Photo from flickr user Ben Cumming.

This post is part of the on-going Coffee Week series.

Before we get into the nitty-grindy of making lattes and selecting the right beans, it helps to know the elements of a perfect cup of coffee.

Given the simplicity of coffee, one might think it would be difficult to mess up. But the elements of a good cup of coffee are also very delicate. Without the proper attention, you could easily make a crappy cup of coffee (and most people do, day in and day out without realizing it).

The Beans

It should come as no surprise that it all starts with the beans. There are a few important factors about the beans

The Region

Actually, the region isn’t that important. It would be like arguing over toppings on a pizza or different types of beer. Everyone has their preference.

Frozen or Not? Freeze-dried or Fresh?

As with just about everything else in the world–save astronaut ice cream–nothing is better freeze dried. It definitely holds true with coffee. While your parents might leave the Don Francisco in the freezer to keep it “fresh,” they are really doing nothing more than perpetuating a superstition. Fresh beans will always be better than frozen beans.

Never freeze your beans.

Roasting Date

Hand in hand with the freshness is the roasting date. Different people give you different windows. The elite purists will say the beans are good up to one week after they are roasted. Other more lax people put the good coffee window at about a month after its roasting date.

From firsthand experience, you can definitely push the month envelope unless you are gifted with super-human tastebuds. Chances are if your coffee is tasting funky you’re doing something else wrong.

Also, be warned of coffee companies that try to skirt the issue of the roasting date. It’s well known thatStarbucks routinely over roasts their beans (it gives them that signature Starbucks taste), but they are also shy when it comes to the roasting date. You’ll find a “scooped on” date on most of their bags, but not a “roasted on” date. That’s like putting a “Sold in 2009″ label on a 1980 Honda Civic you just bought for $50.

The Grind

A perfect cup of coffee is very particular about its grind. Methods of brewing such as the French press require a much coarser grind than drip, single cup or espresso.

Like the roasting date, the grind date is also important. If possible, the time in between grinding your beans and preparing a cup of coffee should be minutes, not days. But not everyone can afford a decent burr grinder(upwards of $100). If you’re looking to get into coffee, a blade grinder should suit you well enough. I personally use the ubiquitous Krups blade grinder. It’s $20 and it gets the job done.

The Water

The second and oft-neglected ingredient of a good cup of coffee is the water. Do it right.


Given that coffee is only two ingredients, the terribleness of one ingredient can completely muck up a cup. In Los Angeles, the tap water objectively tastes funky. If your serious about the craft, grab a Brita filter and filter the water you use in your coffee. Also if you’re using a machine, make sure you clean your machine regularly. Otherwise you’ll get mineral buildup and cancel out the effects of purifying your water.

As a slight hack for the price-conscious, always pull cold water from your tap. Warm water is just too prone to picking up extra minerals and heavy metals from pipes.

The Ratio

Remember, two tablespoons of coffee per 8 ounces of water.

There you have it; those are the basics of making a good cup of coffee. Is there anything we left out? Let us know in the comments!