Perfect Coffee At Home: A Starter Guide To Coffee Brewing Fundamentals

Making coffee the “right” way can feel overwhelming. 

There are so many things to control, so many ways to get a bitter flavor (and don’t even get me started on snobby baristas who make it sound extra challenging just so you have to rely on them for an A+ brew).

Let’s make this simple. 

You can brew a perfect cup of coffee at home. I’ll show you how.

I’ll guide you through each of the coffee brewing fundamentals without snobbery, industry jargon, or confusing rambling. By the end of this article, you’ll have every tool you need to make you absolutely love at home.

Here’s what we’ll cover.


Table of Contents

Before You Brew: Your Coffee Beans Must Be FRESH

Coffee Brewing Stages: The Must-Know For Perfect Coffee

Measuring: How Much Coffee Should You Use?

How To Pair Your Brewer With The Right Grind Size

Good Water: The Missing Piece For Most Home Coffee Lovers

Tasting Coffee For Max Enjoyment: Most People Do It Wrong

How To Troubleshoot A Bad Brew (The Fast Way)

Our #1 Tip For Loving Your Coffee Like Never Before


Before You Brew: Your Coffee Beans Must Be FRESH

Say it with me: fresh coffee is the best coffee.

Once roasted, coffee beans have just 2-3 weeks before they start breaking down fast. The freshest, most delicious flavors are gone by the 4th week, replaced by more sour and bitter compounds.

Pre-ground coffee, on the other hand, has only 20-30 minutes before the flavor quality takes a noticeable dive. That’s because it doesn’t take the oxygen very long to penetrate to the center of the ground and start making the bean stale (it takes much longer with whole beans).

Read More: Whole Bean vs Ground Coffee

Would you want month-old bread or a fully browned apple? Of course not! You want fresh, ripe, and richly flavorful food—coffee beans are no different. 

That’s why we always suggest buying coffee beans that are roasted to order, then shipped to you the same day.

When they arrive 2-3 days past-roast, they’re at peak flavor for the next 10-15 days, which is the perfect time frame for most people. 


Coffee Brewing Stages: The Must-Know For Perfect Coffee

stages of coffee brewing

If you want to make rich, balanced coffee that sings to your taste buds, you need to know how coffee brewing actually happens in real-time. 

Trust me, this will be very important later.

When you know the stages of brewing, you can easily manipulate your coffee’s flavor to make it even better tasting. This is how the pros make cafe coffee tastes so good (and it’s not even hard).

The Stages Of Coffee Brewing

Let’s walk through the stages of coffee brewing.

  • Stage 1: The Acids Come First — The very first things to be extracted from the grounds are the tangy acids. At this point, the coffee is very sour and concentrated.

  • Stage 2: Starts To Mellow Out — As more organic compounds dissolve from the bean and add darker notes, the coffee tastes smoother and less concentrated. Pleasant aromas and lighter flavors start to appear.

  • Stage 3: The Sweet Spot — Natural sugars dissolve and enhance the entire flavor experience. The acids are perfectly balanced, the aromas are enhanced, the rich flavors wrapped in a sweet note, and the coffee concentration is just right—the ideal strength.

  • Stage 4: Whoops, Getting Bitter — The bitter compounds really start showing up after the sweet spot. The natural sweetness starts to hide behind the bitter tannins and the coffee starts to taste a little weak.

  • Stage 5: Oh No, Dull And Bitter — Keep brewing and the dark bitter flavors will completely overpower the crisp acids, natural sugars, and pleasant aromas. The coffee will have a dull, boring flavor with few distinguishable attributes.

  • This is true for every coffee maker, every bean, every time. 

    Under Extraction

    We call Stage 1 and Stage 2 under extracted, because not enough “stuff” is extracted to get to that sweet spot of flavor. Under extracted coffee often tastes… 

    • Too sour
    • Thin (think an unripe apple… it’s almost there, but not quite)
    • Salty (yeah, weird)

    You can read more about under extracted coffee here.

    Over Extraction

    We call Stage 4 and Stage 5 over extracted, because too much “stuff” is extracted and it overpowers that sweet spot. Over extracted coffee often tastes… 

    • Very bitter
    • Dull and empty (like… where’d all those flavors go?)
    • Sandpapery (a noticeable scratchy feeling on your tongue)

    You can read more about over extracted coffee here.


    Measuring: How Much Coffee Should You Use?

    Most people have the wrong idea about how coffee flavor works. People imagine, “If I just add more coffee, I’ll get a stronger flavor!” That’s not really how it works—and thinking that way will always leave you disappointed.

    how much coffee to use

    Using a good coffee to water ratio is essential to consistently delicious coffee, because your ratio impacts two things:

    • Flavor — How you get to the ‘sweet spot’ of extraction
    • Concentration — How strong or weak the overall flavor is

    Too much coffee and your final brew will be extra concentrated (and with a flavor as bold as coffee, there is such a thing as too strong). Too much coffee also means there’s not enough water to go around, so each individual coffee ground isn’t able to reach that ‘sweet spot’.

    Too little coffee and your final brew will taste weak and meh (water coffee is gross). Not enough coffee means there’s also too much water available, which speeds up extraction and makes it easy to fly past that ‘sweet spot’.

    The science behind measuring coffee is kinda complicated. 

    Actually measuring coffee—the right way, every time, without confusion— is easy.

    I’ll show you how.

    How To Measure Coffee By Volume (Measuring Cup, Tablespoons)

    You probably already have a measuring cup and tablespoons, so this method of measuring coffee is easy.

    Generally, 3.5 tablespoons of whole beans is just right per 8-ounce cup of coffee.

    • x1 12-ounce cup of coffee 👉 5.3 tablespoons of whole beans
    • x2 8-ounce cups of coffee 👉 7 tablespoons of whole beans
    • x3 12-ounce cups of coffee 👉 16 tablespoons of whole beans

    Note: if your coffee beans are extra small, use just 3 tablespoons of beans per cup.

    Measuring by volume is slightly inconsistent because not all coffee beans are the same size or density. Imagine 1 tablespoon of beans from Honduras: they’re small and dense, weighing 6 grams (of mass). Now imagine 1 tablespoon of beans from Ethiopia: they’re big and light, weighing just 5g.

    There’s technically more coffee in the tablespoon of Honduran coffee than the tablespoon of Ethiopian coffee. It will make a small difference in the flavor of your coffee, but it probably won’t be very noticeable.

    Want more detail? Read this.

    How To Measure Coffee By Weight (Kitchen Scale)

    If you have a kitchen scale, use it. Measuring by weight is more consistent because it measures only by weight, so the size and density of the beans don’t play any tricks. When you measure weight, you measure the true “amount” of coffee you’re using.

    If measuring by weight, use 1 gram of coffee per 16 grams of water.

    We call this a 1:16 ratio of coffee to water.

    So if you’re making one cup of coffee (roughly 250g of liquid), here’s how you measure that:

    • 250 total weight 👉 divide by 16 (ratio of 1:16) 👉 15.6 grams (of coffee)
    • Now you have your water weight (250g) and your coffee weight (15-16g). Easy!

    Write down 2-3 of your favorite ratios so you can easily look them up each morning when you make coffee (and don’t have to pull out the calculator).

    Here are a few ratios I like:

    • 16g coffee 👉 272g water 👉 one full mug of coffee
    • 32g coffee 👉 544g water 👉 two full mugs of coffee
    • 35g coffee 👉 600g water 👉 two extra big mugs of coffee

    Once you’ve done this a few times, it’s really easy to repeat the process over and over. Then you know you never have to worry about using the wrong amount of coffee again.

    Want to learn more about weighing coffee like a pro? Here’s a stellar article.


    How To Pair Your Brewer With The Right Grind Size

    Every type of coffee maker works a little differently. French presses use a long 4-minute steep. Pour over coffee makers use a constant flow of water for 2-3 minutes. Espresso is just a fast, 30-second brew.

    coffee grind size chart

    To hit the ‘sweet spot’ of flavor extraction with your particular brewer, your coffee grind size has to work with the brewer’s unique process.

    Here’s why:

    • Small grounds brew fast. It doesn’t take long for the water to saturate small grounds and extract all the “stuff” (oils, acids, sugars, etc).
    • Big grounds brew slowly. It takes longer for the water to fully saturate and extract stuff from coarse grounds, so it takes longer to hit that ‘sweet spot’.

    “Regular” coffee grounds, like what you’d find in pre-ground coffee bags, work well for drip coffee pots. That’s it

    If you tried to use those grounds in a french press, they’d brew too fast and you’d get bitter (over extracted) coffee. If you tried to use those grounds in an espresso maker, the pressurized water would flow through too easily and not enough “stuff” would be in the resulting shot (under extracted).

    Here’s a cheat sheet for pairing your coffee maker with its ideal grind size.


    Coffee Maker

    Grind Size

    The Reason

    French Press

    Coarse

    The mesh filter doesn’t work with medium grounds. coarse grounds need a longer brew time (4 minutes).

    Chemex

    Medium-Coarse

    The thick Chemex filter clings to the brewer walls and slows the draining for a slightly longer brew time for pour over coffee.

    Most Pour Overs

    Medium

    Pour over brewing is fairly quick (2-3 minutes), so a medium grind size works well.

    Drip Coffee Pot

    Medium-Fine

    The size of pre-ground coffee.

    Cold Brew

    Coarse

    Immersing grounds for 12+ hours? Definitely go with a coarse grind size.

    AeroPress

    Medium-Fine to Coarse

    A medium-fine grind size is great for quick, 90-second brews. Coarse grounds enable a more french press-style brew.

    Moka Pot

    Fine

    It takes fine grounds for the moka pot’s water vapor to extract flavor from your coffee grounds.

    Espresso

    Very Fine

    It takes very fine grounds to pull a fully-extracted shot in a hot 30 seconds.


    Want more details on pairing brewers and grind sizes? Read this blog.


    Good Water: The Missing Piece For Most Home Coffee Lovers

    When I used to manage a coffee shop, I had customers come in almost daily and say they’ve done everything right—but they just can’t get their coffee at home to taste like it does in the cafe.

    That’s because 99% of coffee lovers forget that their water plays a huge part in how their coffee tastes.

    It’s also a really easy thing to fix and never have to worry about again.

    best coffee water temperature

    There are two things you MUST do for good coffee water.

    Use The Right Coffee Water Temperature

    This one is super easy.

    Everyone around the world agrees that the BEST water temperature to use when making coffee is 195-205 degrees Fahrenheit.

    • Live at sea level? Water boils at 212 degrees for you, so give it 1-2 minutes to cool once it boils so you don’t over extract with water that’s too hot.
    • Live in the mountains? Water boils under 200 degrees for you, so brew immediately at boiling so you don’t under extract with water that’s too cold.
  • Live anywhere else? Lucky you. Just brew!

  • For more info on coffee water temperatures and how they affect flavor, read this.

    Check Your Calcium Hardness Levels

    Coffee flavor is delicate, and when your local water source has a high level of calcium hardness (aka, hard water), those flavors get masked by a mineral-y flavor easily. It makes your coffee taste dull, empty, and bitter.

    Most local water sources are not ideal for coffee brewing—it’s why coffee shops always have fancy filters installed.

    To make things a little more complicated… you don’t want pure RO water. A tiny amount of vitamins and minerals helps bring out flavor. So while pure RO water is better than hard water, it’ll still have a negative impact on flavor.

    You want just a touch of vitamins and minerals in your water.

    Here are a few ways to make sure your water is A-OK for coffee brewing.

    • Filter your local tap water. Just use a simple Brita pitcher. Unless your water is off-the-charts hard, this will have a noticeable impact.
    • Start with bottled, filtered water. Get a big 5-gallon jug and just mix a tiny amount of tap water each time to add a minor level of vitamins and minerals. 

    Want to learn more about water chemical composition and how it affects flavor? Read this.


    Tasting Coffee For Max Enjoyment: Most People Do It Wrong

    A handful of blueberries, a field of aromatic flowers, the crispness of a ripe green apple. Have you tasted these things in your coffee? I’d love to teach you how.

    coffee tasting notes

    Passionately farmed, freshly roasted and ground, well-brewed coffee has amazingly complex flavors.

    Coffee pros separate these tastes into a few categories (and we explain each of them in the links below):

    The problem is… tasting mindfully isn’t something most people are good at.

    Sipping mindlessly, gulping for energy—this blocks your taste receptors from perceiving your coffee’s most complex flavors. Your brain literally passes by the best flavors because it’s busy doing something else.

    That’s why we strongly suggest taking the first few sips of your daily brew with full focus. Take a sip, swish it around your tongue so you trigger all your taste receptors, and ask yourself the magic question.

    “What does this remind me of?”

    This question gives your mind permission to slow down—even if just for a few seconds—to truly experience the coffee. Let your mind enjoy and explore the flavors with more questions.

    • Does the bitterness remind you of dark chocolate or liquorice? 
    • Does the acidity remind you of a green apple or lemon? 
    • Is it sweet or flowery? 
    • What’s that nutty flavor? Pecan, hazelnut?

    Learning to taste coffee is one of the best ways you can turn your daily cup of energy into a magnificent, multi-faceted sensory experience that makes you happy.

    Seriously, we cannot suggest learning this enough!

    PLEASE explore our Learn How To Taste Coffee series.


    How To Troubleshoot A Bad Brew (The Fast Way)

    Everyone makes a bad cup of coffee. But if you can learn to troubleshoot your brew, you can change your technique so that, next time, it tastes rich and balanced again.

    Most people never learn this, but it’s the final secret to mastering your daily coffee.

    Using what you know about the coffee brewing stages (and what over and under extracted coffee tastes like), let’s walk through a few examples of bad flavors you may encounter.

    Read: How To Brew Better Coffee By Adjusting Your Coffee Grind Size

    Note: Only try one fix at a time. You don’t want to change more than one thing, overshoot, and end up frustrated that your coffee still tastes bad.

    My Coffee Tastes Bitter

    Let’s assume you’re (1) filtering your water already and (2) not using a dark coffee roast from low-grade or stale beans—because you can’t fix beans that taste bitter from the start.

    Bitter coffee generally means over extraction. Essentially, you’ve pulled too much “stuff” from the grounds, and now the bitter compounds are overshadowing everything else. You need to brew less next time. 

    Here are a few ways you can solve for that next time you brew:

    • Brew for less time (to stop the extraction earlier)
    • Use more coarse grounds (to slow the overall extraction speed)

    My Coffee Tastes Sour

    Stale coffee can develop a gross lemon-y flavor, but we’re going to assume your beans are freshly roasted and freshly ground.

    Sour coffee generally means under extraction. The natural acids weren’t balanced out by enough oils, sugars, and other compounds. Next time, brew more. 

    Here are a few ways to do that:

    • Brew for more time (to allow more extraction)
    • Use finer coffee grounds (to speed up extraction speed)

    These are the top two problems people face, but we help you troubleshoot a lot more issues in this incredible guide: Bad Brew? Here’s A Simple Coffee Troubleshooting Guide.


    Our #1 Tip For Loving Your Coffee Like Never Before

    Your life is a string of small events and actions. The little things count—they're the whole point—so infuse happiness and gratitude into every moment.

    This is how we create a rich and fulfilling life that transcends our physical circumstances.

    We call it ‘Staying Grounded’.

    buy coffee beans online

    One powerful way we’ve discovered that helps us follow this lifestyle is nothing other than our morning mug. For us, it’s not just a cup of black liquid—or at least, it doesn’t have to be.

    Because you can’t control much, but you can control your daily coffee.

    We transform our daily brew into an energy-breathing, gratitude-generating, life-enhancing cup of coffee that launches the day with a moment of peace.

    Here’s what you need to do next to embrace the Stay Grounded lifestyle.

    • Buy freshly-roasted, specialty-grade coffee that’s ethically sourced
    • Grind fresh and brew like you mean it
    • Drink mindfully and take it all in
    • Then infuse that moment of joy into the rest of your day.

    We’d love to help you out here.

    Our JavaPresse Coffee Club sends you specialty-grade beans from some of the most celebrated and ethical farms in the world.

    (Some of our farm partners literally had a choice between growing coffee and cocaine to provide for their families, and your support gives them a reason to choose coffee!)

    We roast the coffee and ship it to you on the same day so you can experience the beans at PEAK flavor and freshness.

    In the end, it’s about living intentionally, finding gratitude and happiness, and helping others along however you can. For us and thousands of customers, coffee’s done the trick.

    Think it’ll work for you?

    Find out for yourself.