Advice from a master barista

By Rebecca Firkser
Updated August 15, 2018
Credit: Michelle Arnold / EyeEm/Getty Images

Illy Caffé recently paid a visit to Extra Crispy HQ, during which I learned that most of the things I do when I when making coffee at home are technically wrong. Oops? Of course, it’s fine to be wrong sometimes, but when I realized these errors are actually probably making my coffee taste worse, I started to pay more attention. I cornered Master Barista Giorgio Milos after his demo and had him detail all the ways we’re making coffee improperly. He had plenty to say, and I know I’ll be removing my coffee beans from the freezer ASAP.

Mistake #1: Using tap water

“Water quality should always be a top consideration among other variables (remember that coffee is 97-99 percent water!),” said Milos. “The use of tap water is never recommended because the mineral content often leaves behind unpleasant tastes. It is highly recommended to use bottled spring water or filtered water for clean taste and consistency.”

Mistake #2: Buying big batches of coffee

Milos explained that since coffee beans are alive like other fresh foods, they will go stale over time “no matter what you do to avoid it.” For the best-tasting coffee, he suggests buying fresh beans weekly. (For storing coffee longer than seven days at a time, check out Mistake #6.)

Mistake #3: Buying ground beans

“Many of the aromas in coffee are volatiles (in gas form) and are trapped into the coffee bean cells.” noted Milos. He explained that as you grind coffee beans, the gasses are liberated, meaning that ground coffee loses aromas 40 times faster than whole beans, so it’s better to buy whole beans and, as Milos advised, “Invest a few bucks for a home grinder.” Which brings us to…

Mistake #4: Using the wrong grinder

According to Milos, grinding beans just before brewing coffee is essential when it comes to getting the best flavor, but you have to buy the right equipment. Sadly, if you were just about to pull out that spice grinder you never use, you may want to think again. Milos says, “Blade grinders are not the right way to go. A burr grinder provides more consistent and precise grinding.” He said that good home grinders run about $20-30 (for a manual crank grinders), or about $50-100 (for electric grinders). One more thing, “If espresso is your coffee of choice you should look for espresso grinders that cost a little bit more, price range is $200-$350.”

Mistake #5: Leaving coffee in the bag, or in direct light

“Airtight containers are better than leaving the coffee in the bag,” said Milos, noting that Illy Coffee comes in a pressurized can. “An even better way to store the coffee beans is by using a vacuum container, so you can eliminate all the oxygen when storing your beans.” I probably won’t be investing in a vacuum container any time soon, but I can rest assured known that keeping my beans in an opaque, airtight container will keep them fresh for longer.

Mistake #6: Keeping coffee in the freezer

It’s a pretty common rule in the food world that if you’re not planning to eat something fresh, you can toss it in the freezer and it’ll be just as good for months, if not longer. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case when it comes to coffee. “Putting your coffee beans in the freezer is never recommended due to water expansion,” said Milos. “The freezing process breaks many coffee cells where the precious aromas are trapped.”

So while putting your coffee in the freezer is a no-no, Milos is OK with the fridge. He said if the coffee is in an opaque, airtight container, you can store it in the refrigerator for over a week, which “slows down the degassing, the natural process of the beans losing aromas over time.”

If you do keep coffee in the fridge, Milos had one final tip: “Take the beans out of the fridge at least 30 minutes before you are going to brew your coffee. This allows the coffee oils locked in the beans to come back to room temperature.” Once those oils are back at room temperature, the flavor of your coffee will increase for the better exponentially. So why not try setting that morning alarm a little early tomorrow? Pull your coffee out of the fridge, and head back to sleep for another half hour. It’ll be well worth the trouble.