So you’ve abandoned your automatic drip coffee maker in search of a really great cup of coffee. You now have a world of opportunity for every cup you brew, but you have to master a few fundamentals to reach coffee Nirvana.
One element that many beginning brewers overlook is water temperature. What is the perfect temperature for brewing and serving your next cup? The short answer: it depends.
Before we get to what temperature to serve your coffee, you should first make sure that you brew it at the correct temperature to give you the best chance at hitting the sweet spot.
The general rule is that coffee should be brewed between 195°F and 205°F. If your water is much hotter, it will scald the coffee, producing a bitter and burnt drink that gives you flashbacks of breakroom coffee that’s been sitting on a heating element all day.
If you dip much below this range, though, you won’t be able to dissolve the solubles from the coffee beans’ cells. You’ll be left with weak, flavorless coffee because it wasn’t hot enough to extract flavor from the grounds.
Stay in this range, and you should be in good shape regardless of your brewing method.
If you like to experiment, though, consider the following guidelines for your preferred method.
With its coarse grind and extended brew time, your French Press can produce a bold cup by staying right in the middle of the recommended range. For 200°F water, take your water off the heat when it starts to boil, then wait 30 seconds before pouring.
Pour over coffee works well at the upper end of the range for light roasts. You might want to reduce your temperature somewhat if you are brewing a darker roast, though. And don’t forget to preheat your cone and container so you don’t lose too much heat in the transfer.
With the Aeropress, your temperature can vary depending on how much time you plan to brew and press. For a typical brew, the upper range works well. If you like to extend the brew time and use a slow press, though, you will want to use water that’s closer to 170°F.
While most espresso machines will automatically provide water at the right temperature, it’s good to know what to shoot for. Also, if your machine allows you to adjust the brewing temperature, you can experiment with changing it if you feel like you’re over (or under) extracting flavor in your shots.
If you’re into cold brew, you probably appreciate that it isn’t as much an exact science as more traditional methods. When it comes to water temperature, you’re just looking for “not hot.”
Keep in mind that whether you choose to cold brew at room temperature or in the refrigerator will make a difference in how much flavor you get in your coffee. So you should adjust your brew times accordingly (10-16 hours at room temperature; 16-24 hours refrigerated).
Once you’ve brewed your coffee at the optimal temperature, you will want to make sure you serve it with the right amount of heat as well. Unlike brewing temperatures, which fall within a fairly tight range, you have some options when it comes time to serve the perfect cup of coffee.
Coffee served above 175°F does not make a pleasant experience for anyone. The liquid is too hot to register much with your taste buds, and you actually run the risk of burning your mouth.
So why order a coffee extra hot? Because you’re taking the drink to go and want it to be the right temperature when you finally get to drink. Or if you just like to live on the edge.
If you love the look of a steaming cup of coffee, the feeling you get when the liquid warms you from the inside out, then this is a good range for you. Many experts suggest that this is still too hot to accurately taste the coffee.
Really, you’re experiencing the heat of the drink more than the flavors. This could be a good choice when the goal is to get you moving on a cold morning. Or if your beans aren’t the highest quality and you don’t expect too much from them anyway.
In this midrange, you can experience a full range of flavor without feeling like you’re drinking a cold cup of coffee.
You get the comfort of a warm cup, but you feel like you are drinking coffee, not just really hot water. Allowing your cup to cool briefly after brewing should put you in this comfortable range.
When you are experimenting with a new roast or want to distinguish between two subtly different sources, you might want to let your cup cool even more. Some people shy away from coffee at this lower end of the spectrum, feeling that it is tepid.
A cup above 120°F is still warm though, and drinking at the lower range really lets the coffee shine. You’ll pick up more of roaster’s particular character and style if you let your cup cool to these lower temperatures. So be sure you have a quality roast and grind because you’ll experience the good and the bad at this temperature.
For the sweetest, most flavorful coffee drinking experience, you might experiment with pushing the lower limits. Some experts suggest that body temperature is actually ideal for coffee tasting. Most of us prefer a little more heat in our joe, though.
If you can’t stand the thought of lukewarm coffee, you might try it over ice once it’s cooled below 120°F. Just don’t try to reheat it to bring back it back to life. The reheating process will only add bitterness to your coffee and make it taste burnt (because it likely is).
While the elements involved in making the perfect cup of coffee are limited, your options are endless. When it comes to brewing temperature, stay within the fairly close range of 195°F to 205°F (with a few exceptions).
Experiment with how hot you serve your brew, keeping in mind what experience you want to emphasize. Also keep in mind that adding ingredients (milk, cream, sugar, etc.) will have an impact on how warm the end result is.