How to Make a Good Cup of Coffee

There are two logistical problems in making a good cup of coffee. First, roasted coffee beans are best for only 1 week after it’s roasted. 14 days after roasting, over 80% of the aromatic volatile compounds have evaporated. That expensive $15-to-20/lb coffee has already lost its complex flavor, and no amount of fancy packaging can change that.

The second logistical problem; ground coffee loses it’s precious oils within seconds for being ground.  Obviously, you should grind only what you intend to brew within the next 1 minute.

Fortunately when you buy green coffee beans, it stay fresh for at least a year. I have tried a number of websites, but keep coming back to Sweet Maria’s. They cost a little more than other sites I’ve used, but they give you excellent information about the coffee you are buying, and their ratings are helpful.  For example, see the following Ethiopian Coffee (be sure to click “View Cupping Scores” to each coffee’s pluses and minuses).

Buy your beans green, and roast them at home. It's the only sure way.

I roast my green coffee beans in a hot air popcorn popper. I roast between 1/2-cup and 2/3-cup at a time; roast time is about 6 minutes. When almost done; dump into a colander where they will continue to darken as they cool. Stir occasionally when cooling. Beans are best if they are allowed to rest for 1 or 2 days; but many times I use them as soon as they are cool.

The Ethiopian and Guatemalan were exceptional (and only a few dollars more).

Just how much does it cost.  Generally a pound of green coffee costs about $5; about $5.50 including shipping.My last purchase averaged $5.75/lb because I bought a few super-premium coffees.  But about 20% of the weight is lost in evaporation during the roasting process; therefore a pound of home-roasted coffee costs $6.60. per pound.

To brew, I use a French Press when at work. But at home I make cappuccino. I measure out the exact amount of whole beans (usually by volume, not by weight). I grind the coffee to the appropriate fineness. In my case, setting 3 on my Gaggia MDF.

A double cappuccino takes just over 3/8 ounce (.45 oz) of roasted beans.

Once the coffee beans are ground they must be used within a few seconds, as their precious oils evaporate quickly. Once in the portafilter, tamp down to between 30 and 50 pounds of downward pressure. It’s best to use a tamp so that the pressure is the same every time.

Use your ground coffee within seconds of grinding.

And finally, I drink.

Finally, a really good cup of coffee that doesn't cost you an arm and a leg.

A pound of beans makes about 36 double espressos, so the coffee cost is 18-cents. Adding 5-oz of milk for double cappuccino increases the total cost to about 25-cents. Now, remember that 5-oz of milk is steamed to has a much greater volume, requiring perhaps a 12-oz cup.  So really, there is little justification for the $4 price tag at Starbucks.

6 Responses to How to Make a Good Cup of Coffee

  1. Kelly says:

    That is amazing. I bet your house smells wonderful when you roast the beans.

    Do you know if there are other ways to roast besides an air popcorn popper? I don’t have one of those but the idea of roasting my own coffee is very intriguing.

    • Hi Kelly,

      Certainly there are may ways to roast green coffee beans; in a wok (or even a skillet) on the stove-top. You can also roast coffee in an oven. Also a stove-top popcorn popper (with crank). On the high end, starting just above $100, there are home roasting appliances. (complete instructions for each method on SweetMaria’s homepage).

      But a popcorn popper costs just $8-to-$10 at Walgreens, and is easier because the machine does the stirring for you. Each machine can last for up-to-one-year.

      Let me know if you have any specific questions. I’m sure you’ll find it the best cup of coffee you’ve ever had.


      • Kelly says:

        I’m certainly going to look into this further. Thanks. I’ll go check at Walgreens and also read more on the website link in the post. I could go for a good cup of coffee.

      • Trouble-shooting:
        Problem: Plastic Top melts or becomes pliable.
        Solution: Roast more beans; too much heat escaping.

        Problem: Beans jump out after a few minutes.
        Solution: Put wine corks under feet to tilt backwards.

        Problem: Plastic Top becomes deformed.
        Solution: After cycle, bend back into shape.

        Problem: Beans Roast unevenly.
        Solution: Put wine corks under feet to tilt backwards.

  2. Jen says:

    Hi Mark. Would you mind sharing your source and favorite variety for the green coffee beans? I never thought of roasting my own in the popcorn popper, but I’d love to give it a try.

    • Hi, sure. My favorite site (I’ve tried 3 or 4 different sites) is Sweet Maria’s. The link is in the third paragraph, but here it is again.

      In terms of variety, I think the most interesting are from Africa. I often blend it with an American (Brazil or Central America). The specific lots vary so often that I trust the cupping scores on the sweet maria’s site.


      P.S. I see that Walgreen’s isn’t selling the Kitchen Gourmet Popcorn Popper anymore. I am going to have to check Walmat.

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