How to Brew (and Drink) the Perfect Cup of Coffee, According to Science

Source: Getty Images
Source: Getty Images

We might be knee-deep in pumpkin spice latte season, but truly good coffee is something we can use year-round. Luckily, decades of scientific research have helped us figure out how to brew, and drink, that perfect cup of joe.

While the final product is ultimately up to your individual taste, these tips will get you started on brewing coffee on your own:

1. Drink coffee during the right windows of time.

Source: I Love Coffee

Your body naturally produces a chemical called cortisol designed to make you feel awake. So when you introduce caffeine into your system while the cortisol level is high, you are not experiencing the caffeine at its peak efficiency. In fact, you might just be building up your tolerance, which means you would need more and more caffeine to reach the same level of "buzz."

Cortisol levels go up in relationship to sunlight and your body's wakefulness, so it's a good idea to hold off on that coffee for an hour to 90 minutes after you wake up. If you wake up around 8 a.m., you should wait at least until 9:30 a.m. for your first cup of the day.

2. Store the beans properly.

"Cool" and "airtight" are the operative words here. Keep the beans out of moisture, heat and light — some people even suggest freezing the beans and thawing them before use.

3. Decide how much caffeine you want.

Although caffeine is a part of our daily diet — with the Food and Drug Administration estimating that around 80% of Americans ingest it every day — the science behind America's favorite fuel is still being studied. It's up to you to determine how much caffeine you're comfortable with.


Once that's decided, you can choose your bean and roast: The arabica bean is more popular and better-tasting, but the robusta bean contains twice as much caffeine. Darker roasts tend to contain less caffeine, since it gets burned off during the roasting process.


4. Perfect your grinding method.

Source: I Love Coffee

Grinding beans right before brewing can make the world of difference. America's Test Kitchen recommends using a burr grinder, but if you're using a blade grinder, the important thing is to grind in short bursts for an even result. Consult the infographic above to see how fine the beans have to be for different brewing methods.


5. Brewing temperature and time are crucial.

The commonly recommended temperature is between 195-205 degrees Fahrenheit. As for ideal brewing times: 5 minutes for drip, 2-4 minutes for French press and 20-30 seconds for espresso.


6. Also be mindful of "the golden ratio."

Back in the '50s, MIT chemistry professor E. E. Lockhart conducted an extensive survey to determine the ideal ratio of coffee beans to water. The formula he came up with has withstood the test of time: 17.42 units of water to 1 unit of coffee. You can change the unit to whatever you want: grams, ounces, pounds, etc. Just keep the ratio and you should be fine. There's a reason why it's so popular.


7. In desperate times, take a coffee nap.

Recent research indicates that taking a coffee nap is more effective than drinking coffee or taking a nap alone. Have a cup of coffee, try immediately to fall asleep and wake up in 20 minutes. You'll wake up much more refreshed.

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Eileen Shim

Eileen is a writer living in New York. She studied comparative literature and international studies at Yale University, and enjoys writing about the intersection of culture and politics.

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