It’s early morning—you’ve just brewed the morning cup that will get you ready for the day. But as soon as you have the first sip, you’re disappointed. The coffee tastes bad.
You’re confused. What has gone wrong? You bought your favorite coffee beans, you have all the equipment, but the result is disappointing.
What are the possible reasons that the coffee is not as good as the one from your local barista? Here are the common mistakes that are making your coffee taste bad and how to fix them.
In order to identify why your morning cup hasn’t turned out the way you’ve expected it to, you first need to figure out what is the flavor problem.
Why does your coffee taste bad? Is it bitter, sour, or burnt? This differentiation will help you understand what might have gone wrong during the brewing process.
How To Make a Good Coffee
Coffee brewing might seem like a simple process, but it requires a lot of precision and skill. As any barista would tell you, there are a lot of things that need to go right in order to brew a delicious cup.
Some of the fundamental ingredients for success include fresh coffee beans, adequate grind, precisely measured ratios, correct recipe, even tamping, a capable machine, and a 30-second extraction.
With so many steps that need to follow during the process, there is a lot of room for error. What went wrong and how can you fix it for the next time you brew?
9 Most Common Coffee Brewing Problems and How to Fix Them
1. Your Beans Are Not Fresh
No matter how good your coffee beans are, if they are not fresh, brewing a delicious cup of coffee will be difficult. The optimal coffee brewing period is around 7-21 days after the roast date.
As soon as the beans leave the roaster, they begin to change the flavor. Carbon dioxide is lost as the coffee gets exposed to air, together with the disappearing oils and aroma.
If more than 30 days have passed after the roasting date, coffee is considered to be stale and having had lost all the delicious flavors.
And there is no way you can brew a delicious coffee with stale coffee beans, so the only way to fix this problem is to get rid of them and buy some fresh coffee instead.
2. Your Coffee Is Too Fresh
You’ve read that right. Coffee being too old is not the only thing to worry about in terms of freshness. The reason why your coffee doesn’t taste right might be also because it is too fresh.
This has everything to do with de-gassing. During the first 7 days after the roasting, the released gases haven’t settled yet. This is manifested in the cup as volatility, with unpredictable and uneven brewing and extraction times.
This problem comes with an easy fix. Just be patient and wait at least 7 days after the roast date before you start brewing.
3. Low-Quality Coffee
The coffee with correct freshness won’t help you if the beans you’re brewing are low quality. The sad truth is that not all the coffee you can buy at the supermarket is going to taste good.
Cheap coffee has often been mass harvested and over-roasted in order to cover the imperfections. This will cause bitterness in your coffee, even with the best brewing skills.
The easy fix is to buy better coffee. Buying fresh specialty beans from a local roaster will be more expensive but will also reward you with a superior flavor profile. And it is still much cheaper than buying your daily fix from a cafe.
4. Incorrect Grind
The most common reason your coffee can taste too bitter or too sour is caused by the incorrect grind size of your coffee grounds.
If the coffee beans are ground too fine, your espresso is dripping slow, has a dark crema, a long extraction time of more than 35 seconds, and has a bitter taste.
If your grind is too coarse, your shot will be under-extracted, with less than 25 seconds of brewing time, coffee pouring too fast, and having little to no crema on top.
Carefully adjusting the grind and aiming for a 30-second extraction time will fix the flavor. Perfecting this part of the process can take a bit of practice and a lot of trial and error before you get your perfect shot.
5. Incorrect Ratio
The ratio between the amount of coffee and water used during the brewing process might be the problem. If you don’t use enough coffee or too much water, your cup will taste sour. And if you get carried away with the good stuff, you’ll be drinking bitter coffee.
The water dose or volumetrics is a part of the daily setup of an espresso machine. It will ensure your machine dispenses the correct amount of water for optimal extraction.
Investing in a coffee scale can eliminate the guesswork. Weighing the amount of beans and water you’re using, whether for an espresso or a pour over, will help you to perfect the flavor.
6. Dirty Machine
The coffee residue can build up fast if you don’t regularly clean your machine. Dirty residue can make your fresh brew taste bitter and blocked water flow can cause uneven extraction.
If you notice a metallic or astringent taste in your coffee, dirty equipment might be the reason.
Daily cleaning is a part of coffee machine maintenance at any cafe but because machines used at home go through a lot less volume, people often assume that they don't get dirty that fast. This is not true.
Cleaning your machine, or brewer, after every use is easier than getting rid of the old stubborn residue. Backflushing the machine and cleaning it every day will help to maintain the delicious taste of your coffee.
7. Low Water Quality
This aspect of brewing is often forgotten about but if your water isn’t the best quality, this will affect the taste in your cup.
Whether you require a filter to brew your coffee depends on your country and the quality of the tap water. But using filtered water for brewing will have a positive impact on the taste.
8. You’re Using Water That’s Too Hot
Using good quality water? The water might still be a problem. Many people get too impatient during the brewing process and use the water straight after it boils or letting the machine overheat to above 200 degrees F (95 C).
The optimal temperature for brewing coffee is just below the boiling point. Using coffee that is too hot destroys the delicate flavors and volatile oils in your coffee.
To fix this problem, wait a few minutes after boiling the water to let it cool a few degrees. And if you are too impatient for that, get a kettle with a built-in temperature control.
9. You Need a New Machine
Went through the whole process and fixed all the most common problems but your coffee still doesn’t taste good? Your machine might be the problem.
If your espresso machine has been through thick and thin, and isn’t able to brew a high-quality brew anymore, it might be time to invest in a new one.
The age might not be the only issue though. An automatic machine doesn’t allow you to have as much control over all the steps of the brewing process as a manual machine.
Even though automatic machines require less work, they can also limit you in your brewing process. If your machine grinds, tamps and weighs out the coffee automatically, you can’t do much to fix it.
Investing in a manual coffee machine can help massively improve the taste of your brew.
Enthusiastic about brewing but your coffee just doesn’t taste right? Don’t worry, we’ve all been there. With so many steps required to brew a perfect cup, there is a lot of room for error.
And sometimes the bad taste might not even be your fault. The beans, your machine, or even the water might be the culprit.
When your coffee tastes too bitter, or too sour, check the water-to-coffee ratio, the grind, freshness, and quality of the beans. Make sure you’re using water that’s just off the boil, filtered, and the machine that is clean and capable of the task.