Unless you’re very lucky, you’re likely stuck in office that has coffee somewhere between “drinkable” and “intestine-wrenching”. Use this guide to increase the quality of your office-coffee experience. Photo by Stephen Cumming.
Office coffee is generally pretty awful. Purchasing a quality coffee machine, quality coffee, and orchestrating the two in any semblance of order is apparently quite low on the list of priorities for most managers. The following tips will help you take the “stock” setup and make the most of it and provide alternatives if the stock setup is just too awful to even salvage.
Clean the Coffee Maker: This is your absolute first order of business. Have you ever actually seen someone clean the coffee maker? No, you haven’t. You must operate under the assumption that the coffee maker has never, ever, been cleaned. If it looks old enough to have been cranking out caffienated slurry to jittery Cold War-era workers than you must assume it’s still got the funk of rancid Reagan-era coffee oil upon it.
How do you clean a coffee maker? There are two principle enemies to good flavor hiding in an uncleaned coffee machine. Minerals from the water and oil—which turns rancid—from the coffee accumulate in the machine. You need an acidic fluid to purge the nastiness. You can purchase a cleaner made specifically for coffee makers but in all but the most horrifically neglected coffee machines it should suffice to use vinegar which is much cheaper.
Mix 1 part white vinegar to 2 parts water. You’ll need to mix enough to fill the reservoir of the machine. Throw a filter in the machine and run the solution through. You’ll need to do this at least once, but we’d recommend running a fresh batch of cleaner through until the water in the pot is clear. For a particularly dirty machine you’ll end up with a few pots of nasty tea-colored water. Follow up the cleaning procedure by running clean water through the machine until the water no longer has a vinegar smell, usually two cycles should do the trick. At this point a once-a-month rinse with vinegar should keep things funk-free. With a clean pot we can move onto the actual coffee production. Photo by pvera.
Brew the Coffee Properly: If you do any reading at all on coffee and coffee preparation you’ll find quite an array of opinions. When it comes to simple drip brewing using a run-of-the-mill office coffee pot things are pretty cut and dry. There is the ass-backwards terrible way to make coffee and the way to make good coffee that won’t make anyone’s large intestine rebel and attempt to kill them.
Use the best coffee you can get your hands on, convince your office mates to chip in for, squeeze out of the office budget, etc. You don’t need coffee hand picked by angels and ground by a $1000 Italian bean-grinder, but buying coffee from a local roaster and getting away from some generic vacuum-sealed pouches that get delivered by the same guy that delivers the toilet paper refills and clean rugs every Monday will go a long way towards better flavor. Photo by D’Arcy Norman.
Don’t use too much coffee. Filling the basket to the top won’t make bad coffee taste better. In fact, it’ll make bad coffee taste worse. Cheap coffee usually has a higher caffeine content to begin and not so great flavor. Putting more in the pot just means more of the nasty-tasting and caffeine-laced swill will be pounding your gut. A tablespoon of coffee per cup of coffee to be brewed is just fine. Less will make the coffee watery and more won’t make it better.
Don’t leave the coffee to sit on the warming plate. This is how even good coffee is reduced to a chewy garbage. Leaving it on the hot plate, and trust us that plate is plenty hot to ruin coffee, will just lead to the coffee being over-brewed and distilled down into bitter mess. If you can’t convince your office to shell out for a thermal carafe—like the self-fill stations you see at coffee houses and airport coffee kiosks—then at minimum you want to invest in a small thermos so you can store your day’s worth of coffee safe from the hot plate.
Designate a Coffee Maker: If you ever take time to watch what happens to a poor coffee pot during the course of the day, you’ll be astounded. People put the pot back empty and leave the coffee dross to bake right onto the pot. They overfill the basket, they pack the grounds down like tobacco chew, they run the tap water hot and pour it into the reservoir. Most people are terrible at making coffee, despite how simple the process looks. If you’re fired up about getting good coffee at work you might have to shoulder the burden of being the guy or gal that makes the coffee, if for no other reason than to avoid drinking the garbage everyone else makes. If you’ve had luck with getting your boss to shell out for a thermal carafe this will make your job easier.
When to Bite the Bullet and Self-Brew: Perhaps when you bring up the state of poor coffee in your office, things will go well. “My God Johnson, you’re right! The coffee is terrible around here! I insist you go buy us a respectable coffee pot and the best coffee you can find.” You might be able to get your boss and coworkers on board with throw a few bucks in a month to buy better coffee and thermal carafe to keep it hot and fresh all day. If nobody cares—and some people consider it a point of pride and intestinal fortitude that they drink nasty coffee—you’re on your own.
At this point your best bet, since you’ll be fending for yourself and not paying to fuel an army of workers with premium coffee, would be to brew at home and bring your coffee in a high-quality thermos. Barring that, if your office has a hot water on-demand tap in the breakroom you can use that to brew your coffee using a French press or AeroPress. Photo by Rick.
Finally, whether you make the most of your “stock” office setup or you bring your own brewing gear from home, make sure to read over some of our previous coffee guides for extra tips such as brewing the best possible coffee without breaking the bank, and top 10 tips and tricks for better coffee.
Have your own tips, tricks, or stories of office coffee brewing, to share? Let’s hear them in the comments.
Sometimes, I am glad I like tea as well as coffee.