Whether you’re trying to step away from acidic, burnt drip coffee, or trying to replicate your favorite coffeehouse specialties at home, making better coffee at home is a journey more than a destination. The first step on that road is a simple one: You need to figure out what “better” means to you. There is no single best cup of coffee, there’s just the best version of what you love. Do you love your coffee rich, dark, and bitter? Maybe you prefer it as more of a smooth bass line beneath the melody of vanilla, sugar, and steamed milk? There’s no wrong answer.
Once you have a direction to go in, a thing you know you like, then you can start to improve it until you hit on a home-brewed cup of coffee you love more than anything the local coffee shop has to offer. Coffee at home is like home cooking, we’re not chasing a restaurant or cafe level of professional consistency and polish. We’re just trying to help you bring the most out of your favorite at-home coffee.
Updated September 2022: We’ve tweaked our recommendations.
Special offer for Gear readers: Get a 1-Year Subscription to WIRED for $5 ($25 off). This includes unlimited access to WIRED.com and our print magazine (if you’d like). Subscriptions help fund the work we do every day.
The Daily Grind
When it comes to food, the better your ingredients, the better your meals. The same is true of coffee. You have to start with good beans. That doesn’t mean you need to spend a fortune on rare beans that have been crapped out by a civet (yes, that’s a thing), but it does mean that this is the place to start if you want to brew a better cup at home.
I’ll start with the most obvious upgrade: Nothing will improve your coffee experience more than switching from ground coffee to whole-bean coffee you grind yourself shortly before making it. The flavor (and caffeine boost) of coffee comes from the oils inside the bean. Once that bean is ground up those oils begin to break down—the flavors change, and delicate notes are lost. Ground coffee generally has a shelf life of less than a week. In most cases, the ground coffee you see in the supermarket will have been on the shelf far longer than that. This is why I suggest you buy whole-bean coffee and grind it yourself.
I know what you’re thinking: That’s a pain. But it’s really not. Good coffee grinders make it totally painless and fast. Here are two of our favorites:
- Hario Skerton Pro ($38): This is a hand burr grinder, and it’s cheap. It’s easy to use and fast, taking up less than two minutes to grind up some beans.
- Oxo Brew Conical Burr Grinder ($80): Don’t want the manual approach? That’s totally fine. This favorite will spit out freshly ground coffee in about 20 seconds.