The One Change You Should Make to Vastly Improve Your Morning Coffee

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Some home baristas go all out. They have coffee makers and grinders that cost hundreds of dollars, buy only the finest specialty beans, and labor over their pour-overs like they’re birthing a child. Other people just want to down a scalding hot cup of liquid caffeine in the morning. And somewhere in the middle, there are those of us who love to drink the kind of coffee offered by specialty cafes, but don’t want to spend any more money or time than is strictly necessary to make such a beverage on our own.

To find out just how to get the best cup of coffee without straying too far from my lazy and stingy habits, mental_floss went to this year’s New York Coffee Festival and asked some of the city’s finest baristas and coffee experts what is really important when it comes to making your own coffee. Is it the temperature of the water? The brew time? The equipment?

“If you could only focus on and invest in one part of the coffee-making process,” we asked, “what would it be?” Yes, all the parts of the coffee-making process are technically intertwined, and if you use terrible-tasting water or let it brew too long or burn the coffee, it’ll taste bad, no matter what else you do. But what makes the biggest difference in making your coffee go from so-so to perfect?

According to most of the coffee experts we spoke to, it’s all about that grind. “You want all the grounds to be the same size, because you want the coffee to extract at the same rate,” says Chloe Langham, a coffee educator at Toby’s Estate Coffee Roasters in Brooklyn. If you’re using a blade grinder—the basic, cheap kind of grinder with two rotating blades—it’s going to churn out some pieces of coffee that are bigger than others, and that’s no good. “The large particles will under-extract and the smaller particles will over-extract,” she describes. The former will create sour notes in your cup, and the latter, bitter notes. “Your coffee will be all muddled.”

Good grinders can be expensive, but it’s worth it, according to every barista surveyed. Really, says Rachel Northrup of Ally Coffee, “Invest in a grinder.” She came to Ally with a background in agriculture, rather than in pulling shots of espresso, and she had to be forced into buying a good grinder by her colleagues at Ally. “It was the one upgrade I made,” she tells us. “It changed my life.”

Thea Heilbron, a longtime barista who now serves as the events director at New York’s Cafe Grumpy (which you may know from Girls), recommends a Cuisinart burr grinder like this $35 one for beginners. (Mental Floss may receive a percentage of any sales.) But she adds that you should never leave your beans inside the grinder’s hopper, even if it looks like the perfect coffee storage space. Not only will the oils degrade the burr mill, but over time those oils will get rancid—and spread all over your fresh coffee. Unfortunately, this means that “rancid is what most people are used to.” No more!

If you’re really looking for that perfect cup, you should grind your coffee immediately before you brew it. “Once the coffee is ground, the aromatics start to disappear within 30 to 45 minutes,” explains Andrew Oberholzer, who roasts the coffee shop Joe’s specialty Top Shelf line. When asked if he would ever consider having a coffee shop grind his coffee, he looks a little scandalized, saying that it would be a last resort if he happened to be going away for the weekend to a place with only a drip coffee machine and no grinder. His tone of voice indicates that he does not go to those kinds of places.

However, not all coffee experts are so fastidious in their recommendations. Gregg Roberson, the head roaster at the New York City-based Gregory’s Coffee (and no, he’s not the eponymous Gregory), agrees that the grind of your coffee is paramount, but he isn’t as much of a stickler for grinding your own beans at home, right before you brew. “I don’t know if beginners know the different grinds,” he points out.

If you can’t tell the difference between the grind for a French press versus a drip coffee, maybe leave it to the professionals at first. Buy your beans at a coffee shop and have them grind them for you to get a better idea of what you should be doing at home. Once you grind your beans, Roberson says, they have a week to a week and a half—“if you’re pushing it”—before they really lose their flavor and aroma.

While it was definitely the most popular response, a few baristas didn't put the grind of the beans at the very top of their list. The coffee-to-water ratio is vital, too.

Caleb Ferguson, who serves as Joe’s director of training and quality control, places the scale first in the coffee equipment power rankings. “If you don’t know how much coffee you’re using or how much water you’re using, odds are, you’re probably not making very good coffee,” he argues.

Meanwhile, Kelsey Forde, a barista educator at Brooklyn Roasting Company, comes down on the other side of the debate. “I don’t ever use a scale. I go by taste. Scales are expensive.” Do a little experimenting, she says, and figure out what makes the taste you like.

And if the world of high-end coffee baffles you, there are a few basic coffee makers that it's hard to go wrong with. Ryanne Allen, a barista at the Brooklyn-based Nobletree Coffee, has a very simple recipe for good coffee: “Buy a Clever,” she advises. The immersion coffee dripper runs only $18, and is basically fool-proof. Just pour in hot water, wait a few minutes, and place the dripper on top of your cup. “I swear by that,” she says. (Mental Floss may receive a percentage of any sales.)

For automatic machines (like that Mr. Coffee you have sitting in the office break room), Carolyn Durkee, a trade show specialist at the Seattle-based Espresso Supply, says to make sure it’s certified by the Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA), which ensures that it meets the qualifications needed to produce the ideal cup of coffee—meaning that the water and the coffee grounds are in contact for somewhere between four and eight minutes with the water temperature 197°F to 205°F, among other requirements.

Just remember: Do what tastes right to you. "All these new technologies in brewing are not necessary to every home barista," says Ally Coffee's Angie Thompson. If you really love the brew your Mr. Coffee auto-drip machine makes, drink your heart out.

Shake Shack’s DIY ShackBurger Kits Can Be Delivered Right to Your Door

In the Shake Shack meal kit from Goldbelly, you'll find all the ingredients necessary to make the chain's signature ShackBurger.
In the Shake Shack meal kit from Goldbelly, you'll find all the ingredients necessary to make the chain's signature ShackBurger.
Scott Olson, Getty Images

While it started as nothing more than a lone hot dog stand in 2001, Shake Shack now has locations all over the United States, with countless devoted fans that flock to the restaurant for fries, shakes, and, of course, their burgers. Now, you can try your hand at grilling up the chain's famous burgers with an official Shake Shack meal kit ($49) from Goldbelly, delivered right to your door.

Inside the box, you’ll find all the fixings to make a real ShackBurger. As you'd expect, it all starts with eight 100 percent Angus beef patties from Pat LaFrieda Meat Purveyors, which is the same beef blend used at all Shake Shack locations. You’ll also find eight potato rolls from Martin's, eight slices of American cheese, and the chain’s signature ShackSauce, along with tips on how to achieve that authentic Shake Shack flavor. The only extras you'll need to provide are toppings.

Shake Shack isn’t the only famous restaurant that offers their own meal kits. You could also whip up a cheesesteak from Philadelphia landmark Pat’s King of Steaks ($99); a lobster roll from McLoons Lobster Shack ($108) in Maine; and many others.

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9 Delicious Food Subscription Services That Help You Avoid the Grocery Store

Blue Apron's meal plans can be adjusted to meet your nutritional needs.
Blue Apron's meal plans can be adjusted to meet your nutritional needs.
Scott Eisen/Getty Images

While grocery shopping can be a time-consuming hassle during an average week, it can be nearly impossible to get what you want, when you want it, while social distancing. But before you give up on your meal-prep goals completely, consider the healthy (and cost-effective) hack that could help make cooking way more convenient: a food subscription service.

These services—which deliver boxes of snacks, wines, and complete meals straight to your door—give you new, tasty treats to try on a regular basis, so you can get right to the fun part (a.k.a. eating!). Whether you want to try new foods from around the world, recipes that will up your boxed mac and cheese game, or tasty beverages to help you unwind after a long day, these subscriptions are the perfect solution for any foodie with a busy schedule. After choosing one of these, you’ll never want to go to the grocery store again.

1. HelloFresh; $62-$98/week

A delivery from HelloFresh
HelloFresh has plans designed for two or four people.
HelloFresh

HelloFresh is a flexible meal subscription service that offers a two-person or four-person plan. The two-person plan gives you the option of two or four different recipes to try each week, while the four-person plan allows you to try two or three. The plans range from $7.49 to $9 per serving and have a standard shipping fee of $8.

HelloFresh's menus cater to your dietary preference, so in addition to the standard “meat and veggies” option, meals can be vegetarian, low calorie, or “family friendly” (a.k.a. easy, kid-tested recipes that make even the pickiest eaters happy). Each recipe is tested by the HelloFresh chefs a whopping 45 times, so you know what you’re eating is delicious. With the option to skip deliveries whenever you want, HelloFresh is the answer to the always-dreaded question: “When’s dinner?”

Try it: HelloFresh

2. Splendid Spoon; $65-$135/week

If you’re a vegan who hates cooking—but loves good food—Splendid Spoon is the answer to your daily meal woes. Not only does this service send you new meals to try each week, but they’re pre-prepared, so all you really have to do is pop your kit into the microwave. Splendid Spoon gives you three different weekly options: a Lunch plan that gives you five lunch bowls ($13 per meal), a Breakfast + Lunch plan that gives you five smoothies and five lunch bowls ($9.50 per meal), and a Breakfast + Lunch + Reset plan that gives you five smoothies, five lunch bowls, and one full-day reset, which includes soups to aid with digestion ($9 per meal).

Splendid Spoon allows you to choose their default meals for the week or choose from all 40-plus to customize your menu, so variety is never a problem. You can even make note of any ingredients or flavors you dislike in your Splendid Spoon profile to ensure you’re always getting what you want (and avoiding what you don’t). Best of all, these meals are all vegan, gluten-free, soy-free, and low in sugar and sodium, so they’re healthy in addition to being easy.

Try it: Splendid Spoon

3. Universal Yums!; $15-$39/month-to-month or $165-$429/year

If you’re a snacker with a taste for adventure, Universal Yums! is like a flavor passport. A subscription service that delivers snacks from a different country to your door each month, Universal Yums! lets you try international bites without ever having to leave the comfort of your own apartment. The month-to-month plan allows you to choose from three different-sized boxes, ranging from $15 for six-plus snacks to $39 for a pack of 20-plus. If you choose to dive in for a full year, the price per box is reduced, effectively giving you a month for free.

Each box comes with a booklet filled with trivia and games that celebrates the featured country, allowing you to learn while you snack. After trying your first box, you’ll (almost) never need to go on vacation again.

Try it: Universal Yums!

4. Art of Tea; $65-$215/subscription

A cup of tea.
The Art of Tea allows you to try tea from all over the world.
Timothy Dranov/ iStock via Getty Images Plus

If you’re more of a tea drinker, the Art of Tea has a subscription package that lets you taste test teas inspired by recipes from around the globe. Available in three-, six-, and 12-month subscriptions, this tea club features five different packages to choose from: the Caffeine Free collection, the Classics collection, the Single Origin collection, the Explore collection, and the Pyramid Tea Bags collection.

Each box comes with detailed information about the teas inside so you can learn more about them—including each one’s health benefits—while you wait for your beverage to steep. A great gift for yourself or someone else, this subscription package perfects the art of treating yourself.

Try it: Art of Tea

5. Urthbox; $15-$45/box (with a 12-month plan)

Urthbox is the perfect subscription service for anyone who believes in sustainable snacking. Delivering non-GMO, organic, and all-natural products, Urthbox includes healthy snacks, beverages, and more in their monthly packages. The boxes—which range from $15 per box to $45, depending on the size—only include products that have passed Urthbox’s strict standards. The company evaluates everything from sourcing to nutrition to manufacturing, so you can feel good about the products you’re munching on. And if you're on a specific gluten-free or vegan diet, you can specify that when you order, so your snacks will always be in line with your nutrition goals.

Although most boxes are snack-based, some also include supplements, skincare items, hair products, and more as a fun bonus each month. Each box is a surprise, but even though you don’t know exactly what you’re getting each month, you’ll know that it will always be good.

Try it: Urthbox

6. Blue Apron; $48-$120/week

The menus available from Blue Apron.
Every Blue Apron meal kit comes with background information on the dish and simple instructions to follow.
Carl Erwich/Getty Images

With Blue Apron, you choose from three different plans—a two-serving Signature plan, a four-serving Signature plan, or a two-serving Vegetarian plan—that allow you to customize how many recipes you’d like to receive each week. The prices range from $7.49 per serving to $10, depending on the plan and the frequency, and shipping is free for all options.

Blue Apron’s Signature plan allows you to personalize your menu each week based on your dietary preferences. You can have the standard meat and fish options delivered regularly, or you can opt for Weight Watcher-approved and diabetes-friendly meals, depending on your needs. Recipes are chef-designed and perfectly portioned, and with easy step-by-step instructions to follow on each recipe card, you’ll start feeling like an accomplished chef the moment you turn on your oven.

Try it: Blue Apron

7. Naturebox; $30/yearly membership

Whether you’re looking for a low-calorie option, something that’s keto-friendly, or just a downright tasty treat, Naturebox has everything you need for a fully stocked snack drawer. While you can purchase individual snacks (ranging from $4 to $20 with your membership discount), you can also buy snacks in bulk, ranging from $35 to $150, leaving you with more than enough to eat through every month.

Naturebox also gives you the flexibility of putting a box together whenever you want it, meaning there’s no need to worry about managing your subscription. And if you don’t like one of the snacks you choose, the company has a “don’t like it, don’t eat it” policy, where you can receive a store credit for any snack you don’t like within 90 days of receiving it. Now that’s some smart snacking.

Try it: Naturebox

8. igourmet, $100-$684/club subscription

Although you can buy individual gourmet products through igourmet, their Food-of-the-Month clubs deliver a selection of standout products in a single category, like cheese, bacon, or coffee, with options for three-month, six-month, and 12-month plans.

Each box comes with a newsletter to guide you through each product, including its history, the region it came from, and more. Shipping and handling is completely free, and if you aren’t a fan of your subscription package, igourmet will reship and refund your purchase hassle-free. This subscription is a great gift—whether for a family member, a friend, or yourself!—and it will make you a certified gastronome in no time.

Try it: igourmet

9. California Wine Club; $41-$231/shipment

A group of people enjoying wine.
There are a lot of ways to customize your California Wine Club plan.
ViewApart/iStock via Getty Images Plus

If you’ve ever wanted to do a wine tasting in your pajamas, a subscription to the California Wine Club is just what you need. Featuring selections from family-owned wineries, you can choose from six different plans: the Premier series (starting at $41 per shipment), the Signature series ($134), the International series ($71), the Aged Cabernet series ($231), the Pacific Northwest series ($77), and the Case Club series ($162). These clubs allow you to explore wine regions you’re curious about, expand your palate, or simply enjoy the wines you already know and love.

No matter which level you choose, you have the option of a monthly, bimonthly, or quarterly package, and each club subscription comes with a guide to all the wines included in your box, a personalized online profile to help you track your favorite wines, VIP tours at featured wineries, and more. Some of the series even allow you to mix and match the types of wine and how many bottles you get—giving you flexibility in addition to great wine.

Try it: California Wine Club

At Mental Floss, we only write about the products we love and want to share with our readers, so all products are chosen independently by our editors. Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a percentage of any sale made from the links on this page. Prices and availability are accurate as of the time of publication.

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