean on a bad drink.

There are four major mistakes you can make when brewing coffee, each as important as the last. Let us show you what those errors are, and how to fix them — so you'll never make a bad cup of joe again. Check out the slideshow above for the ultimate coffee brewing guide.

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