The Beginners Guide To Great Coffee: Part 1

Of all the small joys I find in life, enjoying coffee is what I’m asked about most.

To some, it’s a necessity. To me, it’s therapy.

A chance to slow down, work with my hands, focus, and craft something amazing. I have a whole post on why it’s so important to me.

Plus, the coffee you brew can make the world a better place – or not.

Great coffee, and I mean really great coffee, has a mysticism about it. How do you make it? What’s the secret? What separates the best from the rest?

For a long time, I thought it was just really complicated.

The good news is, it’s not.  You can do it. And if you love coffee, you should pursue making great coffee.

Imagine yourself curled up in your favourite corner of your living room. It’s early, and you look out the window. The world is just beginning to stir. You’re not entirely awake yet – you feel a little fuzzy. You pick up that one mug that you you fell in love with. It’s warm in your hands and a wisp of steam comes up off of it as you lift it to your face. In the back of your nostrils you get hit with that smell – that perfectly balanced nutty, chocolatey scent that makes the Keurig coffee at work smell like a pack of half smoked cigarettes. You take a sip and enjoy something serene. Something better than you can get at any coffee shop. Something you just evoked from a bag of coffee beans.

Barista quality coffee at home is a treat. And you can do it.

There are four simple things that go into making a great cup of coffee.

They are:

  1. The Beans
  2. The Grind
  3. The Extraction
  4. Your Patience

These four things are the key to unlocking the mysteries of the bean. Don’t skip. Don’t jump ahead. Trust me:)

1. The Beans

You must start here.

If you want to shop around, use these guidelines:

  • Buy Locally Roasted. Freshly roasted beats the supermarket shelf.
  • No roast date? Move along. Premium coffees will have roast dates. A local roaster will make sure the beans are always fresh. Don’t buy beans older than 1 month. Don’t buy more beans than you will use over a couple weeks.
  • Buy whole bean. Grinding at home means your coffee will stay fresher (and better) for longer.
  • Find “Single Origin”. This means the beans all come from the same place and are usually higher in quality.
  • Find “100% Arabica”. There are 2 main varieties of coffee beans, arabica and robusta. To save money, companies will sometimes “cut in” robusta beans which are cheaper, easier to grow, and don’t taste great.
  • Start with medium roast. Do this if you’re not sure what you like yet. Then experiment with darker and lighter roasts later.
  • Find “Fair Trade”, “Ethical Trade” or “Direct Trade”. Do you support slave labour? No? Then make sure what you buy doesn’t either.

If you want the easiest solution, do yourself a favour and subscribe to Pilot Coffee’s subscription program. Great coffee delivered to your door on a schedule that works for you. All their roasts are amazing. Trust me.

2. The Grind

How you grind your coffee is the single most overlooked factor of great coffee.

To solve this quickly – find yourself the best adjustable burr grinder you can afford. I suggest the Hario Mini Mill (Manual) to start, or if you have a little more budget and want electric, the Baratza Encore is a great choice.

Why a “burr” grinder? Blade grinders produce inconsistent particle size, which has a huge impact on flavour. Burr grinders (constructed like an oversized pepper mill) create consistent particle size.

A burr grinder will take your coffee heads and shoulders above everyone else’s, even if you change nothing else.

I use the Rok Grinder. It’s not for everyone, but I like it because:

  • It punches above it’s price point.
  • I like “manual”.
  • It’s beautiful.

Whatever you use, if you want great coffee, a burr grinder is a must. (However, a blade grinder is better than no grinder!)

Lastly – Don’t grind a whole bag of coffee at once, it will lose all it’s freshness! I grind before each brew.

Coffee Hackers – further reading here.

3. The Extraction

This is your brew method (coffee maker, espresso etc.) Technically, “extraction” is what happens when your coffee comes in contact with water. We’ll cover specific extraction methods in the upcoming posts, but plan to pay attention to the following factors.

  • Coffee and water weight. Yes, I weigh my coffee every time. You don’t have to, but it helps you make notes and adjustments. I just use a cheap kitchen scale I got on sale for 15 bucks. Hit up amazon:)
  • Extraction time. Time is another critical factor during extraction. I just use the stopwatch app on my phone.
  • Water Temperature. A variable temperature kettle is nice, but you can hack your way around not having one using your timer.

Further reading for hackers – check out this full explanation on extraction from Pilot Coffee.

4. Your Patience

I made a lot of really bad coffee before I made my first great cup. Plan for this and don’t get discouraged when it happens. After a week you’ll see a noticeable improvement:)

Oh, and use a notebook to track what worked well and what was an epic fail.

In the next three posts in this series I’ll cover actually making coffee using the aeropress, pourover/chemex, and espresso.

Until then – begin with steps one and two. Even if you change nothing else with how you are brewing these two steps will take your coffee game up a whole pile of notches!

If you have a specific question in the meantime – feel free to drop me a line on here!

[Bonus – If you live in the Barrie or Orillia area head to Mark IV Brothers. James makes a mean pour over and this will give you a good idea what you should be shooting for!]





Justin according to Sarah – thrives at almost anything he applies his head and heart to. He never stops learning, and loves dreaming up new challenges to grow himself. His introvert ways give him incredible insight into life’s obstacles, of which he’s had his share. But best of all, Justin fully engages in his relationship with God, our marriage and the beginning of parenthood. Oh, and he spoils us with great coffee and cooking!

1 Comment

  1. Bob

    A man after my own heart. Thanks for a great and thorough insight into great coffee. I used to enjoy great coffee every day in Ethiopia, the origin of coffee. Legend has it that a Shepard boy noticed goats dancing after eating coffee beans and coffee drinkers have been dancing (like goats) ever since- lol, I will pursue your tips for great coffee- thanks!

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