Boss Says no Joyride: In pursuit of Good Office Coffee

So not every office is lucky enough to have good office coffee and quality equipment.     So how do you make your office coffee better?  First off, you need to give up the idea that your coffee will be ideal.  Unless you take rather significant steps, you aren't going to be able to achieve the same results as good office coffee beans and great machines.  What you need to focus on is improvements.  It may be a bit unsatisfying, but in most offices I've seen, there are ways to improve the office coffee.  All of these same recommendations will also improve the quality of home brewing as well.

1. CLEAN!

dirty_coffee_maker[1]
dirty_coffee_maker[1]

The single biggest thing you can do to improve the quality of your coffee is to clean everything it touches.  The flavors in coffee come from oils in the beans.  These oils will stick to just about everything they touch.  IN a grinder, the coagulate into a sort of resin that sticks to grinds and keeps them in the chamber.  When brewed, these oils layer upon themselves to make glass filmy and brown, or slowly tarnish metal.  This isn't actually tarnish, but rather is layers of oils stuck to the That means cleaning your mug (i've seen some gross mugs)  it means cleaning the carafe or airpot (we sell Purocaf for this very purpose).  You have to clean the brew basket (where the filter sits).  Depending on the machine, this part can have grooves and cleaning can be tricky.  A tooth brush works fairly well for a lighter cleaning, while a toothbrush+boiling water+purocaf should work on even the oldest stains.  If you have a gold filter or any kind of reusable filter, leave it in boiling water with a teaspoon of purocaf over night.  Make sure you rinse it thouroughly the next day though, puro caf is a very strong cleaner and won't help your coffee taste any better.  If you use a scoop to dose your coffee, clean the scoop.  If you keep your coffee in a reusable container, clean that as well, but be sure it is completely dry before returning beans or grinds.  If you use a grinder, a toothbrush should help you to clean it out.  Canned air also helps.  Most conical burr grinders (click here for a few good ones being reviewed) can be disassembled.  Doing so will help ensure that no beans end up stuck in the grinding chamber, slowly rotting and making your cup muddy.   I know that this seems like quite a bit of work, but if it is done on a regular basis, it takes very little time and this step alone make a significant difference.  This is the single best step in the pursuit of good office coffee.

2.  Keep it Fresh No matter if you have the beans for good office coffee, if it gets old, it will be flat and taste stale.  The best way to describe the right way to buy coffee is to "Buy coffee like bread, often and a little bit at a time."  In office setting, this means carefully burning through all of the old beans before acquiring new beans.  But it also mean buying beans in smaller quantities.  When possible, only buy beans with a roast date on them (most better brands will offer this.  Most cheap coffee doesn't).  Even then, only buy beans roasted within the last week.  Any older than that any you are starting to significantly impact flavor.  Even if you had the best office coffee, it wouldn't be worth a damn if it were six months old. 3.  Store your beans properly Beans aren't difficult to store.  Keep them in a dark, dry place, that doesn't get ridiculously hot.  Freezing them isn't effective because you shouldn't be keeping them for a long time in any case.  I personally like to use airtight containers like the effective if overpriced Oxo Pop tops. A dark, dry place and an airtight container will do wonders to prevent the beans from going stale before their time.  This doesn't override the "Keep it fresh" commandment, though.  Proper storage prevents premature deterioration, it doesn't increase shelf life. 4. If possible, grind only when you need to.  If you grind, grind right! Ideally, you should grind your beans mere seconds before the first blush of hot water hits them.  This holds the maximum amount of oils in the beans, and also slows the deterioration of those oils through exposure to air.  You know that smell of freshly ground coffee?  You are smelling particles of the oils that give coffee its amazing taste and you want them in your cup!   Now having a grinder isn't always feasible in an office setting.  They are loud, and they add steps to the brewing process.  If your coffee is pre-ground, however, you simply must keep it airtight when not being used.  If you have a grinder, you need to make sure you are grinding the beans properly.  Unfortunately, the only way to truly know is through trial and error.  Unless the brewer is rather nice,  it probably has a significant variation in brew temperature from machine to machine.  The best way to figure out if a brew is right is to test it.  Assuming you are using the right amount of coffee, if your cup is flat and a bit flavorless, you are grinding too coarsely.  If it bitter, overpowering or chalky, you are probably grinding too finely.  Eventually you will find out what your machine likes, but cheaper machines can vary brew to brew as well, so you may never really hit a perfect sweet spot. 5.  Dose Properly It seems self explanatory, but you need to properly dose your coffee.  To little coffee and you end up with flavorless brown water.  Too much coffee and you get a bitter, teeth-staining beasty.  But how much coffee do I need?  For every 6oz cup (that is the cup measurement on most brewers) you need 170g of water, and thus around 10g of coffee.  As a rule of thumb, it should be around 2 tbs of grinds/cup so around 1/4 cup coffee grind/ 6oz coffee.  This should only be considered a starting point, however.  Depending on the brewer and the fineness of your grind, you will probably need to adjust it one direction or another, although no more than 20%. 6.  Drink Fresh Old coffee is gross.  Don't drink it.  This also means don't make more than you will drink before it gets cold and old.  Filters are cheap so its better to make coffee twice and use an extra filter, than to drink old coffee for half the time. 7.  Know yourself Different people have different tastes in coffee and even if you had really good office coffee, if it isn't to your taste, you aren't going to like it.  If your coffee is tasting too bitter and ashy, then you are probably buying beans that are too dark for you.  Don't buy anything with "French Roast," "Espresso Blend," "Dark Roast" "Spanish Roast" etc.  If you can look at the beans, buy beans that are lighter in color and have no sheen to them (that sheen is actually the coffee oils being brought to the surface of the bean through the roasting process).  If, on the other hand, you find your coffee to bright, or possibly to acidic, you might want a darker roast.  Again look at the beans and pick something a bit darker in color.  You might also try espresso roasts, or African or Indonesian coffees as they tend to be a bit more in your face.  Even so, don't buy shiny beans!  That is an indication of a bad roaster. Between these 7 steps, you should notice a remarkable improvement in the quality of your coffee.  The same thing all applies to home brewing as well.  To be honest, I wish there was a way that I could give hard and fast numbers for everything, but making the perfect cup of coffee is simply an issue of multi-variable calculus where nothing is known.  You have to balance grind, volume,  water temperature, and to be honest, the result can still vary wildly, dependent on ambient temperature, humidity and even altitude, not to mention the machine and the beans.  What I layed out is intended to get you to a starting point, but to get from there to perfect is a painful, but worthwhile project. Adendum: If you have K-cups or nespresso, I'm very sorry but there is almost nothing you can do.  You can get a reusable K-cup and combine it with your own coffee to make an improvement, but to be honest, a Keurig machine doesn't really brew very well.  The temperature controls are erratic, and the semi-presurized brew method isn't ideal.  Figuring out the grind will also be tricky.  You might be able to make improvements but it will never get even close to perfection.  Go buy a grinder, a french press or chemex, a kettle and a hot water heater and make your own coffee in a better way.