Open a big bag of fresh-roasted coffee beans. Stick your nose down in it, close your eyes, and inhale. Go ahead, I’ll wait.
Now, isn’t that the most incredible thing you’ve ever smelled? So warm and inviting, so tantalizing; it’s savory and it’s sweet, it’s complex but unassuming; it’s somehow both relaxing and invigorating. It’s a bookstore; it’s a cozy warm coffee shop on a cold rainy day; it’s hunkering around a table with your closest friends and tasting each other’s triumphs and lattes. It’s pure, smooth, mouth-watering happiness.
Everybody loves the smell of coffee. Everybody. Even people who won’t drink it. Every single person that steps through our doors remarks on that heavenly aroma (think back to the last time you stopped by our store—you said something about it as soon as you walked in, didn’t you?)
That’s why there are few things more depressing in life than a bad cup of coffee. Yeah, maybe you didn’t get that Christmas bonus you already spent, maybe your daughter got another misspelled tattoo on her face, but real disappointment is coffee going in the machine smelling great and coming out blech.
No one should have to deal with this kind of soul-crushing defeat; that’s why we’re here to help! And when we hear rumors of bad coffee—especially if the words “stale” or “flat” are used—one of the first things we look at is the brewing temperature.
(There are other things to consider, of course—for instance, how does your water naturally taste? Like a swimming pool? But we’ll stick with the ideal temperature for now.)
The plain fact is, coffee that is brewed at too cool of a temperature (less than 195° F) won’t extract properly. Under-extracted coffee is underwhelming coffee; a certain amount of the grounds needs to dissolve in the water, and the temperature (as well as the size of your grind and the brewing time itself) determine whether you hit that sweet spot.
Now, don’t go crazy! You also don’t want it too hot—if you boil, you spoil. You want your coffee to brew somewhere between 195-205° F. Okay, you say, but I’m not heating the water up myself, that’s all handled in my automatic drip machine—surely the fine folks at Mr. Java can’t, in good conscience, sell me a brewer that doesn’t get hot enough to do its job, right? Right?
Unfortunately, a lot of the cheaper automatic drip coffee machines just don’t get hot enough. They don’t make coffee, they make “coffee”. They seek out impressionable young palates and turn them against the bean forever. “I just don’t like coffee,” these poor folks say, the same way you might say “I don’t like cheese” when the only kind you’ve ever had was squirted over ballpark nachos. For heaven’s sake, go make a fresh pot and stick a thermometer in it, see if cold temperature is your culprit. (We also tend to suspect temperature if your coffee used to taste good, and suddenly it doesn’t—the heating element may be malfunctioning.)
If it turns out your machine is failing you there are still ways to make a delicious, up-to-temperature cup of java without spending a lot (check out our Melitta cone filter or the Aeropress or one of our many French presses) and there are automatic drip machines out there that will work, just be sure you factor in temperature when making your decision. We even carry a great one ourselves—the Bunn Thermofresh, a 10-cup brewin’ beauty that maintains a steady 200° F temp in the boiler and keeps the finished product hot in the insulated carafe.
But what about cold brewing? Okay, yes, you can make an equally delicious cup of coffee (iced or reheated) with a Toddy cold brewer. That’s a different process. But don’t try to average out the two methods—if you’re brewing it hot, brew it really hot—and you’re one step closer to making a cup of joe that tastes just as good as it smells.