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We probably all have that friend — maybe you are that friend — who weighs out their beans each morning and heats the water to a precise temperature before brewing.

Then there’s our other friend, who drinks approximately a gallon of off-white gas station coffee each day and wouldn’t have it any other way.

That’s one of the things we love the most about coffee. There are SO many ways to drink it and none of them are wrong (despite what your bean-weighing friend has to say about it).

So buckle up, because we have a lot to cover about the original magical bean.

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Illustrations by Brittany England

You bet. Not only is coffee one of the richest sources of antioxidants (molecules that help fight disease in the body) in the human diet, regular coffee consumption is associated with all kinds of health benefits.

One recent study showed drinking coffee might help prevent osteoporosis in men and premenopausal women while a review of studies showed drinking coffee over the course of a person’s life is associated with a significantly lower risk of type 2 diabetes.

Drinking a cup (or cups) of coffee can also boost physical performance and help your brain operate better, in the short-term at least.

Of course, we can’t pretend like coffee is a miracle substance. It has its drawbacks. The caffeine in coffee is notorious for disrupting sleep and exacerbating anxiety symptoms.

Not to mention that dreadful coffee withdrawal headache some of us know way too much about.

Health facts, instant replay

  • packed with antioxidants
  • might decrease risk of developing type 2 diabetes
  • boosts mental and physical performance
  • might help ward off osteoporosis
  • has addictive properties
  • can disrupt sleep

These instructions are meant to give a general idea and are by no means comprehensive (when it comes to coffee, there are seemingly endless techniques for “perfection” so if you want to go pro for a specific method, we recommend doing more research).

Coffee machine

When it comes to convenience, it’s hard to beat a drip coffee machine. The latest machines even measure the temperature, pre-infuse, and add water at speeds designed to extract optimal flavor.

We were also surprised to learn an 8-ounce cup of drip coffee can have more than two times as much caffeine as one shot of espresso.

Pro tip: If you’re in the market for a coffee maker, look for one that keeps the coffee warm with a thermal carafe instead of a hot plate, (which tends to burn the coffee if left for too long).

How to use a coffee maker

Everyone likes their coffee potency a little different — and every coffee maker has its own flair — but leading coffee distributor, *Trade, lays out this basic method.

*A good baseline ideal ratio is ~1 tablespoon of coffee grounds to ~1 cup of water.

  1. Pour cold tap water into the reservoir.
  2. Place a filter in the filter basket.
  3. Grind your beans (skip to our “All about grinding” section for details on optimal grinding).
  4. Adjust settings as needed and flip the on switch.

French Press

Developed by the French in the early 1800s, this immersion and plunger method creates a full-bodied, balanced cup of coffee. Great for camping and home use alike, you can’t go wrong having a French press.

How to use a French press

*Trade recommends ~4.5 tablespoons of coffee to 4.25 cups of water

  1. Bring enough water to boil to fill the press (4.25 cups for the larger carafe size).
  2. Grind your coffee coarsely.
  3. “Bloom” the grounds by pouring a layer of hot water (should be about twice the amount of coffee), stirring the grounds, and letting sit for 30 seconds.
  4. Pour the rest of the water into press and let sit for ~4 minutes.
  5. Press plunger all the way down, separating grounds from coffee.

Pour-over

The pour-over method may have a reputation for being hard to master but, once you get it down, you may never go back.

For those of us who abhor watching extra coffee sit around going stale in a pot, the pour over is refreshing: meant for one single, delicious cup.

There are a variety of coffee brewer (cone) styles out there. Popular ones include the Chemex, Melitta, and Kalita 185 Dripper, which lets water flow through not one but three holes at the bottom.

How to use a pour-over

Blue Bottle recommends using 3 tablespoons of grounds to 1.4 cups of water. And it’s optimal to use a “Gooseneck kettle,” which has a long, slender spout but you can really use any kettle.

  1. Bring water to a boil.
  2. Grind grounds to medium coarseness.
  3. Wet the filter and add your grounds.
  4. “Bloom” the grounds by saturating them in a layer of hot water and waiting 30 seconds.
  5. Pour — (very) slowly — the remaining hot water in a circular pattern over your grounds (there are many different schools of thought on the best way to pour the water but the key is to go slow and saturate all the grinds).

What kind of filter is best?

Filters for pour-over drippers come in paper, cloth, and metal mesh. Paper filters are the easiest for clean up, while cloth and metal can be reused for months and years.

Note: While unbleached paper filters are considered more environmentally friendly, we’ve heard they can also mess with the flavor of the coffee.

Single cup machines

The convenient nature of the single cup pod coffee makers have made them popular machines in offices and homes alike. While we understand the allure of simply popping in a pod and pressing start, we’re not going to pretend like they make the most delicious cup of joe.

Pro tip: Find a single cup machine that either uses reusable pods or doesn’t use capsules at all, as these they’re notorious for being non-recyclable and ending up in the ocean and landfills.

How to use a single cup machine

  1. Pop in a pod to the receptacle.
  2. Place your cup under the spout, and press start!

Hot water (and sometimes cold!) meets ground, roasted bean, creating a brown liquid that releases a thousand aroma components. That’s the love story that is brewing coffee. Much like love, there are many paths to enlightenment.

Cold brew

Cold brew often has a mild, lower acid, and sweeter flavor. Different from iced coffee, which is made with hot water and then cooled with ice or in a fridge, cold brew is made by steeping coarsely ground beans in room temperature water for 12 to 24 hours.

Here’s a recipe for home-brewed cold brew based on the Starbucks method, which this blogger says is the best product in the ubiquitous coffee shop.

Nitro

We love having a nitro cold brew on a hot summer day, don’t you? Like the Guinness of the coffee world, it’s infused with nitrogen, and dispensed from kegs to create super smooth and silky, mild drink.

Hard to believe it (thank you obsessive kitchen tinkerers), but you can approximate this at home. The key is a cream whipper.

Decaf coffee

Decaf coffee is processed in a way that removes roughly 97 percent of the beans’ caffeine. While the flavor is more mild, it’s a good choice if you’re sensitive to or otherwise can’t drink caffeine.

Decaf coffee hasn’t been studied as extensively as regular coffee so it’s unclear if it has the same range of benefits that full-caffeine coffee does. But one study did show that decaf coffee was easier on the digestive system.

One downside of decaf coffee is that it’s processed much more than regular coffee, in order to remove the caffeine. Because of this, look for organic decaf, which uses a solvent-free process to extract the caffeine.

Traditionally, an espresso is a 1-ounce pull of dark, syrupy, aromatic brew topped with a layer of golden brown foam called crema (the color of the foam is said to be an indication of the darkness of the roast).

The coffee beans used for espresso are medium to dark roast, which are richer in oils, and produce a less acidic, more bitter taste.

While your best espresso shot will be pulled by a trained barista (it really is an art form to pull a good shot), you can go big and buy your own machine (that is, if you don’t mind the cost, upkeep, cleaning, maintenance, and repairs).

If you’re interested, check out these foodies who tested “cheap” espresso makers.

Espresso bar menu explained

While the purests cringe at the thought of adulterating their sacred coffee with anything, there’s a lot of us who’d gladly go to battle for our cream and/or sugar.

There’s nothing inherently “bad” about adding ingredients to your coffee but if you drink it every day, it’s smart to pay attention to the quality of the ingredients you add.

If creaminess is your jam, try using a full fat product — like heavy cream, half-and-half, or coconut oil. Full fat products are processed less and contain fewer added ingredients. (A 2012 review of studies showed high-fat dairy products were not associated with weight-gain, obesity, or cardiometabolic risk.)

If possible, minimize using coffee creamers as these products tend to be highly processed and contain added sugar.

Looking for creative ways to add beneficial ingredients to your coffee? Try these.

The roasting process dries, caramelizes, and transforms green coffee beans, creating a chemical reaction that brings forth volatile, aromatic, water-soluble oils.

When you’re shopping for coffee, you get to choose your roast: light, medium, medium-dark, or dark. These color variations refer to how long the bean was roasted and determines the flavor and caffeine content of the coffee.

Light roasts

Light roast coffee is roasted for a shorter amount of time. Since roasting draws out caffeine and acidity, light roasts have a higher caffeine content and a more acidic flavor. Light roast beans don’t have any oil on their surface.

If you’re not used to drinking a light roast, you might find the flavor sharper than usual.

Medium and medium-dark roasts

Less acidic than light roasts, medium roasts tend to have more body to them and what people in the coffee biz like to call a “balanced flavor profile.”

The darker a medium roast gets, the richer the flavor. Because medium-dark roasts have even less acidity than mediums, they’re going to have a bolder, fuller flavor.

Dark roasts

Dark roasts tend to take on a sweeter flavor because the amount of time they’re roasted caramelizes the naturally occurring sugars in the beans. Some dark roasts — like French roasts — also take on a smoky flavor because of how long they’re roasted.

Dark roasts have the least amount of caffeine.

Light, air, and moisture degrade the flavor of coffee, so roasted beans should be stored in opaque airtight containers and stored in a cool, dark place like a pantry. Not a fridge or freezer (where there’s moisture).

A group of coffee-lovers did exhaustive research on coffee bean containers and found the best containers for keeping beans fresh is stainless steel, vacuum-sealed, and with a mouth wide enough to scoop out the beans — like this one.

How coarsely you grind your beans has an impact on the flavor of your coffee. When you use grounds that are too coarse, the end product can turn out sour and acidic, while grinding too finely can create bitter, sometimes tasteless coffee.

So what’s the ideal coarseness? It depends on your brewing method. This table can give you a general idea.

Grind sizeBrewing method
Very coarseCold brew
CoarseFrench press, percolator
Medium-coarsePour over (paper filter)
MediumPour over (cloth/metal filter), Aero press, drip coffee
FineEspresso
Very fineTurkish coffee

But no matter what grind or method, one rule stands: Beans should be ground immediately before brewing for optimal flavor. It only takes around 30 minutes for beans to start losing their flavor after being ground.

If your grocery budget has you buying pre-ground beans, try to buy in smaller quantities to cut down on the time it sits on your counter.

There are two main types of coffee grinders: burr grinders and blade grinders. Any coffee aficionado will (passionately) tell you burr grinders are superior.

Because of the shape of the teeth, burr grinders create a more consistent grind. They also don’t create as much heat as a blade grinder, which can diminish the flavors and aromas of the coffee.

This blogger went all out to review a number of home grinders from high-end to best buy to affordable. He recommends low-speed grinders, which are either gear reduction or direct drive low-speed.

That being said, if your blade grinder is working out for you, there’s probably no need to shell out 50 bucks or more on a new fancy tool (unless you’re feeling fancy, of course!).

And all this sippin’ doesn’t come without an impact, on both the environment and the people working to produce the beans.

It’s estimated 120 million people depend on coffee production for their livelihood. With global demand steadily increasing, coffee farmers face a monumental challenge: climate change, which is predicted to diminish land suitable for growing coffee by 50 percent by 2050.

So what can we do as consumers?

According to a 2016 review, we can start by buying Fair Trade coffee. This certification process assesses whether the product has been produced sustainably and that the people farming and producing the beans are compensated fairly and able to invest in their futures.

Check out this site for a list of Fair Trade roasters.

Other labels to keep an eye out for (if your budget allows for it) are carbon neutral, shade-grown, and if there’s a guarantee of fair return to smallholder farmers and their communities.

Another way to spend your coffee dollars ethically is to buy locally roasted coffee. Widespread distribution can be the bug-a-boo of many small businesses, so small-time roasters often rely on a local customer base to buy their products.

Not to mention, when you buy a locally roasted bean, you cut down on CO2 emissions from transportation.

The precise origin of coffee is hotly debated. While many countries and cultures claim it as their own, the lack of documentation makes it hard to know for sure.

We do know the first known coffee house was in Constantinople in 1554. Jump ahead almost 500 years and you’ll find people waiting in line at coffee shops on what feels like every block in the world (we drink approximately 2.25 billion cups per day).

While your bean-weighing friend would be happy to bore you with the grandeur and superiority of “third wave coffee,” we think the real beauty of the bean is how it helps us connect with others.

Maybe it’s the stimulant properties, or maybe it’s just the simple delight of dipping outside for a coffee break with coworkers. Whatever it is, coffee brings people together.

And while coffee breaks and coffee dates alike are on hold till further notice, we can still sip our coffee at home and look forward to the day we get to catch up with our barista-turned-friend down the street.

Ginger Wojcik is an assistant editor at Greatist. Follow more of her work on Medium or on Twitter.

Elizabeth Keyser wrote, researched, and reported this piece from her two favorite local coffee shops, Shearwater in Fairfield, CT, and The Source in Black Rock, Bridgeport, CT.