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4 Essential Tips for Making Great Coffee at Home

For some, it’s our life’s blood. For others, a rare treat. And for yet others, a repulsive black liquid good for killing plants.

No matter your feelings on coffee, there are times in your life (even if you’re the last on that list) when you’ll either be forced to make some or forced to drink some. So you might as well learn how to best prepare it. (You’ve always wanted to be called a barista, right? We thought so.)

1. Buy fresh beans. Don’t grind them up until you’re ready to brew. Oxygen and bright lights have the worst effects on beans, so be sure to buy them in a vacuum-sealed bag. Once opened, store them in an airtight container. Experts advise against refrigerating and instead opting for freezing beans (to avoid taking up food odors in your fridge) if absolutely necessary.

2. Use good water. One might not think it matters (since you’re adding so much flavor), But if your water tastes off, so will your cup of joe. Quality ingredients yield a quality product (no shock there). The minerals in good tasting water are essential for a good cup of coffee (coffee gurus use bottled water or carbon filters on their taps—not saying you have to go that far by any means).

3. Don’t skimp on the, ahem, coffee. The rule of thumb is 2 level tablespoons per 6 oz. cup of coffee (or 2 and 2/4 tablespoon for an 8 oz. cup). Any nonsense you’ve heard about using hotter water and less coffee really isn’t effective—it yields bitter brews. (As does using water that is too hot—aim for 200 degrees Fahrenheit or 45 seconds off a full boil).

4. Brewing too long. This rule is simple. According to 2012 U.S. Barista champion Katie Carguilo (yes, it’s a real thing), she aims to brew a single cup of coffee for around 3 minutes to yield the best flavors and avoid bitterness.

Keep in mind that there is skill involved in brewing a tasty pot of coffee. And practice makes pretty good (because, really, what is perfect?).

It will take a few trial and error pots before getting it to a flavor that you personally enjoy. Tinker with the times and amounts as you’re comfortable. And don’t forget a nice mug.