Brew Perfect Coffee At Home, For Pennies

How to brew a great cup of coffee at home -- and save money, too. Ray Isle of Food & Wine will show us a few tricks. (Pretape / Producer: Brendan Conway) IStockPhoto

You don't need to spend a lot at Starbucks or Dunkin' Donuts to get a great cup of coffee.

Food & Wine magazine's Ray Isle explained Saturday how we can make the perfect cup of Joe at home, while saving money at the same time:

You can make a terrific cup of coffee at home. It's simple and easy.

What it basically comes down to is good ingredients.

You can get a good drip coffee machine for around $30. You also need some filters, which cost $4 or $5 for a box of 100. A pound of good coffee beans will run you $10-$12, and a coffee bean grinder goes for around $15.

You can buy coffee in a can ready to go, but it won't be perfect. It will just be ok.

Step #1: Buy newly roasted, whole beans

If you want perfect coffee, the two most important things are the beans and water. The beans give it the flavor. If you make a hamburger out of two-week-old beef, it isn't going taste good. Same with coffee.

How do you know what kind of beans to get?

Go to a place that roasts its beans frequently. Find the local coffee fanatic shop and ask them where they get their beans. You're looking at levels of quality. The lowest quality is the can; next up is beans from the grocery store (you don't know how old they are); third is when you get up to coffee roaster shops like Starbucks (which has pretty fresh coffee). A lot of the little guys actually date the coffee bags.

Use whole beans, ideally no more than a week or so past when they're roasted. You wouldn't make a sandwich with old, stale bread, so why do you want to make coffee with old, stale beans? Coffee suppliers that are really on top of trends always label beans with a roast date, so you know how old the beans are. Never start with pre-ground beans: By the time you buy them, they've lost all the great coffee characteristics they had in the first place. And keep your beans in a cool, dry, dark container, but not the fridge or freezer.

Step #2: Use the right filter

Use an unbleached paper filter or a gold filter. The bleached (white) ones affect the flavor of the coffee, so avoid them. The unbleached ones aren't as pretty, but who cares? You put the filter in the machine, and now it's time to grind the coffee. Remember to change the filter every time you make a new pot. . The unbleached ones don't cost any more money, but in the long run the gold filter is cheapest because you never have to buy filters again.

Step #3: Mind the grind

Grind the coffee beans with your own grinder. Put the beans in the grinder and grind them for 10 seconds. Grind only what you're going to use that day. Then, put two tablespoons of coffee into the coffee maker.

Coffee fanatics will tell you to spend $200 on a fancy burr grinder. Skip it! Unless you're an absolute coffee fanatic, an inexpensive blade grinder ($15 or so) is fine. For a drip coffee maker, grind your coffee a little finer than kosher salt, about ten seconds in the grinder.

Step #4: Use the right amount of coffee --- for you!

The good basic rule is two tablespoons of ground coffee per one six ounce cup. The typical pot holds around six cups, but you can buy them in any size. If you like your coffee weak, put in one-and-a-half tablespoons, and if you like it strong, go up to three and stand back! The same proportions go for decaf.

Step #5: Use water that tastes good

Coffee is about 98 percent water. Tap water is fine, as long as you like your tap water. I was in a city once where the water smelled like fish, so my coffee smelled like fish! If you have good tap water, you're fine. You can also use bottled water or filtered water.

So, now it's time to put the water in and click the machine on. It takes about three-six minutes to brew, depending on how many cups you're making -- plenty of time to jump in the shower, and less time then standing in line at Starbucks!

Then, pour the coffee and enjoy.

What about cream and sugar?

The rule is: Do what you like. There's no right or wrong.

What about iced coffee?

For iced coffee, make it stronger. Put three tablespoons of ground beans instead of two, because the ice cubs will dilute the coffee. If you really like iced coffee, you can even make coffee ice cubes!

How long can your coffee stay in the pot?

No more than 45 minutes. After that, the heating plate will start to cook the coffee and make it bitter.

Can you reheat your coffee in the microwave?

You can, but it never tastes as good. The microwave does something to the coffee. But overall, it's OK.

How should coffee makers be cleaned?

If you want your coffee to keep tasting great, clean your coffee maker once a month. Run a carafe of half-white vinegar and half-water through it, then run clean water through it a couple of times. Works like a charm.

Where do get your coffee?

I have coffee in our Food & Wine test kitchen every morning. I don't make it myself. It's made by out test chefs. If I have to drink out, I go to Starbucks. I think it's better than the fast-food places. Pre-Starbucks, the coffee was pretty disastrous. But overall, nothing beats my home brew!
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