But coffee from your office drip machine doesn’t have to be bad. With a few tweaks, you can make good-tasting coffee in the office. Here’s how:
By some estimates, coffee begins to lose flavor as little as 15 minutes after you grind it, so that pre-ground stuff from the grocery store is about as good as a loaf of week-old bread. For maximum flavor, buy whole beans and wait until right before you brew to grind them.
To grind the beans, invest in a burr grinder — not a cylinder blade grinder. Burr grinders crush the beans, giving you even-sized grinds. An uneven grind can cause the coffee to be either under- (tasteless) or over-brewed (bitter). But no matter what grinder you use, make sure not to grind the coffee too fine. Coffee ground to sand will come out bitter, almost spicy (in a bad way). Aim for a course grind.
Always opt for filtered water, and always make sure to start with cold water. Tap water, while OK for ordinary drinking, contains minerals that interact poorly with the coffee. Water temperature is important too, but it’s hard to control with a drip coffeemaker. Your machine should brew at a maximum of 205 Fahrenheit, anything hotter will burn the coffee (and water colder than 195 F will under-brew it).
The perfect ratio of coffee to water, according to the Specialty Coffee Association of America, is 1 gram of coffee for every 18 grams of water. That translates to 3 1/2 tablespoons of coffee for every 4 cups of water. Make sure the measure lines on your carafe actually equal cups.
This is a tough one, but you must clean your coffee tools after you use them. The carafe needs a scrubbing, so does the basket that holds the coffee, and don’t forget the carafe lid. Coffee oils will turn rancid if you let them set on your equipment. You can also run a solution of distilled water and vinegar through the coffeemaker to remove minerals. If your office has one of those giant air pots, you’re going to want to pick up some specialty coffee machine cleaner to get it clean.
Coffee has come a long way in America over the past 100 or so years. Fifty years ago, automatic drip coffeemakers became very popular and ubiquitous in homes and offices because they made brewing coffee quick. These machines were designed speed, not necessarily taste.
Then about 25 years ago, Starbucks brought coffee culture to mainstream America, and coffee tastes changed. Starbucks (along with shops like Tully’s, Pete’s, and Seattle’s Best) was part of the “second wave” of coffee, a period when Folgers drinkers found out about lattes, cappuccinos, and fair-trade whole bean coffee — the fancy stuff.
A few years ago, an explosion of boutique coffee shops brought about the “third wave” in coffee. These small shops built on what Starbucks did and introduced coffee drinkers to handmade, small-batch coffee. Coffee shops and roasters like Stumptown, Blue Bottle, and Intelligentsia are reshaping the retail approach to coffee. If you see a French press or Chemex in your office, that’s the third-wave influence.
Brewing good coffee in your office drip maker takes a little effort because you’re aiming to make third-wave coffee with first-wave technology. It might feel like a chemistry experiment at first (and in many ways it is), but if you can master making good coffee in the office, you’ll be your coworkers’ hero.