Why does it seem like making a great cup of coffee at home is a process of trial and error? After all, your French press, coffee maker or espresso machine surely came with directions on how best to brew your coffee. Well, as any coffee drinker knows, those instructions rarely get you the brew you want, not to mention that they change wildly depending on the mechanism you’re using to make your coffee.
So, why is the perfect cup of coffee so hard to make?
What is a Cup of Coffee?
Something even seasoned coffee brewers might not consider is that there is no standard definition for what a “cup” is. Wait – is that why mugs vary in sizes? We thought it was about the caffeine…. And this isn’t just an issue about the rest of the world being on the metric system while we’re still over here working off ounces and pints. It’s worse than that.
In the US, a “standard” cup – the ones nutrition labels use – is 8.12 ounces, or 240 milliliters. Meanwhile, most other countries agree that a cup is 8.42 ounces, or 250 milliliters. Also meanwhile, the colloquial understanding of a cup in the US is 8 ounces. Canada’s cup is 7.60 ounces. Then, you’ve got Japan hanging out in the Pacific defining a cup as 6.76 ounces, or 200 milliliters. So there’s that.
To further complicate things, the US and the UK don’t agree on what a fluid ounce is, and if you’ve ever tried to suss out what your exact coffee maker thinks a cup is, you may have come across a 6-ounce cup as well. Or 5 ounces. Or 4. The Specialty Coffee Association of America defines a cup as 5 ounces. So, at the end of the day, we’re all just kind of… guessing.
Different Coffee Measurements for Different Brewing Methods
Additionally, the amount of coffee grounds you need vary by what you’re using. Between drip, French press, pour over, cold brew, and espresso, there are a few key differences to remember in your water-to-coffee ratio.
Most people agree that you can brew a successful cup of coffee in a standard coffee maker if you just follow the 1-2 tablespoons per cup rule… but you have to know what a “cup” is. The SCAA defines the “golden ratio” of coffee-maker-making to 1:18, using grams of coffee to milliliters of water. So that’s also not super straightforward, unless you like to do math.
However, these general ratios work well for pour over, drip and French press, provided you’ve figured out the cup size and done your calculations correctly. Which, of course, is what we all love to do at 7 in the morning before we’ve had our caffeine.
Espresso and cold brew are a bit different; both require more coffee to water. Espresso because, well – espresso. And cold brew because, without the heat, the water needs more time and more coffee to develop that fully-brewed flavor. Cold brew coffee ratios are generally described at 1 gram coffee to 8 milliliters water (1:8), or you can make a cold brew concentrate with a ratio of anywhere from 1:4 to 1:2.
Espresso sits at a 1:2 ratio, or, if you’re not into that, you can make a weaker espresso with a 1:4 ratio. And while we do love to encourage everyone to drink coffee in whatever way they like, it seems a bit of a waste of a premium dark roast if you’re making watery espresso. You might want to try our Silver Bullet espresso blend in a French press instead.
Scoops per Cup on Popular Coffee Makers
So, we’ve unpacked the complicated issue of how to make that perfect cup of coffee. And, while French press, espresso and cold brew are simpler because they’re more freeform, drip coffee from a coffee maker is restricted to that coffee maker’s specifications. Here’s a little cheat sheet for the most popular coffee makers – how they define a cup and what the capacities of their scoops are:
- Breville: 5 ounces, 10-gram scoop
- Cuisinart: 6, 8, or 10 ounces, 5-gram scoop
- Keurig: 4, 6, 8, 10, or 12 ounces, 10-gram scoop
- Mainstays: 5.07 ounces, 5-gram scoop
- Mr. Coffee: 5 ounces, 10-gram scoop
- Ninja: 4, 5.8, or 14 ounces, 2-sided 5 and 11-gram scoop
- Oxo: 5 ounces, 8-gram scoop
- Technivorm: 4 ounces, 12-gram scoop
You could always use a scale to streamline this process using the 1:18 ratio. Or you could skip it all entirely and trust the tank measurements on the side of your coffee maker. For those of us that like it a bit stronger, though, you might want to try 1.5 or even 2 tablespoons for every “cup” line on the side of your coffee maker’s tank.
You’ll also notice the brands with single-serve pods have more than one cup size option, which is a result of the target demographic: tired coffee addicts in the US. Seriously, aside from specialty drinks like cappuccinos, have you ever had a 5-ounce cup of coffee and thought, Yeah; that was definitely enough? Trying single serve K-Cup makers for your nightly flavored decaf coffee is basically a life hack for this whole article. The catch is, it’s only a hack for when you’re making one cup of coffee at a time.
Bringing it All Together: How to Make a Great Cup of Coffee
Unfortunately, as with most things, there is no hard and fast rule on how to measure coffee. Heuristics are one thing, but at the end of the day, everybody likes to drink their morning dark roast Sumatra coffee at a different strength. These tips will definitely get you in the ballpark, but you’ll have to Goldilocks the details to make a cup of coffee that’s just right for you. Oh, and did you know your water quality and the size of the grind affect a brew, too? Who knew coffee was so complicated?