“Eurgh. This tastes awful!” Your partner is probably sick of hearing that by now. Do them and yourself a favor; check out our 10 reasons your coffee tastes bad and learn how to fix the problem like a true Coffee Dork.
1 – Stale Grounds
Coffee beans tend to go stale quite quickly unless you pack them up right. Some scoops and coffee makers may come with a crocodile clip to close the bag – throw that away. You need an airtight container that you can bury in the back of the cupboard where it’s dark and cool. Store the coffee beans correctly and they can stay fresh for 6 months or so.
2 – Premature Grinding
Steady there! Grinding way in advance of actually making a cup of coffee is not a good idea. To get a good saturation and delightful coffee flavor, grind your beans just before you brew a cup. It doesn’t matter what coffee machine you’re using (unless it uses pods), you can’t be grinding until right before it’s needed.
We know you love that burr grinder, but can you just put it down for one minute?
3 – Storing Coffee Grounds in The Freezer or Fridge
If you’ve decided to ignore our advice on premature grinding (shame on you), you will probably be looking for a way to increase the shelf life of your now ground coffee beans.
Don’t put them in the fridge or freezer! The grounds will soak up the flavor of whatever is sat next to them, whether that’s a huge chunk of stinking Bree or frozen fish. Your best bet is to use them up as quickly as possible and don’t make the same mistake again. If you’re consistently left with too many grounds, just buy less coffee.
4 – The Wrong Beans for your Milk!
Lattes, cappuccinos and macchiatos all require a large amount of milk with just a shot or two of espresso. Usually it doesn’t matter what flavor coffee beans you use for an espresso but when you’re adding milk it’s a whole different story. Different beans interact with different milk flavors, some will be overpowering and others simply too weak. Use this as a rough guide:
- Full-fat, dairy milk = medium-dark roasts with nutty/fruity/caramel hints.
- Soymilk = low-acid, medium-light roasts that mask the soy flavor but won’t over-power the subtle creaminess.
- Almond milk (get the protein enriched bottle for a good foam) = medium-dark roasts with rich, caramel flavors to interact with the nuttiness.
- Coconut milk = medium-dark or dark roasts that will counteract the very rich, sweet milk flavor.
5 – Wrong Size Grounds
This is particularly important depending on the machine you’re using. Too fine grounds will slip right through the filter but larger grounds won’t saturate as well and may even clog up your machine. If your coffee tastes weak, the grounds are usually too coarse. If your coffee tastes too strong and overpowering, your grinds are too fine. Generally, you can rely on this:
- French Press = Coarse
- Drip Machine = Medium
- Espresso (moka pot or aeropress) = Fine
6 – Wrong Brew Time
Did you purposefully leave it to brew that long or were you distracted? Bitter coffee has usually been over-brewed, so reduce the brewing time. Sour coffee is generally under-brewed; the water hasn’t saturated fully to draw out those rich coffee flavors and high notes.
If your coffee machine times the brewing, then a bad flavor is usually down to another factor. Or the machine is just a very bad make – in which case you need to check out our list of the best drip coffee makers.
French presses are good for between 2-4 minutes while an espresso is a super quick infusion with steam, for only 20 seconds or so.
7 – You’re Using Too Many Grounds
Not only are you probably wasting a lot of money by using too many grounds, but you’re also hindering that all-important coffee saturation. Too many grounds for the amount of water is going to lead to under-saturation, as there’s not enough water going around. This often results in a stronger flavor… with less body. Watery yet sour.
As a general rule of thumb, you want one or two scoops (using the right size scoop which is usually 1tbsp) for every 6floz. Weighing your coffee grounds is a more accurate method, but the exact weight you need depends on the machine. Check the manual. Once you’ve found the optimum, write it down.
8 – Uneven Coffee Grounds
This is particularly important for the espresso lovers. Having an uneven layer of coffee grounds in your filter or basket is going to alter the flavor – more grounds in some areas will receive less saturation while less grounds in other areas will be over saturated. Tap the basket to even it out gently, or use your finger in a sweeping motion to even them out. Don’t over-tap as you’ll create cracks in the coffee where water can seep through without saturating the grounds.
9 – The Wrong Water
Yes, you read that right. Water matters. Firstly, it matters if you haven’t properly cleaned your equipment – soapy water tastes nasty. Next you should ensure that you’re using purified or filtered water. No priest required, just check the label in the grocery store. Added minerals and vitamins can change the taste of the coffee.
Furthermore, the temperature of the water is also vitally important. You’re going to want an electric thermometer if you haven’t got one already. 200F or around 90C is ideal. Boil your water and let it cool slightly if you can’t be dealing with careful water heating on the stove. If the water is too hot you can scald the coffee beans, adding a scorched bitterness.
10 – Your Milk Is Off
Did you really go through our entire list without checking if the milk was off?!
Now you’ve probably realized why those coffee baristas look so smug all the time! Making a superb coffee is an art that requires patience and dedication (and a few $$$). With a little elbow grease, common sense and a good coffee bean, however, you can make a cup that even they’d be jealous of! If you’re just starting out on your coffee brewing adventure, check out our Coffee Dork recommendations for coffee machines, French presses and more.
Anthony is a professional barista in the city of Chicago. He has written for many online publications on various topics related to coffee.