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Sorry to break it to you, but your morning cup of coffee might be a lot less fresh — and a lot less fantastic — than it could be. See, there’s a chance you’re (unintentionally) making mistakes with your coffee pot that are ruining your morning brew (and might even be putting your health at risk). About 50% of coffee machines in U.S. kitchens are home to yeast and mold, according to NSF International, a public health and safety organization. Yikes!
So we turned to Lisa McManus, executive tasting and testing editor at America’s Test Kitchen in Boston, Massachusetts, to figure out what’s best when it comes to taking care of your home coffee pot so you don’t keep on making these common coffee pot mistakes.
Coffee Pot Mistakes #1: Not cleaning the coffee pot daily
You’ve probably seen those well-loved coffee pots refilled again and again at your local 24-hour diner without a break. While it’s charming to think of the idea that a pot’s always brewing, it’s probably not a wise strategy to follow at home.
“You should be cleaning the carafe daily to get rid of old coffee oils that can cling to its walls and turn bitter and rancid,” McManus says. Yep, that means if you’re using your pot every day, you should be cleaning it out just as often. Scrubbing with soap and water—and then rinsing with more H2O and a wipe dry—should do the trick.
Coffee Pot Mistakes #2: Forgetting to descale internal parts quarterly
…Or more often than once every three months, if you notice the brewing process moving slower than normal.
“When your brewer needs ‘descaling’ it’s like the machine has clogged arteries. If you don’t descale, your machine can make coffee more and more slowly so it tastes bitter, and eventually, the machine will stop working altogether,” McManus says.
Essentially, minerals accumulate on the internal surfaces of the coffee pot due to repeated contact with hard water. Descaling strips that away. America’s Test Kitchen’s experts recommend descaling products like Dezcal to help effectively get the job done.
“These dedicated descalers work much better than the usual advice about vinegar and water and have instructions right on the bottle or packet,” McManus says. “Vinegar can remove some coffee oils. It’s not as fast or effective at removing mineral deposits inside your machine, though.”
The harsh acidity of vinegar could also etch the metal of the inside workings, giving your coffee a metallic off-taste over time.
Coffee Pot Mistakes #3: Not using the freshest, cleanest water
Because coffee is mostly water, if the water you’re starting with isn’t tasty, your cup of Joe won’t be either. If you’re the scientific type, the Specialty Coffee Association recommends these qualities in water for “superior quality extraction.” Your water should be “clean, odor-free, and clear color.” If you have a water filter in the fridge, try using that in the coffee maker, rather than water straight from the tap.
Coffee Pot Mistakes #4: Buying large amounts of ground coffee
Grabbing a big bag of grounds is convenient, true, but it’s not going to lead to the most luscious java. Your best bet is to grind your beans at home—and if you can’t do that, only buy smaller bags of ground coffee.
“Buy smaller quantities of good coffee beans at a time and store them in the bag they came in, tightly sealed to keep them fresh,” McManus says.
So what’s the best method when it comes to buying beans? Only purchase what you’ll use within two weeks, and store them in a place that allows the beans to avoid heat, light, and excess air.
Coffee Pot Mistakes #5: Grinding your beans too far in advance
Speaking of freshness, keep that bean grinder handy. Your joe tastes best when the beans are ground just before brewing. This means you’re going to want to grind beans right before you plan to pop them in the machine for the freshest, fullest flavor, Lisa McManus says.