Tell me how to brew coffee from whole beans.
August 8, 2007 3:14 PM   Subscribe

Tell me how to brew coffee from whole beans.

I always drink instant coffee in home and have never brewed coffee from coffeebeans. Have no coffeemakers or anything of the sort.

What is the simplest way I can buy coffee beans from a coffeeship and brew them at home? What minimal inexpensive equipment do I need for it and what steps should I follow. (I would prefer not having to work with complicated machines.)
posted by gregb1007 to Food & Drink (28 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I bought a little Krups electric coffeegrinder for not much money 25 years ago. I still use it today.
posted by gimonca at 3:17 PM on August 8, 2007

That's easy - a french press! You also have the benefit of it making really good coffee.

1. Buy beans from coffeeshop
2. Have store grind beans for a french press (most if not all will do this for you).
3. Put water in kettle (electric or stovetop) and turn on.
4. Put small amount of ground coffee in bottom of french press
5. Add hot water.
6. Time for 4 minutes.
7. Depress plunger part of french press.
8. Enjoy!

If you want, you can buy a grinder and grind the beans yourself to a coarse consistency. That adds a step, obviously.
posted by misskaz at 3:20 PM on August 8, 2007

I considered suggesting a french press, but they aren't significantly cheaper than regular coffee makers, and coffee makers are the more popular of the two. So here's information about coffeemakers. You can buy an extremely cheap, 4-cup coffeemaker for about fifteen bucks. Or, you can buy a fairly cheap, 12-cup coffeemaker for about thirty bucks. Unless you're looking at really expensive coffee machines, the procedure will be quite easy. You can find a good variety of cheap machines at your local Target or similar store.

A lot of coffee beans are sold already ground, so you don't have to grind it yourself. Doing this will cut out the cost of the coffee grinder (the cheapest of which I could find was about $20). I don't have good enough of a palate to tell the difference between coffee bought ground and coffee ground recently, and, if you can stomach instant coffee, you can handle pre-ground coffee beans. If you buy coffee at a grocery store, you may have to grind the beans yourself, but I found the grinding machine self-explanatory the few times I've used it.

After that, all you need are coffee filters (your coffeemaker may come with a permanent coffee filter. I tend to avoid these, since it seems to have a greater potential to make a mess), which are very cheap.

Just put the filter in the machine, put coffee inside the filter, pour some water into the machine, and press the 'On' button. Then, you just have to wait.
posted by Ms. Saint at 3:26 PM on August 8, 2007

See Grinding and Brewing for Maximum Quality over at Sweet Maria's.

posted by jclovebrew at 3:32 PM on August 8, 2007

I just realized I missed some very basic information: if you're grinding your own beans, grind them for about ten to twenty seconds. You can find out how much water-to-coffee beans to put in by reading the coffee's packaging. The more coffee you use, the stronger the coffee will be. Measure how much water you want to use by filling up the coffee pot (it's the easiest way to tell). The machine you get will almost certainly be designed to hold as much water as will fill up the coffee pot.
posted by Ms. Saint at 3:34 PM on August 8, 2007

The absolute cheapest and simplest way to do this is to get your beans pre-ground. Most coffee places do this. Then you can buy one of these jobbers at the hardware store and some filters. Boil water (you can use it when it's a little less than boiling). Put a filter in the plastic thing and put that on top of a coffee mug. Put a few spoonfuls of ground coffee in the filter. Determining how much to add is an aquired taste but start with one or two teaspoonfuls. Pour water over the ground coffee making sure to get it all wet. The coffee will flow into the mug. Keep an eye on the water you're pouring to make sure it's not overflowing. Keep an eye on the mug underneath to make sure it's not overflowing.

This is not the best way to make coffee, but it is, to my mind, the cheapest and easiest and allows for the least equipment (short of using a bandana and making "cowboy coffee"). You can experiment a lot to see how you like your coffee with a minimum of investment. Personally, I prefer french press coffee but coffee makers -- especially ones with permanent filters that you just rinse out -- are pretty dummyproof at this point.
posted by jessamyn at 3:49 PM on August 8, 2007 [1 favorite]

Note that the "cups" used to measure coffeemaker capacity are ludicrous. They generally use 5 oz cups; a typical coffee mug holds 10-12 oz. So a 4-cup model is about 2 mug's worth.
posted by smackfu at 3:58 PM on August 8, 2007

Disclosure: I am a coffee snob. I have feverishly intense opinions about the best way for you to enjoy coffee.

But that's not what you asked. ;-)

The simplest way for you to enjoy whole-bean coffee has already been posted: get the shop to roast and grind the beans for you. Take the ground coffee home and make your coffee in an automatic drip machine. This is how most people make coffee from whole beans. I usually recommend drip makers over french-press in response you questions like yours because the clean-up is easier, and there is no need to "pay attention" to the process - you flip a switch and when the machine stops burping, you drink the coffee.

By going this route, you have reduced all the craft of coffee-making to automation, and minimized your contact with the messes associated with coffee-making.

If the coffee-snob bug bites you, then you can look into grinders, french-press, espresso machines, etc.
posted by Crosius at 4:01 PM on August 8, 2007

Response by poster: Crosius, I probably wouldn't mind paying attention to a french press or cleaning it.
posted by gregb1007 at 4:09 PM on August 8, 2007

Jessamyn's suggestion is awesome, for quick and cheap coffee - and I'm another one chiming in for the french press. It's the brewing process that is, to me, the simplest and most flavourful.

Also, any Starbucks should grind any coffee beans for free - as long as they're not flavoured. That's handy to know if you have a bag of whole beans laying around and no grinder.

Lastly, a good rule of thumb is one level tablespoon of coffee per 4-6 oz cup. My "8 cup" french press, which makes about 2 1/2 big mugs of coffee, requires eight tablespoons of coffee. Coffee cups aren't standard to 8oz, so you should know that when you're trying to figure out why you only get six cups of coffee from your 12-cup machine.

Here's a handy overview of how to make a nice cup of coffee:
posted by annathea at 4:14 PM on August 8, 2007

I'm a semi-snob. If you find the process interesting, it's not horridly difficult to do correctly.

I go to Whole Foods for my coffee beans - the ideal bean is single origin (until you know whether you like and want to make blends), organic, fair trade, and has been roasted within the past 24-48 hours. I'm partial to Mexican and Sumatran coffee beans. The key here is buying within that roast window - coffee beans that have been sitting for weeks has little real flavor.

Some other posters suggest grinding at the store, but I respectfully disagree. Once ground, coffee loses a good bit of its complexity within a few hours (if not sooner). Instead, invest in a burr grinder. This is different from a bladed grinder, as the latter will actually burn your coffee -and- give you a bad (read: uneven) grind. A reasonable entry-level burr grinder will cost you $50 or so.

When you make a cup, grind the beans to your desired consistency (likely more coarse than you'd use for an automatic drip model), then place the grind in your French press. Add water that's just shy of boiling, and stir with a chopstick or other wooden implement. After 2 minutes, stir again. At 4 minutes, press the plunger down, effectively stopping the brewing process.

Drink and enjoy - and try at least some of the coffee black, as it's apt to be remarkably different from what you're used to.
posted by ellF at 4:20 PM on August 8, 2007 [2 favorites]

it's not real hard to make french press - make your coffeeshop grind it for a press pot and go buy a Bodum press, like this. then you just put a few scoops in it, fill it with boiling water, stir, lid, wait about 4 minutes, and press slowly and evenly. most decent supermarkets have grinders that you set to french press if you don't want to go to a coffee shop. I personally find this takes about as long to do as screwing around with a regular coffee maker; I always make a full pot, though.

the very easiest coffeemaker I've seen is this Hamilton Beach jobby - it has a pushbutton on the front; you pretty much just shove your mug in and coffee comes out. the only thing I find that's difficult about it is that the on button has to be hit twice for it to actually turn on - once puts it on timer mode.

as for coffee, don't bother buying beans (now, anyway) - just get pre-ground and you'll be fine. most grocery stores, I've found, do actually stock pre-ground 'premium' coffees nowadays, and brands like Folgers have added upscale coffees to their product lines now too. (for example, I haven't seen a supermarket that didn't carry Starbucks coffee.) 5-6 scoops of grounds for a full pot from a drip machine and you're good to go.
posted by mrg at 4:25 PM on August 8, 2007

We've spoken of this before, but cold brewed coffee is pretty remarkable. I should mention that having tried this, it's not very cost-effective. Damn, it makes a fine cuppa Joe though, and this from someone who's gut can't usually tolerate the liquid.
posted by elendil71 at 4:29 PM on August 8, 2007

You know coffee brewing must be easy, because even sleep deprived people can do it.

Assuming you are using a simple coffeemaker and filter (as opposed to a French press), here are the basics:

1. Use freshly roasted beans for maximum flavor. 1 pound is a good amount to start with.

2. Measure out the beans into your grinder. I like to use 2 slightly rounded tablespoons per cup of coffee, but I like my coffee strong. Others do fine with 1 tablespoon/cup, so try it one way and adjust to taste the next time.

3. If you use a grinder, finely grind the beans. There are burr grinders and blade grinders, and the differences are discussed here. We use a Krupps blade grinder that belonged to my wife before we got married, so it must be 16 or 17 years old. It still works fine. I typically grind for 20 seconds or so, or until I've reduced the beans to a fairly fine powder.

(If you do use a French press, note that beans for a French press are ground much coarser than beans for a drip machine.)

4. Place the filter into your coffeemaker.

5. Dump the contents of the grinder into your filter.

6. Add cold water to the coffee maker's reservoir, proportionate to the amount of coffee you are brewing.

7. Turn it on and wait for it to brew.

8. Drink and enjoy!

When finished, make sure the remaining unused coffee beans are sealed and stored in a cool, dark place.
posted by mosk at 4:31 PM on August 8, 2007

different ways of making coffee give different kinds of coffee. i get the impression that in the usa the most popular way to make coffee is with filters (manual or machine) and french presses, as described above. they make a nice cup of coffee in a traditional american style (a mug of coffee).

in europe, though, the most common way of making coffee is with a stovetop "expresso" maker. this makes s slightly stronger coffee (it doesn't make an expresso like you get in a coffee shop - that requires a "real" expresso machine, which tend to be expensive if they are any good).

a stovetop maker is pretty easy to use. you fill the base with water, insert a kind of cone/filter, put the ground coffee in the cone, screw on the top, place on the heat, and wait for fresh coffee to bubble up into the upper chamber. then you pour into a cup and drink.

afterwards it's similar in messiness to a french press - you need to throw away the old coffee and wash (for some reason they seem to make better tasting coffee if you don't clean them that well - just rinse with water). you can use ordinary ground coffee (although perhaps a finer ground). i wouldn't be without mine.
posted by andrew cooke at 4:44 PM on August 8, 2007

A French press is a tiny bit more expensive than the cheapest of the drip coffee makers, and takes a little more time and attention to make the coffee. (about five minutes of actual attention, plus however long your water takes to boil.)

But you will get much better coffee from one. It's the single biggest step in quality I know, and costs so very little extra.

From there, you can get into fresh coffee and burr grinders and blending and even roasting your own coffee beans. Each of these steps will probably improve your coffee. But there's no other single thing you can do that costs so little and provides as large a payoff as switching from drip to French press.

Also: buy decent beans. Most supermarket beans are pretty horrible. The best way to test is by eating a couple of roasted beans; the bad ones will be instantly apparent. It's quite common for groceries to use very bad beans with a ton of flavor.

The Starbucks foil bags are quite acceptable; I wouldn't call them great, but they're good enough that with a French press, you're likely to be very happy with the result.
posted by Malor at 4:51 PM on August 8, 2007

Best answer: What's nice about a french press is that you have a minimum amount of materials that will interfere with the flavor of your coffee- paper filters, plastic and aluminum are things I can taste, so I would vote for french press over coffee maker, especially if you're just brewing for one or two people. The downside to them is that with a blade grinder you end up with a bunch of itty bitty particulate that can sometimes make your coffee more bitter, but if you find that a problem you can quickly sift your grounds through a very fine mesh ( a metal mesh single cup tea infuser with the top half removed can act as scoop and sifter). Burr grinders are ideal, but the best are expensive. So if you can purchase your coffee weekly at most, you might as well grind it at the point of purchase until you decide you want to splurge on a good burr grinder- I just think that's a better option than using a blade and ending up with really nasty french press coffee. Be sure to heat the glass carafe with a bit of hot water before putting in the grounds. It's not nesseary to wash it thoroughly with soap every single time; use the remaining hot water in your kettle to flush out the press and filter after you've scooped out the grounds.
posted by oneirodynia at 4:53 PM on August 8, 2007 [1 favorite]

Let's not forget the asker is moving up from instant coffee here.
posted by smackfu at 5:22 PM on August 8, 2007

French press coffee is in fact delicious, but I don't think I'd recommend one for someone just coming off instant, and here's why: making coffee in a French press is a craft, and because of that, the way you make it influences the taste a lot.

As a coffee lover, I'd hate for you to make a cup of French press coffee, taste it, and think "Man! This is chalky and bitter, I'm going back to Folgers" because it's not made ideally. French press coffee isn't hard, but it might take some practice and experimentation.

So I'm with the people who say buy an automatic coffeemaker. I like to think you'll fall in love with the taste of non-instant coffee, and that will get you to try other methods in the future.

One extra bit of advice: buy one with a vacuum carafe, not a glass carafe with a hot plate. The second and later cups out of a batch will taste much better that way.
posted by L. Fitzgerald Sjoberg at 5:30 PM on August 8, 2007

Be aware that the darkness of the roast has a very significant effect on the outcome. In my experience dark roasted beans are particularly likely to produce very bitter flavours with filter-type methods (eg press, drip, etc). And Americans do seem to like very dark roasts (also, dark roasting conceals crummy beans).

The very, very simplest method of making coffee is to steep the grounds in a pot, like a tea pot, or heavens, a coffeepot, or even a pre-warmed pyrex or ceramic jug. You can strain the grounds out when you pour, although when the coffee is ready they will mostly have sunk to the bottom. Filtering is a decadent Western innovation ;-)

Another tip: if you make coffee with too much grounds, and hence too strong, you can always dilute it with hot water. But if it's too weak, you're screwed. So always err on the generous side.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 5:58 PM on August 8, 2007

Yeah, jessamyn has it pretty much nailed. It's easy, and it puts you close to the process so you can experiment with ratios of coffee to water and coarseness of grind.

And don't let jessamyn's "this is not the best way" disclaimer fool you. The method does a lot of things the experts at sweet maria's would advise you to do with the fancier, expensiver tools (get the water good and hot, hotter than the standard drip machine can manage, let it soak through the beans slowly and get all foamy on top).

Some of the best cups of coffee I've ever had were brewed using this method -- in the galley of the small fishing vessel upon which I was once a deckhand. If one brewed while the boat was underway, the brewer had to hold the cup and funnel belly-high and roll with the swell to keep the stuff from spilling over. It got'cha every once in a while.

But that just made it taste even better.
posted by notyou at 7:12 PM on August 8, 2007

This is different from a bladed grinder, as the latter will actually burn your coffee -and- give you a bad (read: uneven) grind.

That must be a different model of bladed grinder than I have, as mine has never, ever burnt anything.

I'm surprised nobody has mentioned that using good water can make a difference. If your municipal water is stinky, filter it first.
posted by gimonca at 7:57 PM on August 8, 2007

Buy beans from somewhere local that you know have been roasted in the last few days, and grind them immediately before you brew. Nothing else will affect the quality of your coffee as much as those two things, including the brewing method you end up picking.

My suggestion is to buy a cheap blade grinder and a bodum french press. If you can't afford both get the grinder and strain the coffee through your teeth.
posted by markr at 9:41 PM on August 8, 2007

PS: Do not freeze your beans. Room temperature, airtight container. That's all I have to add.

Well, unless you have money to burn, in which case I love my machine. Not the cheapest option, but for damn sure not the most expensive either! I add beans and water, it does the rest.
posted by caution live frogs at 10:00 PM on August 8, 2007

I'm a hardcore coffee addict, and I roast my own beans.

My favourite home brewing method of many is the Aeropress.

I find it to be the best combination of ease-of-use, speed, and consistency of all the methods I've tried.

You can make half a cup or 4 cups without comprimising flavour. It takes the time it takes to boil water + 15 seconds. Cleanup is super-easy, and no residue is left to get sour and contaminate future brews.

You can also make coffee as strong as you want, almost up to espresso strength, without it being bitter.

One drawback is that it wants a good grinder -- one that can produce a consistent grind to about halfway between drip & espresso grind. You can also use espresso grind in it, if you're quick to press after putting the water in.

A decent burr grinder is worth the investment whatever brewing method you use. I use the Solis Maestro Plus -- not particularly high end as espresso grinders go, but definitely producing results far superior to a blade grinder. No brewing method will yield consistently good coffee using a blade grinder. The Solis Maestro Plus is about $150-175.

Be aware that methods like the french press (which leave sediment in the coffee) MAY be indicated in increased cancer risk. The aeropress results in less acid than most brewing methods (about the same level as good espresso), and is thus easier on the stomach.

The aeropress costs about $30
posted by lastobelus at 1:08 AM on August 9, 2007

Also, all questions have answers at coffeegeek.
posted by lastobelus at 1:09 AM on August 9, 2007

If you're just moving from instant to real coffee, I'd start out simple. You need

- A pound of ground coffee
- A regular ole 10- or 12-cup coffee maker (about $40 at Target or the like)
- Coffee filters (the particular coffee maker will dictate which types of filters you need)
- A two-tablespoon coffee scoop

It's really easy. You swing the little top part out, and set a filter in. Put two scoops of coffee in and close it back into place. Then open the top door for the water, and pour in three cups of water. Close the door, flip "on," and presto!

I wouldn't worry about grinding your own beans or anything like that. You could go a step further and buy the beans from a coffee house or specialty shop and have them grind the beans there (rather than buying them pre-ground).
posted by radioamy at 9:43 AM on August 9, 2007

Have you checked other questions with the coffee tag?

This coffee thing is very subjective. I'll give you my $.02... You will get a huge taste improvement if you grind your own beans. You can get a whirly blade grinder for around $25. My preferred method (like lastobelus) is the Aeropress. For more than one cup, my Zojirushi is very good. I like the French press, but can't avoid sludge at the bottom of the cup.
posted by ObscureReferenceMan at 10:10 AM on August 9, 2007

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