I used to work in an office that had all the trappings of a startup office. Ping pong tables, beer on tap, plenty of unhealthy snacks, all that fun stuff.
What we didn’t have was decent coffee. Instead, we had a simple, cheap office coffee maker. And this coffeepot was the most wildly inconsistent kitchen appliance I’ve ever come across. One morning, the coffee tasted fine. The next, it was bitter black death. The thing made the subway look reliable by comparison.
Bad coffee can ruin an otherwise productive morning, so how can you avoid this fate and brew a consistently good cup? I spoke with Tom Tsiplakos, co-founder of For Five Coffee Roasters, to learn how to correct some common problems with your office coffee maker. He says it’s all about consistency.
Before you even start brewing, Tsiplakos says to make sure your machine is clean. “You don’t want any buildup of lime scale or anything else.” While there are lots of cleaning solutions available, Tsiplakos says they’re not really necessary for basic coffeepots—all you need is a wet rag. “Just rinse it with water and wipe it down with a wet rag. You don’t want anything that will alter the taste.” For more industrial machines, a cleaning solution is a better option.
Cleaning your equipment is important not just for the taste—coffee machines (like all kitchen appliances) can attract mold and bacteria if left uncleaned. You don’t necessarily need to go overboard and scrub your machine until it’s ready for surgery (it’s Mr. Coffee, not Dr. Coffee), but as assistant professor of clinical laboratory science at Saint Louis University Donna Duberg tells Fox News:
“If there is obvious slimy stuff in the coffee maker … this is a good sign there is something growing.”
Gross. Clean it.
A common mistake for many office brewers is using too much coffee (relative to the amount of water), which can lead to a bitter tasting brew.
Tsiplakos recommends investing in a simple spice scale and using it to actually weigh out the grinds. This might seem exacting, but remember: consistency is key. Once you find a ratio of beans to water that produces a cup you enjoy, be sure to note how much you used and use that amount every time. Relying on your eyes when pouring grinds is how you end up with a gross cup of joe.
Besides the amount, you’ll need to decide on what type of roast to use. “The roast really depends on the demographic of people in your office and what they enjoy,” says Tsiplakos. “Some people enjoy light roasts with a floral and citrus taste, others like nutty medium roasts, and some people love dark roasts, which are more chocolatey and robust.”
When ForFive works with an office to provide coffee, they’ll often go in to do a tasting and take a poll of which roasts were the most popular. Tsiplakos recommends using beans from a small batch roaster, and trying a few options in your office to see which types are most popular.
Or you could just go all out and get a real espresso machine for the office…
Considering coffee is mostly water, it makes sense to pay close attention to the quality of H2O going into the pot. “It helps to use filtered water,” says Tsiplakos. “You can use water from the water cooler, or if your machine hooks directly to a water line you can use a filter on it before it enters the machine.”
Again, this all comes down to consistency. Tsiplakos says things like construction in your office building can often affect the water, and using a filter helps take these and other variables out of the equation.
One of the best things about a nice, hot cup of coffee in the morning is the ritual of brewing it. In the rush of getting settled into the office in the morning, it’s easy to rush the process and screw something up. But taking a few minutes to slow down and pay attention to what you’re doing will not only yield a better brew, it’s a great way to relax your brain for a few minutes.
“Like anything else, it’s all about attention to detail,” says Tsiplakos. “Take a minute during the busy day to pay attention and make sure you’re doing it the right way.”