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COFFEE RX – Why is my coffee not up to its usual standards?

May 23, 2016 10 Comments

COFFEE RX – Why is my coffee not up to its usual standards?

For millions of Americans, and countless others around the world, the enjoyment of a good cup of coffee is part of our everyday life. Most of us make our first cup of coffee at home. Often it is spot on, sometimes it’s not, why?

One of my great pleasures in my daily life is to brew that perfect cup of coffee to start my day (ok, truth be told, it’s never just one cup…maybe two, three, or four).

In my pursuit of this daily pleasure, sometimes things don’t go as smoothly as I would like, as there are many variables to control (or that can get out of control):

Let’s start with Water: You will often hear, coffee is 98% water, so don’t underestimate the value of ‘good water’. Cold filtered (purified) water is best. Think of it as a ‘main ingredient’ rather than ‘just water’. (More Info)

Every municipal water supply (i.e. tap water) has its’ own unique combination of minerals (calcium, potassium, magnesium, etc.) and sometimes necessary or required additives (fluorides, chlorines, etc.). And furthermore, that same water supply can vary during the year depending on the needs and conditions faced by each municipality.

As a general rule of thumb, if you don’t normally drink water directly from your kitchen faucet, then using that same “tap water” to make your morning coffee is not a good choice for you. Find a way to use a water filter, or use purified water.

I’m not saying use bottled water every morning, I’m just saying find a way to use the cleanest water you can, your morning cup of coffee will be better for it.

Word of Caution – Never use distilled water (or water produced from Reverse Osmosis) when making coffee, is not ideally suited for coffee - the water is devoid of all minerals (which provides some beneficial taste) and will often feel/taste flat.

Ideal Water for Coffee Preparation – based on Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA) Standards – consists of

Odor 1

Clean/Fresh, Odor free


Color 2

Clear color


Total Chlorine

O mg/L



150 mg/L

75 - 250 mg/L

Calcium Hardness

4 grains of 68 mg/L

1-5 grains or 17 mg/L - 85 mg/L

Total Alkalinity

40 mg/L

At or near 40 mg/L



6.5 - 7.5


10 mg/L

At or near 10 mg/L


Next, let’s address the all-important preparation details…

Coffee preparation is based on creating the proper extraction of coffee grounds in water – sounds simple enough, but here’s the reality…

Coffee to Water Ratio: 1:17 (this is a coffee-to-water weight ratio) (More Info)

Coffee Grind = Brew Time (More Info)

Temperature of the Water (More Info)

Quality of Coffee (More Info)

Freshness of Coffee (More Info)

Time from initial brewing (if exposed to heat) (More Info)


Is your coffee too sour? (More Info) (Thin in the cup? – lacking mouthfeel) It might be under-developed of under-extracted. Consider the following:

Grind Setting: Might be too coarse, adjust for a little finer grind

Brew time: if the coffee is extracting too quickly, a little more time can help

Temperature: Often brewers lose their ability to hit the ideal temperature (195-205*) for extraction, if your brewer is only getting up to 160*, it’s likely not extracting the coffee the way is was intended to be.

Is your coffee too bitter? (More Info) (Tart in the cup?) It might be over-developed or over-extracted. Consider the following…

Grind Setting: Might be too fine, adjust for a little coarser grind

Brew time: if the coffee is extracting too slowy, a little less time can be helpful

Temperature: If your water is boiling (212*) when it’s applied, it’s too hot and will over-extract the coffee. Water should be ideally 195-205*.

Is your coffee too stale or flat? (More Info) Consider the following…

Grind your coffee just before brewing – grinding coffee unleashes flavors and aromas (if is has been sitting in ground form for too long, the coffee may taste lifeless of without character)

Make sure you are using fresh coffee. Fresh coffee is best 3-30 days after roasting.

Is there such a thing as coffee being too fresh? (More Info) In my opinion, yes. Coffee roasting is a transformation process – transforming inedible raw coffee into it’s beautiful finished state of roasted perfection (sorry got carried away there). Once the coffee is roasted it needs to degas (fresh roasted coffee emits CO2 gases for 24-48 hrs), and needs to ‘rest’ during that 1-2 day period. Starting the 3rd day (after roasting), you are ready for the freshest cup you can enjoy.


Does your coffee have off-flavors? (More Info) Consider your water, your coffee, and your grind settings (uneven grind can produce off flavors).

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