In the early days of the coffee craze, before the first Starbucks arrived in my town, I owned a tea and coffee house for several years. At the time, espresso was something new for most people, and a lot of my customers had questions. I decided to teach a class on coffee at the shop, and learned in the process that there are several misunderstandings about buying, storing, and grinding coffee that when corrected can lead to a much more enjoyable cup of coffee.
True coffee connoisseurs know that buying coffee beans in small amounts that allow you to brew your coffee within a day or two of being roasted will result in the closest to a perfect cup of java. If you keep the beans in an air-tight container the flavor will remain strong for seven to ten days. Contrary to popular belief, storing beans in your refrigerator or freezer will actually diminish the flavor. There are two reasons for this. First, the beans will soak up the flavors of other stored items. Secondly, moisture affects the oils in the roast. Better to store that container on the counter (in a dark, cool place, if possible). If you can't smell an aroma or it's unpleasant, the beans are past their prime.
Soapy water can leave a residue, so when cleaning your coffee storage, use a dry cloth or paper towel to soak up the oil. Clean the container regularly because oil can get rancid over time. Also, frequently clean the equipment you use for brewing. Again, don't use soap because of the residue. Instead use vinegar and salt and rinse thoroughly.
Always grind only the amount you will use immediately. Once exposed, the oils in the beans disperse, affecting the coffee flavor. If you grind your beans the night before you brew your morning cup, you will be losing flavor. Switch to grinding in the morning, unless you don't want to wake your sweetheart with the noise from the grinder. How fine or coarse the grind should be depends on how long the hot water will be in contact with the coffee grinds. The shorter the length of time, the finer the grind so that the surface area is maximized. Here are the consistencies you will want for the different methods of brewing:
Drip Brew: Grind to a character similar to table sugar if the drip cycles range from four to six minutes. Grind to a finer consistency if less.
French Press: Use an extremely coarse grind.
Espresso: Very fine, powder-like. The extraction time of espresso should be between 25 and 30 seconds. If a one ounce extraction takes longer, use a coarser grind; if it takes less time, grind finer.
How much coffee do you grind? For brewed (and French Press) coffee, three tablespoons for eight ounces of water. For espresso, an ounce (7 grams) for a single shot. Double that for a double shot.
Time and again I heard from my customers that they had no idea what a good cup of coffee really tasted like until after they had followed these easy guidelines. Try it. It's the small things that will make your coffee drinking experience sublime.