How to Make Coffee in the Microwave

It’s happened to all coffee lovers: The electric coffee machine (be it drip, pod, or fancy-schmancy espresso maker) has given up the ghost and can’t be revived. And you need a cup of coffee but don’t want to put on pants to drive to a coffee shop!

Don’t despair. You can make coffee using your microwave. That little oven does a great job of heating water quickly.

Microwave sitting on the counter in a kitchen

Some of the microwave coffee brewing methods we describe below can be executed using items you probably have in your home already. Some require specialized equipment, but if you care about emergency coffee enough to be reading this, you might want to keep these pieces on hand.

The basic “recipe” for all these microwave coffee methods is eight tablespoons of ground coffee (four coffee scoops) to 20 ounces of water. These are standard coffee measurements for making two generous cups of coffee. You can make more or less coffee by increasing the quantities of coffee and water proportionately, and you can make it stronger or weaker as you like.

How long do you heat water in the microwave for coffee?

I find that my microwave heats a cup of water to coffee-brewing temperature in about 90 seconds, but yours may very. Try it out. You basically want to heat your water until it’s as hot as you could stand to drink. Careful you don’t burn yourself when testing it.

Microwave drip coffee

Most of the coffee drunk in America is drip coffee. This is what we’re used to. And even though most of us are used to drip coffee made with a familiar electric coffee maker, we can recreate the classic drip coffee as long as we have a microwave to heat the water.

Most pre-ground coffee beans are suitable for drip coffee, but freshly ground is best. If you’re grinding your own beans, you should go for a medium grind.

Drip coffee is made by pouring hot water over ground beans, letting it saturate them and envelop them, then pass through and drip into the pot or cup as brewed coffee. It’s actually quite simple and there’s no reason why we should have to depend on electric coffee makers to prepare this kind of coffee.

The easiest way to make drip coffee with a microwave is to use a cone coffee maker lined with a filter. You put the ground coffee into the filter-lined cone, heat your cold water in the microwave until it’s very hot, pour the hot water over the grounds, and voilà, you have fresh coffee!

Coffee brewing in a pour-over drip cone
© Bean Poet

Cone coffee makers and cone coffee filters come in several different sizes and are relatively inexpensive, so it’s not a bad idea to keep them in the pantry.

However, you can still make drip coffee even if you do not have a cone coffee maker. If you have a strainer with very fine mesh, you can use that. Even if your strainer has holes that would let coffee grounds through, you can still use it if you line it with a coffee filter, a handkerchief or even a paper towel.

If you do not have a strainer, there is still hope! Use binder clips or clothespins to attach a (clean, please!) handkerchief to a wide-mouth mug or mason jar. Leave a little bit of slack so that the handkerchief kind of dips into the mug in the middle. Put the ground coffee into that dip and proceed as above. Be careful when pouring the hot water.

Microwave French press or faux French press

Some coffee purists swear by the French press method, in which ground coffee is placed at the bottom of the French press, hot water is added, the coffee steeps, and then the plunger is depressed to push all the coffee grounds to the bottom of the pot to keep them there.

The French press method is perfectly suited for making coffee with your microwave. Just make sure you do not put any metal in the microwave. French presses often consist of a glass carafe nestled in a metal holder with a metal lid or and plunger. Remove the glass carafe and microwave it alone, filled with water. When the water is hot, use an oven mitt or pot holder to protect your hands as you carefulIy lower it back into the metal holder. Add your ground coffee, top it with the plunger and brew as you normally would.

Empty French press on a counter
The French press. If you use this method, be sure to separate the glass carafe from any metal parts before it goes in the microwave. (© Bean Poet)

It’s possible to replicate French press coffee even if you don’t have the correct equipment. Start with a deep bowl. Even better would be a bowl that has a spout and is both deep and narrow. Put the coffee grounds in the bowl. Barely cover them with hot water from the microwave and let them sit for a moment, then pour the rest of the hot water into the bowl.

Let the coffee steep for four minutes. Then use a large spoon to (gently) push the grounds to the bottom of the bowl and hold them there as you pour the coffee into coffee cups.

Coffee bag

Most people are familiar with tea bags. It is possible to make passable coffee the same way! Some stores sell paper or fabric tea/coffee bags that you can fill yourself. If you do not have pre-made bags, you can make your own coffee bag by measuring coffee grounds into a coffee filter (or strong paper towel, or handkerchief, or cheesecloth). Tie it into a pouch with string.

Place your coffee bag into your mug or pot and fill the vessel with hot water from the microwave. Let the coffee steep for four minutes, remove the bag, and enjoy your freshly made cup of coffee.

AeroPress

An AeroPress coffee maker may be either the most overrated or underrated coffee gadget on the market today. Most people have never heard of it, yet those who use them regularly are fiercely loyal. There are even AeroPress World Championship competitions!

AeroPress next to a bag of Nicaraguan coffee beans
© Sharon Chen | Creative Commons

The AeroPress is ideally suited for making coffee with a microwave. It has its own filters but doesn’t require anything else. You microwave the water until it’s hot then load it into the AeroPress chamber with the ground coffee. Let it steep, and then push the plunger to make the coffee.

Some people think that AeroPress coffee resembles espresso because when it’s done right, it has a touch of that crema on top. It also tends to be very strong, so you can adjust to taste with more hot water in your cup.

The microwave-only method

Even if you don’t have a cone coffee maker, a strainer, a French press, coffee filters or an AeroPress, you can still get your morning cup from your microwave oven by making a version of cowboy coffee. Cowboys need an open fire. All you need is ground coffee, water, a coffee mug and your microwave.

Heat the water in the mug until it is almost, but not quite, boiling. Take it out of the microwave and dump the ground coffee in all at once. If you’ve gotten the water temperature just right, it should foam slightly. Let the coffee steep for a few minutes. The grounds should sink to the bottom. Carefully transfer the hot coffee to another cup, leaving the grounds behind.

Instant coffee

Of course, you can easily make instant coffee using a microwave. It’s just a matter of pouring coffee crystals that you buy from the store into hot water and stirring. Heat the water in your mug to as hot as you want to drink it, then add your instant coffee and stir until dissolved.

Milk being poured into a cup of coffee

Frothing milk

You can even froth milk for your coffee using the microwave. All you need is a clean jar with a tight-fitting lid, and of course your microwave. The amount of frothed milk that you can make is equal to half your jar’s capacity, so you can make four ounces of frothed milk in an eight-ounce jar.

Pour the milk in the jar and seal it tightly. Shake it hard for 30 to 60 seconds, or until you have achieved the desired level of froth. Then take the lid off and heat the frothed milk in the microwave for 30 to 45 seconds.

Is it safe to make coffee in the microwave?

The real question here is whether it’s safe to heat water in the microwave, since that’s all you have to do for any of these brewing methods. There have been urban legends floating around the Internet for years about this, and the truth is that it is safe to heat—or even boil—water in the microwave. There’s no conclusive evidence that water (or food) heated in the microwave is linked to any poor outcomes at all.

However, there are a few basic safety precautions to take. We’ve mentioned never putting metal in the microwave. Always use a microwave-safe coffee mug or measuring cup. Stir the water well when you take it out of the microwave, because many microwaves heat unevenly and there may be a bubble of boiling water underneath a layer that is cool to the touch.

Image at top: © Chris Kelly | Creative Commons