Coffee is one of life’s pleasures, and it’s a superfood, too—linked to a reduced risk of heart attack and dementia, among other conditions. A dose of caffeine also helps clear your head, hone your focus, and improve your gym performance, says Frances Largeman-Roth, RDN, nutrition expert and author of Eating in Color.
But while any old cup of joe can deliver these benefits, there’s a big difference between so-so coffee and a rich, aroma-filled brew that’s truly worth savoring and sets your entire mood for the day. These five tips will help you make the perfect cup at home no matter what method you use.
Start with the right beans
The variety of coffee available these days is dizzying, but some simple guidelines can help point you in the direction of a type that really rocks your taste buds. It mainly comes down to where the bean was grown and how it was processed.
“As a general rule, lower elevation coffees will showcase nuttier, earthier flavors, whereas higher elevation coffees will showcase more acidity and fruitiness,” explains Josey Markiewicz, national manager of training and quality assurance for La Colombe Coffee Roasters. “Natural processed coffees will be fruitier than washed process coffees. The darker the roast the smokier the flavor.” Use these rules to select some types to sample, until you find one (or more) that suit your palate best.
Do your own grinding
Grinding coffee beans isn’t the first thing you want to do after hitting the snooze button one too many times. But the payoff is major. “A whole coffee bean retains its volatile oils, which are exposed once the bean is ground,” says Markiewicz. “It’s these oils that are responsible for the coffee’s fragrance and much of its flavor, so grinding beans fresh assures these oils don’t have a chance to go rancid.”
While it might be easier to grind the beans ahead of time, Markiewicz says that this will have an effect on taste. “If you pre-grind, you can really only make a specific amount of coffee in a certain amount of time,” she says. “Anything out of that brew range will either be over- or under-extracted and therefore not optimal.
Add these flavor enhancers
Forget creamer packets, which basically just load your joe with empty calories and sugar. For a deeper, richer taste, you want to add higher-quality flavor enhancers. One that Largeman-Roth loves is ghee, which is pure butter fat with the whey and protein solids removed. “A spoonful adds richness to a cup of amazing black coffee,” she says. (You can find ghee at organic markets and on Amazon.
A touch of grass-fed whole milk or half and half are also great options. “Dairy products made from certified organic milk from pasture-raised cows have been shown to be up to 125% higher in heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids,” adds Largeman-Roth. “A lot of people are still afraid of whole milk, but two tablespoons of grass-fed milk contain just 19 calories and less than a gram of saturated fat.”
Want to keep your cup dairy-free but still full of flavor? Swirl a half teaspoon of cinnamon into your coffee. The warming spice may help lower blood glucose levels, says Largeman-Roth. Other ideas from your spice rack include vanilla extract and ginger. A bit of cocoa powder offers a hint of chocolate with each sip.
Store your beans properly
Whether you’re stashing whole or ground beans, make sure to store them in an airtight container in a cool and dry place, like the AirScape Coffee Canister ($28, amazon.com). If you are using pre-ground beans, brew and sip them stat. According to Markiewicz, they’ll start to lose their flavor after about two weeks.
Brew with the best quality water
Brewed coffee is approximately 98% water, and the H2O quality is crucial. “So is the mineral content and temperature, as the minerals in water and the energy of heat actually pull flavor from the ground coffee,” says Markiewicz. “In particular, sodium bicarbonate and magnesium [two minerals found in drinking water] leech different flavors from coffee, so the same same beans can taste different depending on the softness of hardness of the water being used.”
To get your joe just right, use store-bought spring water, or filter tap water to remove any off-flavors, suggests Markiewicz, and maintain a temperature between 195 and 208 degrees Fahrenheit while brewing.