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5 Reasons Your Homemade Coffee Tastes Terrible

From a dirty machine to cheap grinds, it’s easy to brew bad-tasting java. Here's how to get it right every time.

For many people, a cup of coffee at the start of the day in only one word: necessary. It's a sad story indeed if that cup of coffee you brew for yourself at home is decidedly sub-par in flavor if it doesn't have to be.

If the java you brew makes you want to head to the nearest coffee shop for the real deal, give yourself more credit. It's not that you can't make a great pot, it's just that something is wrong with your equation right now. It might be that old coffee maker, old coffee, how much (or how little) water you're using, or something else completely.

Let's go through five of the most common reasons home-brewed coffee tastes terrible and look at how you can resolve the issue, making yourself a cup of coffee that won't have you considering a switch to tea. And, for more great at-home tips, make sure to check out these 100 Easiest Recipes You Can Make.

1

Your coffeemaker is dirty.

woman making coffee
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A dirty coffeemaker will ruin the flavor of even the finest roast. The thing is, you might not be able to see the grit and grime that's causing the trouble. Coffee can leave behind an oxidized, oily residue that hides out in the smallest little nooks and can damage flavor. So you need to deeply clean your hardware every week or so. (And rinse and clean with soap after every use.)

You will need a bottle brush, white vinegar, and a clean cloth to clean the coffee maker, coffee pot, and all the inserts and pieces. Disassemble everything as much as you can, scrub everywhere coffee goes after applying plenty of vinegar, and then clean with soap and water and rinse when you're done. (Related: 7 Warning Signs You're Drinking Too Much Coffee.)

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2

Your coffee isn't fresh anymore.

coffee grounds
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Coffee isn't a product to buy in bulk. Most coffee stays fresh for a month or two after it's been ground. Look for a sell-by date on any ground coffee you buy and treat that as the start of a month-long countdown after which the coffee will likely start losing its flavor. Better yet? Look for a "best by" date and take it seriously. If you grind your own beans, that extends the life some, especially if you only grind in small batches or, better still, use a coffeemaker with a built-in grinder that does the work for you. (Related: This Beloved Coffee Brand Just Filed for Bankruptcy.)

3

You're not using the right amount of water.

cup of coffee
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Granted, there is some room for customization and preference when it comes to how much water you use to make coffee. More coffee and less water will make a stronger cup in terms of taste and caffeine power, while the reverse of that will make a brew that's lighter on all fronts. But you can only stretch things so far: at some point, too little water relative to scoops of coffee will make a brew that's too concentrated for a proper flavor profile, and of course, it goes the other way, too. The basic rule of thumb is to use about 1.5 tablespoons of coffee per six ounces of water. (Related: 21 Life-Changing Hacks For Using Leftover Coffee.)

4

Your water is the problem.

coffee pot pouring into two mugs
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Sometimes, it's not that you're brewing coffee with too much or too little water, it's that your using water that's just not very high quality. According to the Specialty Coffee Association's "Water for Brewing Standards," the water used for proper coffeemaking should be odor free, have zero chlorine, have a "Calcium Hardness" of between 50 to 175 ppm (parts per million), an alkalinity between 40 and 70 ppm, and a pH between six and eight. Your tap water likely fails the test, so to speak. Use a water filter system (a Brita pitcher, e,.g,.) to get your water into coffee-ready shape. (Related: The Unhealthiest Coffee Drinks in America—Ranked!)

5

You're buying the wrong coffee.

allegro coffee aisle at whole foods
Joni Hanebutt/Shutterstock

Cheap coffee is rarely good coffee. And it's often roasted in large batches without proper care to temperature and timing and may be ground without much care, either. But you can't simply spend your way out of the issue, you need to get the right coffee for your tastebuds and for your equipment. An espresso maker requires a fine grind, for example, while a French press needs a coarser, larger grind. Also consider the acidity levels of the brew, the caffeine strength, the sweetness or bitterness, and other factors. Keep trying different coffees until you find one you like. And if coffee tends to bother your digestive system, don't give up on it; instead consider alternatives like Golden Ratio.

For more coffee tips, make sure to check out these 9 tricks for the best-ever cup of coffee.

Steven John
Steven John is a freelancer writer for Eat This, Not That! based just outside New York City. Read more
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