How to Make Black Coffee Taste Good

December 13, 2022

Trying to adjust to black coffee? Maybe you’ve got a mug in your hands right now. “It’s for weight loss,” you tell yourself. “Those calories from cream and sugar are bad news.”

And when you bring the mug to your lips, it’s no longer the pleasant sweet drink you know and love. It’s dark. And bitter. And tastes like a burning car tire. Ugh.

In this article, I’m going to show you how to make black coffee taste good. But there’s no tricks. No “put a dash of lavender and sprinkle of elderberry juice in”. You know, advice that sounds good until you actually try it.

The way I’m gonna show you? It’s by making the actual coffee taste good. And by the way, I drink my coffee black so I can taste more of the flavor. And I’m about to show you how.

How to make black coffee taste good

You can make black coffee taste good by learning how to brew top quality coffee. If the coffee is good enough, you won’t actually need milk, cream or sugar to make it taste drinkable. The best coffee doesn’t taste bitter. It also has a lilting sweetness and vivid flavors, although that depends on the coffee bean you use.

Here’s how to make fantastic coffee in three steps:

  1. Buy high quality coffee that is freshly roasted.
  2. Use the right equipment.
  3. Adjust your brew to eliminate sour or bitter tastes.

The best thing is: you don’t have to do all this at once. Even baby steps can go a long way to making your black coffee not just drinkable, but kinda nice. And oh look! Not a single calorie added.

Now, I will go over these steps in a touch more detail. Even if you think you’ve got the idea, I recommend reading the next section (it’s the most important one!)

Step #1: Buy freshly roasted coffee beans

High quality freshly roasted coffee is the number one improvement most people can make to their coffee.

Coffee has a “peak flavor” that lasts for between 15-30 days. After this, it will retain some of the general inherent tastes of the bean. But the “pop” that freshly roasted coffee has? That’s gone.

If you buy freshly roasted coffee and drink it inside that 30 day window, it’ll taste like nothing else. Smooth taste, less bitterness. Flavors you’ll barely be able to believe. Even if it’s black.

Here’s tasting notes I got from a website. Want your black coffee to taste like that?

So how do you know coffee is fresh?

Well the key is to look for a roast date somewhere on the bag. This indicates that the roaster cares about the freshness of the coffee and intends to sell it inside the window of peak freshness.

No roast date? It’s probably been sat in warehouses and shipping containers for months before you’ve got your hands on it.

The best places to find fresh coffee are independent roasters or cool-looking Third Wave coffee places that roast their own beans. You’ll struggle to find fresh coffee at grocery stores or big retailers, sadly.

You can find places pretty easily online by searching “coffee roasters [your-location]” and coffee is so popular at the moment that every town or city will have a few places you can check out.

If you take nothing away from this article, take this. Find a bag of fresh roasted coffee. Somewhere, anywhere. Buy it, and make your coffee as normal. It’s the best way to improve the taste of your coffee. And, I think, the best way to start drinking it black.

Fair warning: Boarding the freshly roasted coffee train has its problems. It’s a one-way ticket to not being able to enjoy the cheap coffee that your colleagues make at work any more.

Step #2: Use the right equipment

To make tasty black coffee, you need the right equipment. This doesn’t mean shelling out half a paycheck on random coffee contraptions. It simply means following a few basic principles that I’m about to explain.

Firstly, most coffee brewing methods will make good coffee. Something like a French Press, an Aeropress, a Moka Pot or any type of Pour Over like a Chemex or a Hario V60 are all fine.

The problem comes with autodrip coffee makers. That $30 hunk o’ junk you picked up from the bottom shelf at Walmart will make black that tastes absolutely foul.

Cheap coffee makers have a lot of problems. Temperature is one example. If the coffee maker can’t keep a consistent temperature then your coffee will brew totally differently one day to the next. As you’re about to see, that’s important in making good tasting coffee.

You can get started by picking up one of the brewers I mentioned. It’s easy to order online, too. Check out Amazon for a cheap French Press or the trendy Aeropress. If you absolutely must have an autodrip coffee machine, get yourself an SCAA-certified one. That means the machine is regulated to produce great coffee consistently.

Sidenote: espresso machines are cool, too. But a LOT of work. You’re probably not ready for them. Get a simple brewer while you get the basics down.

Do you need a coffee grinder?

A coffee grinder can really help make better tasting coffee, but I don’t recommend it for absolute beginners.

There are two reasons for this. Firstly, a good coffee grinder is expensive. We’re talking upwards of $100 to get something that can create a smooth, consistent grind that makes a quality brew.

You can pick up cheaper grinders, but the grind size will be inconsistent. You’ll get big chunks and tiny grounds. They extract differently and give you sourness and bitterness. Not what we want here.

The second reason is that it’s an extra step. We don’t want to get too complicated here. I want you to learn to make a quality brew, black or otherwise. You can add on the grinder later to take it to the next level.

So what should you do? For now, get your coffee preground by your roaster. It won’t be as fresh (although that first couple of brews will be!) But they’ll have a top-tier grinder so you don’t need to worry about grind consistency. At least for the time being.

Step #3: Learn how to “dial it in”

Coffee is a tricky drink to brew correctly. The coffee beans contain a number of sour and bitter compounds which you don’t want in your drink. The experts use a refractometer to measure the TDS (Total Dissolved Solids) and typically look for a 18-22% TDS for the best tasting coffee.

In simple terms, the sour tastes are when we don’t we don’t brew enough. And the bitter tastes are when we overdo it. So we want to brew the coffee more if it tastes a little sour, and brew the coffee less if it tastes bitter. Master this and your black coffee will taste of perfection.

Here are the main variables you are playing with:

1. Grind size
2. Water temperature
3. Brew time

Grind size. Keep this the same. If you’re buying from a roaster they’ll have preset grind sizes for types of coffee. Tell them you’re making it with a French Press and they’ll grind it for a French Press. Same every time. Easy.

Water temperature. Keep this consistent. Fancy folks use a temperature kettle. You can just take it a few second after the boil for mostly the same effect.

Brew time. Here’s where you need to experiment. Measure how long you brew for. Now taste your drink. If it’s a little sour, then up the brew time so it extracts more. If it’s a little bitter, shorten the brew time so it extracts less.

There you go, you’ve got a PhD in brewing coffee.

Is this a lot of work? It might seem it, at first. But once you get it down pat it’ll be like second nature. And the really important thing is that following these steps is how you make great coffee. And, most important of all, how you make great black coffee.

Extra tips to brew tasty black coffee

1) Give yourself a little time to adjust

No one likes coffee at first. Not because it is bad, by any means. But because your taste buds are going to instantly reject it, because they want sugary, sweet goodness.

When I started drinking coffee — to deal with the crushing reality of my first office job — I loaded every cup I made with sugar. Three or four teaspoons. I loved it.

One day, the sugar ran out. Now I made my coffee without any at all. And my sweet caffeinated treat now tasted foul. The days went by and I just got used to it. When the office kitchen was stocked up with sugar again, I ignored it.

Point being… drinking black coffee is gonna be weird at first. Stick it out. It’ll be worth it, I promise.

2) Find the best black coffee

The best way to find out how good black coffee can taste is to find the best coffee shop near where you live. Try the best black coffee. It’ll give you an idea of what you’re aiming for.

Do a little Google search for coffee places. Not espresso though, you want brewed coffee. As that’s what you’ll be making yourself. Go for a breakfast one weekend and get the black coffee. See how they do it. You can even ask for tips!

I would get the “adjustment” phase of drinking black coffee out the way before this though. Like I said, all black coffee will taste godawful at first. You just gotta push through.

3) Brew a coffee straight after buying your beans

When you buy your coffee beans, try going home and making a coffee straight away. This is another way to get an idea of how good the coffee you can brew is.

Assuming you bought your beans and got them ground up, those first few hours the coffee will be super fresh. And the coffee you brew will be at its best. It’ll be a good test to see if buying a grinder is worth it for you.

What next

Black coffee that you look forward to drinking is a simple game. It comes down to a few basic things. If you’ve got a quality bag of beans and a way to brew them, you’re 90% of the way there.

If you still don’t have a brewer, it might be able to help you out. If you like the thicker tasting French Press then check out Amazon for my favourite option. Bear in mind you do get a little grit in the bottom of your cup with that method.

Maybe you’d prefer a trendy option like the Aeropress. This is a cool way to make coffee. No grit, too. And it gives you a clean tasting brew.

Last thing I’m gonna recommend is a Chemex. This one looks beautiful and is a large size, so you can easily make coffee for 2-3. Although you do need to buy filters for it.

Whatever you choose though, will work. Just get something and get brewing. There’s my advice.


  • Reply James Hyslop July 30, 2019 at 9:26 am

    Another really enjoyable article Pat. I enjoy how in-depth you go 🙂 We have only just got on the black coffee bandwagon and totally agree with all your points. I also think that the method of brewing that you use can be helpful in the transition. I have particularly found that Pour Over is a very gentle introduction to black coffee as it is a very light and bright drink when done correctly. Especially in contrast to say my first straight espresso which is also really enjoyable but not exactly a gentle introduction

  • Reply Russell Volz June 1, 2020 at 8:43 pm

    Pat, I’m with you. I love smooth coffee. The smoother the better, which as you point out includes several things; good beans, good roast, good brewing techniques.

    Beans: As for good quality super smooth beans, I’m a huge fan of Costa Rican beans from the Tarrazu region. Part of the problem is finding good high quality smooth coffee beans. My suggestion is to search the internet for “Smooth Coffee” or “Smoothest Coffee Beans” etc., and you’ll find several good options.

    Roasting: Even small local coffee roasters are busting their butt to be the next Charbucks, so 99% of these small guys are still burning the snot out of their beans, which is so unnecessary. If you want smooth coffee, the low-n-slow method is the name of the roasting game.

    Brewing: You are spot on. The French Press hides nothing. It you have bad beans or a bad roast, then you’re going to get a really bad cup of coffee. On the other hand, if you have good beans and a good roast, then the French Press will give you a really full-bodied cup of coffee.

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