Readers’ Question: How to Make Coffee That Isn’t Bitter

This desperate plea arrived a couple of weeks ago from a reader:

Help! I make the most horrid coffee. I have tried every brand available (even your fav. store in Kingston!), grind my own beans, tried different coffee makers, Bodums, etc and it is still bitter and tastes awful!

Oooh, coffee. Such a personal choice. Andrew loves French roast so dark it looks (and smells) like asphalt. I like an espresso roast for my latte and a medium roast for your average cup. Some people like theirs black while others can’t take anything stronger than a double-double*.

If you’re still searching for the perfect coffee, here are some points to keep in mind:

  • Switch to a lighter roast if you’re using a dark roast and find it bitter.
  • Try beans from a different county. You might not like the terroir of the beans your currently using.
  • Add a pinch (tiny pinch) of salt to the beans before adding the water.
  • Play with the ratio of bean to water. First time, follow the manufacturer’s directions. If it’s too weak, add more beans the next time. If it’s too strong, cut back.
  • Buy from a roaster to ensure the beans are fresh. Look for oily beans, since the oil indicates they’re fresh. Dry beans are old.
  • Purchase smaller quantities —  enough beans to last 2 or so weeks. Resist bulk purchases since beans start to go stale after a couple of weeks.
  • Store your beans at room temperature in an airtight container and grind as you need. Don’t store them in the freezer.
  • Drink the coffee right away. Coffee gets bitter if it sits longer than half an hour. Don’t reheat cold coffee and don’t keep it hot on a warming burner.

This last tip comes from Kristine Hansen, cyber-friend and author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Coffee and Tea.

  • Fill your coffee mug with boiling/hot water while the coffee is being brewed. This way the coffee will retain its heat and not plummet several degrees when you are ready to sip.
  • Use a thick-walled mug. It tastes SO MUCH better this way!

Got any tips on non-bitter, great tasting coffee?

*Double-double is a Canadianism for a coffee with double cream, double sugar.

Photo © jRa7. Published under a Creative Commons License.

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28 Responses to Readers’ Question: How to Make Coffee That Isn’t Bitter

  1. The Diva on a Diet January 25, 2010 at 11:35 am #

    I must confess – not only do I not drink coffee – I’ve never made a single cup! I don’t even know how to use our coffee maker … that’s strictly the husband’s territory. I’m a tea person all the way, but I enjoyed your tips and will pass them on to the husband.
    .-= The Diva on a Diet´s last blog ..Sybarites Visit the Provinces … =-.

    • Charmian Christie January 26, 2010 at 11:51 am #

      You’ve never made a single cup of coffee in your life? I don’t know whether to bow at your ingenuity or be aghast. Think I’ll bow since you have your husband on things.

      • The Diva on a Diet January 27, 2010 at 1:31 pm #

        @Charmian Christie, I know, crazy, right? Though I’m happy to read I’m alone. Now, if there was some cocoa added, as per Dana’s suggestion, that might change things entirely.
        .-= The Diva on a Diet´s last blog ..Maple Bacon Cornbread =-.

  2. Debbie January 25, 2010 at 12:33 pm #

    I’m with Diva on this one. Don’t drink it or make it. I don’t know how to use our coffee maker either. That’s strictly the hubby’s job. I don’t like tea either (that’s even worse than coffee), but I do like espresso. I had two yesterday 😉
    Here is my suggestion….if the coffee is too bitter…add more sugar!

    • Charmian Christie January 26, 2010 at 11:55 am #

      I laughed when you said you don’t drink coffee but like espresso. I know what you mean and would rather go without java altogether than drink bad swill.

      Milk, cream and sugar all help. Good suggestion and one I can’t believe I missed!

  3. Daniel January 25, 2010 at 1:47 pm #

    Charmian, you’ve covered most of it, but I’d also suggest to your reader to try making coffee using a French press. It makes a very smooth and rich coffee, probably because it retains some of the oils and other flavor enhancers in the grounds that would otherwise be filtered out by a drip coffeemaker’s paper filter. We got one a few years ago and we’ve never looked back.

    PS: Interesting idea to add a pinch of salt to the grounds. I’ll have to try that, if only to see how it comes out!

    Casual Kitchen
    .-= Daniel´s last blog ..Retro Sundays =-.

    • Charmian Christie January 26, 2010 at 11:56 am #

      French presses are great. I used to use one all the time, but now use a stove top caffetiera since I want espresso for my morning latte. I’ll have to pull out my French press for later in the day, should I find myself in need of a jolt.

      Thanks for articulating the benefits of a “Bodum”.

  4. Dana McCauley January 25, 2010 at 1:56 pm #

    I did some work for a company that makes and sells cocoa powder and they had me do a whole bunch of experiments with adding a little cocoa to drip coffee to make it smoother and more widely appealing. It really worked quite well.
    .-= Dana McCauley´s last blog ..This blog has moved =-.

    • Charmian Christie January 26, 2010 at 11:58 am #

      Cola? Really? Never heard of it, but it sounds intriguing. So you just add cola to the brewed coffee like you would milk?

      • Charmian Christie January 28, 2010 at 8:46 am #

        Okay, I need my eyes checked. Read “cola” for “cocoa”. Good thing I didn’t actually try that trick. I’m not sure it would be palatable. Sheesh…

  5. Anna January 25, 2010 at 2:19 pm #

    try using filtered water… I’ve found that tap water can change the taste of the coffee considerable and filtered water keeps it smooth with no bitterness.

  6. Ellen January 25, 2010 at 3:09 pm #

    Anna is right! It is critcal to use good water. Starbucks only uses reverse osmosis water, and so do we. Funny, we have the exact same coffee and coffee maker as our friends, but we use RO water, and ours tastes smoother, less bitter and overall better. Not to brag or anything! :)

    • Charmian Christie January 26, 2010 at 12:00 pm #

      Good to know. This kind of side-by-side comparison really drives a point home. We used filtered water, not RO, but removing the chlorine does make a difference. Think I’ll update that post to include this point.

  7. Cheryl@5secondrule January 25, 2010 at 4:00 pm #

    I have to say, I rarely drink coffee, but I do serve it to guests all the time, so your tips are helpful. (I always hope they’ll tell me if it tastes like swill, but I fear most of them are too polite. What if mine really DOES taste like asphalt?)
    .-= Cheryl@5secondrule´s last blog ..Recipes =-.

    • Charmian Christie January 26, 2010 at 12:02 pm #

      If yours tastes like asphalt Andrew would ask for a second cup and your other guests would leave theirs half consumed.

      If you serve swill no one will take seconds on their first visit and they’ll politely decline your offer on subsequent visits. Since you serve it “all the time” I’m guessing your coffee is pretty darned good. I should come over some time and try it.

  8. Maggie January 25, 2010 at 5:03 pm #

    I can’t start my day without a nice, strong cup of coffee. Don’t have filtered water. Don’t have reverse osmosis water. I have found that it is pretty much the type of coffee that makes the difference and when I find a brand of coffee that I like, I stick with it. No surprise that the cheap stuff tastes like *&^% but spending a boatload of money isn’t necessary either.

    • Charmian Christie January 26, 2010 at 12:04 pm #

      You’re right, you don’t need to spend a lot to get decent coffee. Fresh beans seem to be the key. I buy mine from a roaster down the street and it’s cheaper than Starbucks and much better.

      I think the water makes a difference depending on where you live. If the water is highly chlorinated, you can taste it in the water.

  9. Robin Smart January 25, 2010 at 5:35 pm #

    So nice to know I’m not the only NON-Coffee gal in the world.
    I think it is a necessary skill for any one hosting to know, so I too am glad for the tips.

    • Charmian Christie January 26, 2010 at 12:08 pm #

      Judging from the responses, a lot of non-coffee drinkers read this. Guess I’ll have to do a tea post sometime to even things out.

  10. Jill January 25, 2010 at 7:25 pm #

    I had a friend who swore by the ‘eggshells’ trick. If I recall correctly, she cleaned the shell of a fresh egg, and put the shell in with the coffee grinds. I’ve never tried it…

    I have found that when my coffee gets bitter, the machine needs a good cleaning (run vinegar through it a few times…then clear water). Usually helps.

    If all else fails, use real 18% table cream.mmmmmmmmm. And a little sugar.

    Is it bad that when I go to sleep at night I think about the coffee that I’ll be having in the morning?

    p.s. always use cold water!

    • Charmian Christie January 26, 2010 at 12:12 pm #

      I’ve never tried the eggshell trick either. Great point about cleaning the machine.

      And that 18% table cream? I think that’s the reason Tim Hortons is so popular. Everyone else uses 10%.

      And I’ve been known to go to bed anticipating the morning latte. You gotta have some incentive to get out of bed!

  11. Cheryl Arkison January 26, 2010 at 7:24 pm #

    Hubby has trained me to make coffee the way he likes it. And my days as a barista are thankfully behind me. But I can’t stand the stuff.

    Any coffee maker suggestions, we’re looking for a new one.
    .-= Cheryl Arkison´s last blog ..When Hubby is in Charge of Cooking =-.

  12. Lori Desormeaux January 27, 2010 at 9:09 pm #

    Thanks for all the suggestions…I have been making better coffee lately! I use just over a 1/4 cup of coffee for just over 4 cup level marking on my new carafe…Kellen gave me a beautiful Kitchen Aide Coffee maker for C’mas-even has it’s own water filter…makes great-hot-coffee I told him the gift was more for him than me because he just didn’t want to drink my horrid potion every morning!

  13. tasteofbeirut January 30, 2010 at 1:36 pm #

    I love coffee, especially Turkish coffee; after trying many different methods, here is the one that works for me: I use a cone filter that I place on top of my mug. I place a generous tablespoons of coffee in it and when the water is at the boiling point, I slowly pour it into the cone filter into my mug.Easy and custom! I drink a fresh cup whenever I need a cup of coffee. To me it is the best method. These plastic cones are on sale in all US supermarkets and were made initially by the French company Melitta.
    .-= tasteofbeirut´s last blog ..Tangerine Sorbet =-.

    • Charmian Christie February 2, 2010 at 12:27 pm #

      This is how my husband makes his coffee. So easy and portable. He has a Melitta system and it works beautifully. Plus it’s affordable and doesn’t require an elaborate set up or lots of counter space. Everybody wins!

  14. Centerst January 30, 2010 at 4:01 pm #

    Try a little honey in your coffee. It’s delicious and seems to cut bitterness.

    • Charmian Christie February 2, 2010 at 12:28 pm #

      I’ve had honey in tea, but never coffee. Great suggestion. I’ll give it a try!

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