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I’m feeling the holiday crunch so this post is short, sweet and full of caffeine:) Not my usual healthy fare but hey, it’s the holidays. Let’s have some fun. Are you planning a big holiday feast with coffee and dessert afterwards? Did you know there are three steps involved in making a great cup of coffee? I thought my coffee was pretty good until I was asked to interview coffee shop owners for a regional magazine article. Here are some tips from some of the best coffee brewers in the Midwest.

Step 1)  Begin with quality water. Hands down this was the most important tip from everyone I interviewed. Cold filtered water, period. One barista suggested using bottled water if filtered water isn’t available. Apparently, impurities like chlorine or minerals alter the real taste.

Step 2) A great cup of coffee starts with a fresh whole bean. Buy fresh roasted beans and grind them yourself. I can’t tell you how much I love opening the shiny foil air tight seal on my favorite blend of pre-ground. Could there really be that much difference in aroma and taste? I decided to buy my own inexpensive coffee grinder to find out. Turns out, freshly ground beans are more flavorful and aromatic. I could have stood at my kitchen counter all day sniffing.

Good advice about coffee beans: Where do you find good beans? Going to a local coffee roaster would ensure fresh beans but it’s not always practical. If you have a favorite coffee shop that sells their fresh roasted coffee beans, lucky you! The baristas I interviewed recommended purchasing  enough for the week and storing them in an airtight container. If your only choice is to buy coffee beans from the supermarket, make sure the beans are all relatively the same size and same color for even grinding and flavor.

More Advice About Beans The degree of roast is an important flavor factor. Lightly roasted beans have a sharper, more acidic taste than darker roasts and darker roasts tend to be bittersweet and have a shorter shelf life. Labels such as “Viennese,” “French,” and “Italian” do not refer to the origin of the bean, but to the length of time the bean has been roasted. Generally the lighter in color the bean, the lighter the roast.

Step 3) Cleanliness

When it comes to that perfect cup of coffee, cleanliness is next to Godliness. Make sure your permanent filter is free from all coffee sludge and use an unbleached paper coffee filter. Wash and dry the decanter. Use two level tablespoons of fresh ground coffee per cup. If you’re making more than 10-cups of coffee you should place the strength meter on its highest position possible to allow more water to penetrate the grounds evenly. Once the coffee is brewed, stir the pot to infuse the taste. Stop and smell the coffee, pour and serve.

Now for the sweet. Let’s talk dessert. Recently I acquired two holiday recipes I thought were too good not to share. Sent to me from my lovely, good cook sister-in-law Cheryl, Santa Hat Brownies require strawberries and chocolate brownie mix. They’re so darn cute and festive, you’ll want to make them too. Seriously, you have to check these out. The second recipe is downright decadent and from my fun friend Tameri Etherton. With only four ingredients, it’s not only quick and easy to prepare, it’s pretty. Guaranteed to please anyone who loves chocolately holiday goodness. Thanks Cheryl and Tameri!

So there you have it, yummy desserts, great coffee, family and friends. Enjoy!

Do you have any other tips for making a great cup of coffee? What’s your favorite brew or bean?