Your coffee maker seems to work fine, and you rarely give it a second thought, but — like pizza crusts and clothing — coffee just seems to come out better when you let the profesionals do it.

Why is that?

Well, there are a lot of reasons for it, and we’re going to tell you about some of them here. However, unlike most guides on how to make better coffee, we’re not going to ask you to buy any new hardware. No plungers, no weird beaker things, no special ionic water filtration devices. Just coffee, water, and the drip coffee maker you bought for $25 when the one you got as a wedding gift stopped working.

Use Good Water

The most important aspect of making coffee is the coffee beans, but just barely a tiny bit below that is the water. But coffee is so strong and bitter, you think, won’t the coffee overpower whatever water I use? 

No. No it will not. This is true of any brewed or distilled product, and it’s true of coffee: Good coffee starts with good water. Some places have great tap water, and if that’s true for you, use that. If not, use a filtered water. It will make a big difference.

Buy Good Beans

Coffee goes stale quickly, which is why the best cups of it are going to have been made from beans sourced as locally as possible. Find a local roaster if you can, and buy whole beans (grinding accelerates the degradation process). Since you’ll lose a little flavor using a drip coffee maker, it’s a good idea to avoid light roasts, since they’ll come out too weak at the end of the day. And don’t grind your coffee until you’re ready to brew it.

Get Your Mind Right, Grind Right

The strength of your coffee is largely determined by the speed of the extraction process — the hot water extracting the flavors from the coffee grounds. You can regulate this by varying the coarseness of the grind. A fine grind will slow down this process, resulting in a more robust brew. But don’t overdo it or you’ll wind up with something too bitter. It works the other direction, too. Too coarse a grind and you wind up with weak coffee. Do some experimenting to find out how you like it and how your particular machine responds, but in most drip coffee makers, you should aim for something about the consistency of sand.

Ratios Ratios Ratios

This is a matter of personal taste, but you’d be surprised how many people are, like, not even in the ballpark when it comes to the proper ratio of water to coffee grounds. Somewhere between one and two tablespoons per six ounces of water is a good place to start. You can adjust from there, but go ahead and try the two tablespoons and see how you like it.

Heat Save

The biggest issue with drip coffee makers is getting the water temperature right. What you want is 200 degrees, give or take a few degrees on either side of that. A lot of drip coffee makers have a hard time getting that hot quickly enough, resulting in a bitter brew. One way around this is to run the water through your coffee maker once without any grounds in it, in order to heat up the machine. You still probably won’t nail the temperature just right, but you’ll be closer, and like in horseshoes and hand grenades, close does kind of count.

Remove After Brew

When the coffee is done brewing, remove it from the machine and put it in your cup. If there is leftover coffee, which seems likely, pour it into a carafe if you have one. The longer it stays on that little heating pad thing, the more burned and bitter tasting it’s going to get.

And that’s about it. It doesn’t take a lot of extra effort, just a little know-how to make a better cup of coffee at home.