More than half of Americans drink at least one cup of coffee per day. For some, it's a habitual part of a morning routine; for others it's the rocket fuel that launches their day.

Rachel Haughey sees all types of coffee connoisseurs at her coffee shop, EspressoNEAT, which opened in Grove Street Plaza in Darien last August. And while she and her team of baristas are happy to serve up a cup, the café's services don't stop at dishing out a coffee and biscotti.

Haughey recently launched a series of classes for her customers, including an hour-long how-to session, which provides a step-by-step tutorial to brewing the best blend at home.

According to the National Coffee Association, 56 percent of American adults drink coffee on a daily basis; 86 percent of these coffee drinkers prepare their drink at home. While 31 percent of coffee drinkers reported buying their brew at a coffee shop on the previous day in 2009, that number dropped to 26 percent in 2010, according to the NCA. With more people brewing at home, Haughey wants to offer them the knowledge to create consistently choice coffee.

"There's a potential in coffee that a lot of people have never experienced," Haughey said. She hopes to help her customers discover this potential by teaching them about coffee and how to best prepare it. She offers her students a heavy dose of information in her class.

"It's not meant to be intimidating. It's meant to simplify," she said. "It's like, if you like the coffee you get here, this is how you can make it at home."

The quest for the perfect cup begins by choosing the beans, she said. While individuals may have preferences as to which roast and flavor they prefer, there is one guideline all coffee lovers should stick to: buy whole beans.

"Once coffee is roasted, it has a shelf life of about two weeks," she said. "When you grind it, you increase the coffee's surface area, and it stales within minutes instead of weeks."

The coffee is still mostly fine when it's stale, she said, but "loses a lot of the coffee's true potential." She likens a staling coffee to a browning banana; while it may be OK to eat a brown banana, most people would prefer a fresher one, she said.

The best way to store the coffee beans is in an airtight container kept in a cool, dark place, she said.

When it comes time to grind the beans, a burr grinder is the way to go, she said. These grinders use two revolving grinding elements to crush beans into uniform particles without creating excess heat, according to Haughey. This results in a smoother, richer cup of coffee than can be created with the use of a traditional blade grinder, which can yield varying particle sizing. It also creates heat from the friction, which can be detrimental to the coffee's flavor, Haughey said.

Once the coffee is ground, focus on the water. After all, water makes up more than 98 percent of the coffee brew, according to Haughey; so using good quality water is key. The water should be heated between 195 and 205 degrees, she said.

"If it's too hot, you'll kill the really beautiful aromatics," she said. "If it's too low, it will be under-extracted."

Once you understand the basics of brewing, it's time to give it a go. Above is a step-by-step demonstration of how to make a magnificent morning mug.

This is just a taste of what it takes to become a better barista. For more information, or to sign up for a class, visit EspressoNEAT, 20 Grove Street, Darien, or online at www.espressoneat.com.