A Tech Guy’s Version Of The Perfect Cup Of Coffee

I got up early today to watch the debut of the new Charlie Rose CBS morning show. The first thing I do every morning is drink a cup of coffee, but I really needed it this morning when I crawled out of bed at 6:30.

When I’m in San Francisco I usually get coffee at Philz because it’s the closest thing to perfect coffee that I’ve ever had, and it’s near where I stay when I’m there. But when I’m at home in Seattle I do it myself.

I tend to get a bit manic about certain things (like blogging, and making coffee). The last few years I’ve experimented with a dozen or so different ways to brew a perfect cup. A standard Mr. Coffee (which makes a surprisingly good cup of coffee if you do it right). The French Press (near perfect but too easy to create a bitter brew). I’ve even tried the crazier stuff out there like the AeroPress, which does make great coffee but ends up being too complicated and time consuming for me.

The last six months or so I’ve settled on what I think is the perfect brewing process. It’s easy, has very little cleanup and it’s hard to screw up.

Step one: Coffee. I like Peet’s House Blend, but there are lots of great coffees out there. I often end up buying Starbucks Breakfast blend since it’s easier to find up here in Seattle. Some people like a darker roast, but I prefer the higher caffeine kick from a lighter roast coffee.

Step two: Grind that coffee. You need a proper burr grinder if you want to avoid a bitter cup of coffee. Trust me. The problem is you can spend an almost unlimited amount of money on a good burr grinder. I chose a relatively inexpensive Bodum grinder that I’ve been very happy with. For a single cup of coffee I grind it very coarse to avoid bitterness for about 8 seconds.

Step Three: Hot water. Seems simple but I don’t like spending time with a kettle or the microwave. Instead I bought a Zojirushi Hybrid Water Boiler (Jack Dorsey talked me into this a year ago). I have hot water on tap all the time at 195 degrees, although there are three temperature settings to choose from.

Step Four: Brew. Since you’re using a burr grinder it’s going to be hard to screw the coffee up at this point. A cheap drip coffee maker is going to be just fine. But I use a Chemex glass coffee carafe. No mechanical parts, it will last as long as you don’t drop it. Just put a filter in with the coffee and add water from the Zojirushi boiler. I fill the filter up twice, using a spoon to get the coffee back into the water the second time since it sticks to the side of the filter.

Step Five: This whole procedure has taken you about 1 minute, most of that is waiting for the coffee to drip. Pour, drink, be happy.

74 thoughts on “A Tech Guy’s Version Of The Perfect Cup Of Coffee

  1. Only the “über grinder” and “über boiler” would be geekier. But heck knows when (if?) they’ll come out… http://marco.ie/uberproject/

  2. Scott says:

    Mike, what’s your view on Nespresso?

  3. Jamie Stephens says:

    Do you filter your water? Or does the Zojirushi Hybrid Water Boiler filter it? I found this makes a profound difference in my morning cup.

    • Michael Arrington says:

      I use distilled water

      • Matt Lawson says:

        May I strongly recommend using ph 9.5 alkaline water that is also Ionized. The machines cost about $1200 but so so worth it (Panasonic is the brand I have from Japan). The PH dips to about 7.2 when boiled. Also the owners of this coffee shop import their own beans and roast them on their private ranch. So much better than Peets!! http://www.topdogcoffeebar.com/

        Lastly I also disagree with coarse ground coffee. The taste is so much better as a Turkish ground (ultra fine). The brew is richer and thicker. key is to use a dark roast.

        But hey we all have our magic methods.

      • Dont you think its to much effort for distelled

      • Drinking distilled water is hazardous to your health. It’s a powerful solvent that gives you a nice coffee extraction, but it also extracts calcium ions from your bones and gives you osteoporosis. Reverse osmosis is fine, but you don’t want deionized water in your body.

        • Kite says:

          I use fresh distilled water for coffee. Some people claim that regular purified water makes for better tasting coffee over distilled. Not true. Not true unless the source of the distilled water is stale and tastes off, needless to say… same goes for all water.

          Distilled water != deionized water.

          @Richard. Incorrect. Drinking either 100% distilled water or reverse osmosis water is the *best* water one can drink, so long as it’s fresh (from a distillation machine or a supermarket, food-grade). Pure water is harmless. It’s unfortunate all the confusion/urban myths keep spreading. Simple steps:

          1. Don’t store distilled water in plastic containers that will leech if it’s stored for a long time. Use glass. Drink it within days.

          2. All the minerals you need are in food. Getting them in water is almost entirely insignificant and laughable. If you’re doing strenuous exercise, find an extra source for electrolytes: add a flavor packet to the water, eat a bit, or lick some salt & sugar, etc.

    • Michael Arrington says:

      mostly to keep the boiler clean.

  4. Will Hutson says:

    Nice work on the chemex–using one completely changed everything about coffee for me!

  5. An awesome piece, Mike. And as a huge coffeehound, my home coffee (for the little bit that I’m actually home in Toronto) is a Nespresso. I actually have the Zojirushi, which we use for tea. But for a consistent cup, I just like the convenience and taste of the Nespresso.

  6. ItsLeeOwen says:

    Seattle!! I’ve yet to find a better tasting brew than a stovetop + Irish Creme. Bialetti Musa 10-cup is perfect.

    http://www.google.com/m/products/detail?client=ms-android-verizon&q=bialetti+musa&cid=15150074144074038278

  7. littlefarny says:

    The Uber boiler is already out, isn’t it? It’s installed at tonnes of cafes and pictures and video are all over Flickr and YouTube respectively.

    Brewed coffee has been going through an explosion recently, the Chemex seems to be more in favour your side of the pond, whereas the Aeropress is more common over here. You’ll need to get some digital scales to make sure you’re grinding the exact amount of coffee and ExtractMojo on the iPhone to get it exact :)

  8. The water boiler is a good tip – I’ve been sad about the time it takes me to boil water now that I’ve moved from Europe (where the higher voltage means you can boil a cup’s worth in well under a minute).

    Fwiw, my Braun coffee grinder + Bodum French press = a happy Ben. Although the vigorous stirring and the brewing time means it takes a few minutes longer than your method.

  9. Peter Mullen says:

    I’ve basically given up trying to brew the perfect first cup of coffee in the morning. Never could get it to taste as good as some of the local coffee shops. I’d consider your method but $200 for hot water? No thanks, bro.

    • I was thinking the same thing. I need a different job me thinks. All those things added up is an expensive way to brew coffee. Of course over time Im sure it pays for itself but getting my wife to agree to $300+ worth of components for a cup of coffee….not likely.

  10. Step 1. Insert K-Cup Step 2. Enjoy.

  11. Here is my choice for a filter cone, given that i’m German it makes sense but the Melitta 102 is a classic:

    MELITTA 102 CERAMIC CONE ROBIN EGG BLUE

  12. Outside of an IV, this sounds like the best call. I just read that I drink as much sumatra as Howard Schultz., but I’ve been going French Press while my friends scoff and beg of me to consider Chemex. Ok, white flag, I’m in.
    There is something ‘startup engineering’ about making coffee, isn’t there? It got me thinking how often I have started to “pitch develop” while going through the coffee ritual. It’s normally quiet, I am normally barely alive – so it is that natural ‘in-the-ether’ moment.

    And it’s interesting that the process (endlessly adaptable and opinionated), time-efficiency metrics, best tools decision, price vs. value, eye for quality, and ultimate outcome – all mimic a startup.

    It’s not as if coffee hasn’t been long associated, I guess I just crystallized the parallels after reading this in steps. (Nice workflow chart).

    Probably making too much of it, but then again, 5 Sumatras might do that a person.

  13. Hector Ramos says:

    That’s my next step: getting a Chemex. For now, though, I’m quite happy with the Aeropress. http://hectorramos.com/aeropress

    The key is in having your own grinder, though.

  14. I think you’re missing out on a greatcup of coffee just by not coming to Portugal.

  15. Mike D. says:

    You are probably addicted to the hot stuff, but have you ever tried cold brew? Cold brewing your coffee reduces about 70% of its acidity and produces a much smoother brew. The Toddy Cold Brew system is about $35 in stores and lets you brew a pot overnight and then store it for up to two weeks in your fridge before it goes bad. I assume you can probably just heat up a cup on demand if you want to drink it hot.

    One thing I learned about coffee brewing recently is that the only reason stores heat it up during the brewing process is to speed things up. If you’re willing to wait several hours to produce the stuff, you’ll get a much better result.

  16. I am pretty religious about my coffee. I’ve tried all of the makers you have in the photo.

    I got a Keurig as a gift a couple years ago. I found a specific kcup varietal and now I won’t change back.

    It’s the most consistent, dark coffee I’ve found.

  17. I’ve finally figured out how to not brew bitter coffee in my presspot. I used to get the water way too hot and let it sit too long. ONce I started pulling the water off the stove at 180 or lower so things got much better.

    A teensy pinch of salt in the grounds will offset any bitter that you might have if you did anything wrong and kick the flavor up a notch as well..

  18. Brian Paul says:

    Hey Mike you might try Stumptown Coffee as a Peet’s replacement. I’m a big fan of Peet’s as the easily obtained alternative to Starbucks in SF but fell in love with Stumptown while staying at Ace Hotel in Manhattan.

    Stumptown hails from Portland but they have two locations in Seattle (1 coming to SF). Otherwise you can buy beans online but I’m not sure how fresh those would be.

    • Michael Arrington says:

      People get pretty religious about their beans. I may not have enough tastebuds, because after a certain point it all tastes good to me.

      • Paul Murphy says:

        Have to agree with Brian here.. give Stumptown a shot and see, I bet you’ll notice the difference – especially compared with Starbucks. And it’s not much more.

        Another tip I learned is to run hot water through the paper filter before adding the ground coffee to it.. helps to wash away the chemical taste that sometimes exists in paper filters, and only takes a few seconds.

        • If you guys are Stumptown fans you should give Bird Rock Coffee Roasters a try as well…2012 Roaster of the Year (Roast Magazine). Its a little hole-in-the-wall in La Jolla north of San Diego. I’ve tried coffee all over the world but I can’t say enough about Bird Rock…I just wish they’d open a place in northern cal so I could get my fix more often.

  19. jdbruewer says:

    I just upgraded to a decent burr grinder and a Bodum French press at Christmas, with a cordless Kettle. I’m pretty happy with the results, but learned to get the coffee off the grounds pretty quickly after brewing to avoid bitterness. What are the advantages of the Chemex over other makers?

  20. Mikey Tom says:

    You have got to take a day off next time you’re in Seattle to check out different coffee places. I love Zoka, Mokas, and Seattle coffee company, to name a few. Stump town is also pretty awesome

  21. Renault says:

    Nice setup! I’ve got the same grinder, but I have an Espresso machine and find that the grinder can’t really grind to the fineness to compare with even shop bought pre-ground coffee. But it works fine enough and I’m happy…

  22. Abhiram says:

    Come 2 india guys 2 enjoy a perfect coffee

  23. Thanks Mike, awesome article. Been using a Bodum French Press lately and I have my coffee ground at a local shop. I’m happy with the results, though I’m still learning how to get that perfect cup. I think I’ll try your method soon just to see what its like.

  24. Mike (@burshteyn) says:

    This looks like it would make a tech guy’s perfect cup:

    Top Brewer – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XxVYe-TE2eU

  25. Basil says:

    As far as I know, the reduction in bitterness from a coarse grind can be achieved through using fewer grounds. I’m sure that if you compared two cups of coffee, one with a coarser grind but more grounds, the other finer but fewer grounds, you’d find someone who claimed they tasted drastically different, however I think that scientifically, it amounts to the same thing.

    Personally, I like my coffee strong, so I grind it fine and use a little more than average :)

  26. PatDDixon says:

    You are a kindredspirit geek to the rest of us manic coffee purists who are technology induced. Decided I need the hot water at 195 thing. Sold. Thanks

  27. travis says:

    you need to use a gold coffee filter to retain flavour: http://goo.gl/7D4Vw\
    Paper filters remove many tasty and beneficial flavanoids.

    2nd. A coffee is only as good as it’s bean. Starbucks beans are such shit that the variety of coffee plant they use (robusta) are illegal to grow in Costa Rica (arabica).

    You want the best from the PacNW? Hard to beat PDX’s Stumptown. I suggest the ethiopian mordecofe: http://buy.stumptowncoffee.com/africa/ethiopia-mordecofe.html

    It will be a Eureka moment.

    • travis says:

      BTW, that’s REAL gold plated. Not a fake “gold tone” cheap filter.

    • Don’t lie, Travis. It’s common practice for espresso blenders to use as much as 20% Robusta, and it’s certainly not the case that Starbucks blends 100% Robusta. High quality Robustas such as Java Merapi add body, crema, and depth to an espresso blend and are good in their own right for those who enjoy a stiff French press extraction. See: http://www.sweetmarias.com/coffee.other.robusta.php?coffee=JavaMerapiRobusta2011#JavaMerapiRobusta2011

      All filters impart a flavor, but it’s sufficient to wash them by pouring water though the cone before loading it.

      Stumptown is very 2005. They were once a high-quality artisan roaster, but they’re now a high production shop with uneven quality. Artisan roasters such as Ristretto Roasters have taken their place on top of the pecking order in PDX. But it’s unlikely that drip coffee drinkers will be able to distinguish these blends from each other.

  28. Jac Xu says:

    I am a coffee drinker as well as a marketer. Everyday has to start with a cup of coffee, good and x-bold coffee. But the interesting thing is I have also a cut-off time-12:30pm otherwise it is very hard for sleeping

  29. David Kasper says:

    Great recommendation on the Zojirushi! I’d definitely upgrade from Peets or Starbucks to some higher quality beans with all that fancy equipment though :)

  30. Dave Smiddy says:

    You all may find this KQED Radio Forum broadcast educational, it features owners of three leading “coffee innovators” in the Bay Area: http://www.kqed.org/a/forum/R201201091000.

  31. Ken says:

    This classical Italian coffee maker brews wonderful coffee, for just 20$:

  32. Try Italian coffe for less caffeine. Believe it or not. Also on Philz they just opened a new high end Philz on Alma St in Palo Alto.

  33. Philz *is* perfection.

    Mike, here’s a related post I did of various Burr coffee grinders: http://go.danielodio.com/coffee

    Agreed re: drip vs. machine.

    DROdio

  34. Love this post, a cup of coffee is essential to my day, as well.

    Philz is awesome and its great experience, too.

    Also, I’d recommend SweetMarias.com for coffee supplies, reviews and videos. They know their stuff and are passionate about coffee.

  35. zelrick says:

    The Keurig has made the start of my day much better, wide selection of coffee and if you take care of the machine (filtered water) it’s great.

    It’s also got me back in to drinking hot tea. I really like the Celestial Seasonings black tea.

  36. Joe Ranft says:

    You need a better coffee to start with. Peets and Starbucks over roast their coffee to give it a better shelf life. The best coffee in North America is Barrington Gold Espresso, available from Barrington Roasters. It’s at least ten times better than anything Starbucks sells.

    http://www.barringtoncoffee.com/store/barrington-gold-espresso-blend.html

  37. David Smit says:

    Micheal, Nespresso makes an amazing machine that can make a latte or cupachino in under a minute flat. No grinding required. You can buy the cartridges online and get them delivered.

  38. Dan Yedinak says:

    If you’re in the Seattle area, you can also try another Seattle Coffee – Caffe D’arte (caffedarte.com). Down here in Portland I like Beveland Street Bistro and Cafe, which happens to serve Caffe D’arte.
    Oh, and I think you forgot step 6 – repeat (how many times?)!
    Thanks for the post! :)

  39. tomavatar says:

    I love the Bialetti but it takes too much time to clean afterward. Now I use a Hario V60, which is similar to a Chemex. Freshly roasted beans (less than a week old) make a real difference. In SF there are number of 3rd wave roasters (Ritual, Blue Bottle, Four Barrel, Sightglass), but Stumptown is indeed the renowned one.

    Regarding “fill the filter up twice”: you might not have the patience to do this, but if you gradually pour the water into the filter, then the grounds stay in the water and only stick to the sides after all the water has drained through. A Hario Buono kettle really helps with this — it seems expensive (~$50 on Amazon), but it’s actually one of the cheapest kettles with that long s-spout design. Check out the “V60 pour over” videos on youtube for more details. You supposedly dilute your coffee if you stir the grounds with a spoon, because it exposes the filter, allowing water to drain without passing through the grounds.

  40. Daniel Smith says:

    Same grinder! Peets Sumatra + Bodum Burr + cheapie Cuisinart Coffeemaker == Bliss. Is there a startup idea in this…. MyMorningRituals.com :)

  41. Chris says:

    The AeroPress is great – not sure why you think it’s complicated and time consuming. Hot water, a few seconds to press it through the cylinder, dump out grinds and filter, rinse, done. Simple and fast and makes a pretty strong brew.

  42. This is the way my grandmother made coffee; 80 years ago.
    She didn’t use a Zojirushi Hybrid Water Boiler, but boiling water is boiling water, isn’t it? :-)

  43. I love my Zojirushi, although I feel guilty at my sense of entitlement when I find that it’s out of water.

    I am so lazy and in need of instant caffeine in the mornings though that I use a Keurig for coffee.

  44. Luke says:

    pour into i.v. drip, enjoy.

  45. hackerhive says:

    I have always stuck with the pour over, like my Oma taught me to use. It is a great alternative and a bit of a cleaner taste than Chemex -and cheaper (as you just use the Pour Over) and put it over any old mug. But I agree with this pure approach to coffee. I don’t get why people use that Konig? and old/bitter/pre-ground coffee pellets-approach-unless neatness more important than taste.

    Martha Bros gets my vote in SF- alas in the DC suburbs I have few alternatives now.

  46. Disagree with first and last steps. You gotta start with fresh coffee beans and end with espresso instead of drip. Then you’re talking real coffee.

  47. Richard says:

    Peets Espresso Forte + Gaggia 8002 MDF Burr Grinder + Gaggia 14101 Classic Espresso Machine

  48. My god, Arrington, you’re such an amateur. There are several things you can do to improve your method:

    1. Peet’s coffee is made with inferior and over-roasted beans. You should buy green beans from Sweet Maria’s and roast your own with a Behmor or Hot Top roaster. 20 mintues a week is all it takes.

    2. Your water temp is too low, raise it to 200.

    3. Never make coffee with distilled water, you need a little calcium in the water to bring out the flavor. Standard tap water is actually the best bet.

    4. Get a Baratza Vario-W grinder, it grinds to a dialed-in weight automatically. This helps prevent bitterness (over-extraction) and sourness (under-extraction.) For filter, you want a medium grind.

    5. If you must drip, get a Clever Coffee Dripper. It controls the time and the flow.

    6. Use a high-quality filter and weigh the water your pour into the CCD as a means of measuring it. The proportion you’re generally looking for is 18 grams of coffee and 250 grams of water. $20 for a kitchen scale.

    When you’re ready to step up to a really good cup, get a Breville Dual Boiler espresso machine and add latte and cappuccino to your repertoire. Beware early production models of the BDB which had the over-pressure valve miscalibrated; if you’re pulling more than 9.5 bar, they’ll overnight you a fixed one.

    • Kite says:

      “3. Never make coffee with distilled water, you need a little calcium in the water to bring out the flavor. Standard tap water is actually the best bet.”

      I almost spit out my perfect cup of coffee to that line. Standard tap water in 99% of the places in the US is disgusting. Not only is it ridden with toxins and contaminants, which no one should want to ingest for basic health reasons; beyond health, it also often has varying degrees of chlorination, severely affecting flavor. The worst is when restaurants use tap water and their coffee and food reek of chlorine. Awful.

      You’re saying you’d consistently pass a blind taste-test: coffee made with 100% H2O with calcium vs. without calcium? A large part of taste is purely psychological. If the taste-test was made properly, I bet you’d be entirely surprised.

      Fair enough other points though.

      If Mike truly wants to experience the divinity of coffee, he needs to start pulling shots of espresso.

      • I’ve got RO and DI water sources at home since I’ve got a reef aquarium that runs on DI. I’ve done a lot of testing, albeit not blind. I use RO for espresso as I do notice better taste than tap water, but I suspect a light filtering with a Brita would be just as good. Day to day, I mostly use tap water for drip, but I may have better city water than most.

        Check up on the health impact of DI and distilled water, it’s not a joke.

  49. Brill Pappin says:

    Try using Unbleached filter cones or bamboo based cones.

    I can’t stand bleached paper cones any more, not least of the reasons because now I know how they make them white.

  50. In the interest of world peace, I’ve explained how a tech guy (me) makes the much more perfect cup of coffee: http://bennett.com/blog/2012/01/how-to-make-a-cup-of-coffee/

    Enjoy.

  51. Justin Lee says:

    I 2nd your Philz coffee notion. The first time is was there one of the employees was practically lecturing a guy on why he shouldn’t have an ice coffee but have it hot instead. Mind you this guy just wanted an ice coffee on a relatively hot day… none the less he walked out of there with a hot cup of coffee. It may have been the line “you wouldn’t put ice in a nice glass of scotch, would you?” Then the disapproving look he gave as he awaited the customers answer.

    Haha after that I was sold. The “we know way more about coffee than you attitude” of the place was just too much fun. Watching people come in for the first time and figuring out how to order coffee became a needed break while I was there catching up on daily blogs. The noticeable uneasiness first timers have as they try to decipher the near cryptic menu on the wall (for those of you who have never been to Philz… ordering coffee is similar to what ordering soup from the soup nazi would be like) that on top of the fact that the baristas are fully concentrating on brewing your coffee might not even notice you.

    …the coffee the brew there is amazing. I’m not saying they are rude or smug. Bottom line is that they just care more about coffee than you’ve ever bothered to notice.

  52. Thomas says:

    I’ve been hoping to find an all-in-one list like this, from someone who doesn’t go so far as to roast his own green beans, or who can tell when the pressure valve is off by 0.5 bar. I’m going to order everything you’ve recommended, and give you one in return: I don’t know some of the other recommended coffees mentioned here, but I did happen to find one I like, because it was very easy to get a smooth, but tasty cup: Blue Bottle Coffee. It’s relatively easy to find here in the Bay Area, but probably need to order online to try anywhere else.

    • The real coffee-loving tech guy can also tell you if his dose is off by a tenth of a gram, his tamp is off by a pound, his water temp is off by 1 degree F, and if his puck is channeling.

  53. dr oz says:

    Very great post. I simply stumbled upon your blog and wanted to mention that I’ve truly enjoyed surfing around your blog posts. After all I will be subscribing for your rss feed and I am hoping you write once more soon!

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