Unfortunately, socializing in your favorite cafe over a cappuccino turned work of art just isn’t going to happen right now.

But, that doesn’t mean you can’t make an expert-level cup. To become your own master barista, says Matt Scottoline, director of coffee for Reanimator Coffee, you simply need to pay attention to a few small, but significant, details.

“There are three important elements to brewing: the coffee, the grinding, and the water,” says Scottoline. “Most people have a relationship with coffee like they do with rice, where they eyeball everything, and then it comes out gummy, but they eat it anyway. Just some simple fine-tuning to each element will make an enormous difference in the taste.”

Scottoline shares techniques to improve your next brew immediately, no matter what machine or method you’re using.

Cheat sheet: Better coffee

1. Buy whole-bean coffee, either from a local roaster or with a roast date within the last month.

2. Grind it just before you use it, ideally with a burr grinder so you get a uniform grind.

3. Avoid tap water. Any filtered water will taste better.

4. Weigh your coffee, don't scoop it, so you can have a precise water-to-coffee ratio.

5. Make sure your water is hot. The ideal temp is about 200 degrees F.

6. Store your beans properly. Store in a cool, dry place, away from ingredients that will affect flavor.

How to brew a better cup of coffee

1. Buy coffee, whole beans only, labeled with a roast date

Coffee has a four-week window before it gets stale, says Scottoline. Grind the beans, and that window shortens to 24 hours.

“It’s like produce that wilts over time. The beans start to lose their flavors,” he says.

For maximum freshness, your best bet is to source whole beans from a local roaster, most of which roast in small batches. With a short distance to travel, beans are generally received just days after they’re packaged.

TIP: An array of coffee shops are now offering delivery, including Reanimator, Ultimo, La Colombe, Peddler’s, Greenstreet, and OX. Many others are offering curbside pickup. Check your local spot. If purchasing from a supermarket or larger distributor, make sure the bag is marked with a roast date.

“If there isn’t a roast date, there’s probably a reason,” says Scottoline. “With grocery store coffee, they’ll roast thousands of pounds of coffee at a time, let it sit in a warehouse, and bag it up as they go.”

Chiara Rossi, 22, poses for a portrait inside Greenstreet Coffee Co., one of several cafes offering both to-go cups and bean delivery.
HEATHER KHALIFA / Staff Photographer
Chiara Rossi, 22, poses for a portrait inside Greenstreet Coffee Co., one of several cafes offering both to-go cups and bean delivery.

2. Grind fresh, with a burr grinder

Coffee begins to lose its flavor within minutes of grinding. You can grind it the night before your morning brew, but Scottoline discourages processing any further out than that.

Need a grinder? Invest in a burr versus a blade version. Like a blender, blade grinders whirl a blade round and round to chop the beans. This creates inconsistency in the size of the grind.

“The rate at which coffee extracts in water depends on the size of the particle. The smaller the particle, the faster it extracts,” says Scottoline. “If your grinds are all over the place, the coffee won’t extract evenly, so you don’t get great flavor.”

Burr grinders allow you to be more precise, grinding the beans between two adjustable burred plates.

“They give you much more control,” says Scottoline. “Let’s say you’re making coffee in your drip machine, and it tastes a little weak, which could mean not enough coffee was extracted in the brewing process. You’d just crank your grinder so that it’s a notch or two finer, and try again the next morning.”

TIP: Beans vary, often just slightly, in how they should be ground depending on their origin. Crafting the perfect cup of coffee is all about remaining curious and open to experimenting, says Scottoline. If your coffee turns out a little more muddy and bitter than usual, you’ve likely ground the beans too fine. (For grinder/equipment recommendations, check out Reanimator’s blog.)

A burr grinder grinds beans more evenly, so you get a better cup of coffee.
A burr grinder grinds beans more evenly, so you get a better cup of coffee.

3. Avoid tap water

The more filtered your water, the better.

“Tap water, whether you realize it or not, has a lot of flavor to it, and chemical compounds that interact with coffee in different ways,” says Scottoline. “This diminishes the nuanced flavors of the beans.”

If able, Attach a filter to your kitchen faucet. Although, Scottoline says even a standard Brita pitcher will create a cleaner cup of coffee.

“I wouldn’t recommend bottled water because that just becomes wasteful,” says Scottoline.

4. Weigh, not scoop, your coffee

Ask any coffee expert, and they’ll tell you coffee should be measured by weight not volume. To do this, you’ll need a digital scale (super useful for baking, too).

“All coffee has different densities, so a tablespoon of a coffee from Africa and a tablespoon of coffee from South America is not going to be the same amount,” says Scottoline.

Use the scale to weigh your water, too, to create the ideal brewing ratio.

“Everyone has their preference, but generally the range falls between 14 to 17 parts water to one part coffee,” says Scottoline. “For a 12-ounce cup of coffee, we use a ratio of 22 grams of coffee to 370 grams of water.”

5. Check your water temp

To fully extract the flavor from the beans, your water needs to be hot — roughly around 200°F, says Scottoline.

“If using a French press or pour-over, bring your water to a boil,” says Scottoline. “By the time it actually hits the coffee, it won’t be boiling anymore, and instead about right where you want it.”

6. Think about storage

Coffee is not like the average quarantined cat. It doesn’t want to sit around on sunny windowsills or countertops. Instead, store beans in a cool, dry place, and away from ingredients like onions and garlic.

“You want to keep beans separate from foods that can impart smells onto your coffee,” says Scottoline. “I keep mine in the bag that they came in, rolled up, and in the cabinet where I store my grains.”

If you want, transfer the beans to a Mason jar or vacuum container. This will shield them from external aromas, but, says Scottoline, don’t think it’ll extend the shelf life.