In Your Cups

What are the secrets to a perfect cup of coffee?

Photo: Courtesy of Current Events

For over 700 years, we’ve enjoyed the charms of a freshly brewed cup—so much, that it’s become routine; there’s a coffee shop on nearly every block. For many of us, coffee is merely fuel for high-octane lives, but for others, coffee is a passion and even a vocation.

Take John King, co-owner of California-based Harold King and Co. Coffee. He has 25 years of experience “cupping” (smelling, tasting and then judging) coffees from around the globe. King was a judge at the 2008 Gevalia Kona Coffee Cupping Competition, held last November (see photo at left). During the competition, King and his fellow judges were looking for an “intense floral aroma and fragrance,” he says, noting that this fragrance is unique to Kona—no other coffee on the planet is quite like it.

“Coffee tends to be a bitter brew as it is,” says King, “but if you get a Kona that’s done right, it lacks the bitterness you get in other coffee. It’s a very sweet, mellow flavor we’re looking for, and a bit of tartness.”

Kona is one of King’s favorite coffees; he recommends using a 100-percent Kona in a lighter roast. “The darker you roast coffees, the more alike they become. In the case of Kona, a lot of people expecting to taste something dramatically different aren’t going to taste that in a dark roast.”

See the winners from this competition.

Photo: Istock


Ready to get the most of your brew?

Here’s a coffee refresher.




There are two main types: Arabica and robusta. Arabica produces milder and more pleasingly aromatic coffee than robusta, which makes for a sharper, more bitter brew.



Light: Has sourness, acidity and snap. This roast allows the individual traits of the bean to come through.

Medium: Has acidity and is slightly sweeter than the light roast.

Dark: Sweeter than the medium roast and somewhat smoky. Has decreased acidity and aroma.

Darkest: Less acidity, more smoky. At this point, the coffee will taste of the roast and not the bean.


Automatic Paper-Filter Drip: Produces a light-bodied brew because the paper filter prevents the sediments, colloids (miniscule, gelatinous material) and oils from entering the pot. The paper filter also contributes a slight papery taste to the coffee.

Automatic Permanent/Gold-Filter Drip: Makes heavier-bodied brew than the paper-filter drip because it uses a permanent filter that allows oils and other particles into the brew, but slightly less sediment than the French press (below).

French Press/Cafetiere: Produces a full-flavored, heavy-bodied brew (caused by the presence of sediment, colloids and oil).

Percolater: Boils the coffee, which makes the house smell great but robs the coffee of flavor.


Coarse: Use for a French press.  In a coarse grind, the grounds don’t stick together.

Medium: Use for automatic flat-bottom filters. You’ll see that some of the grounds stick together, but most don’t.

Medium-Fine: Use for automatic cone filter and steam-driven espresso. Most grinds stick together and the individual particles are easy to see.

Fine: Use for pump-driven espresso. Grinds stick together in clumps, yet aren’t so fine that they appear to be one melted unit.

Photo: istock


Coffee is 99 percent water, so use good water—filtered and pleasant-tasting.

The general ratio of coffee to water is 2 tablespoons coffee per 6 ounces water.

Use very hot, but not boiling, water. Boiling the coffee releases a great aroma, but it also releases flavor.

Optimal brewing time is 4 to 5 minutes.