Step 1: The Tools
In either case you want to get some fresh, whole beans and grind them yourself. A decent grinder is only about twenty bucks. They tend to give you an uneven grind, but the only way to insure a perfect grind is investing in a high-class "burr" style grinder. I love coffee, but not enough to drop a hundred on a grinder.
Most stores sell beans. The absolute best place, however, is going to be a coffee shop that roasts their own. Once the bean is roasted, it can start going stale. The whole bean will keep for a while, but once ground you best be brewing quickly or you won't really tell the difference.
I stick with a mild Kona blend of coffee, making sure it actually contains beans grown in Hawaii. Your tastes may differ. On a budget, I will get Dunkin Donuts beans which are surprisingly good.
Step 2: Grindin'
Grind for about ten seconds. You want a bit of a coarser grind if using a french press and a finer grind for drip coffee.
If you use less than this, your coffee has a greater chance of turning out quite bitter. The science behind this is somewhere on the Internet. Trust me.
Step 3: Aqua
Put the water in the kettle, and get it a-boiling.
Step 4: Drippin'
You can also find these in the backpacking area of some sporting goods stores. They work great for trips in the outdoors. Alternatively, you can DIY one out of the top of an old drip machine. My four cup dripper top actually works great - too bad I figured it out after buying my own.
When the water is boiling, wait for it to stop. Seriously. It can scald the beans. When it has cooled slightly then pour it on the grounds. Remember, two tablespoons of grounds. Otherwise, it will be bitter.
Let Gravity do the work for you, and you'll have a hot cuppa in no time.
Step 5: Pressin'
When time is up, slooooooowly push the plunger down, trapping the grounds at the bottom. Pour yourself a fresh cuppa.
Step 6: Put Down the Condiments!
If it's a bit stronger than you like, add some hot water. Thank goodness we have that kettle of hot water on the stove! It's almost like we were thinking ahead...
Drip machines are a lot easier when company's over, of course. Just put an extra kettle on the stove (some people prefer tea, after all) and remember to measure out an ounce of coffee per cup.
The Alternative recipe for great coffee involves a bicycle and your wallet. Bring cash for the tip. The coffee shop folk work hard. If you're in a rush, there's a few decent places on the road to get coffee, but if you prep a thermos there won't be any worry about that.