How to Make the Best Coffee at Home According to Your Taste, Time and Budget

Animation of coffee beans being ground and turning into coffee cup
Animation by Eric DeFreitas

The ability to make quality coffee at home is always useful, but it鈥檚 become especially pertinent in the age of quarantine and social distancing. Fortunately, with these pointers, it鈥檚 not only easy to brew great coffee at home, but it can also become a pleasurable, calming ritual鈥攁lmost akin to an evening glass of wine.

The Importance of Good Beans

Like good wine, coffee tells the story of a place through its aroma and taste. Species like Arabica have more than 800 aromatic compounds. The variety, origin, processing method and roast level all contribute to how your coffee tastes.

Bags of whole beans typically run from $14 to $20 for 12 ounces, depending on the origin, variety, and sometimes, farmer. Yes, a few coffee farms are famous enough to fetch higher prices, like Panama鈥檚 Hacienda La Esmeralda and Elida Estate.

Buy whole beans with the most recent roasting date available. Coffee quality starts to decline two weeks after roasting, as well as immediately after the beans have been ground.

Wine and Coffee: Sharing Culture and Complexities

Understanding Roast Styles

A specialty coffee roaster鈥檚 job is to coax out and complement a bean鈥檚 flavor, not mask it. Accordingly, roast levels typically fall between light and medium.

Heavier medium-dark and dark roasts like Full City, Viennese and French typically provide rich, chocolatey notes, whereas light roasts tend to have more delicate, fruity and herbal flavors. Beans taste less acidic and more bitter as roast levels increase.

Brewing Gear

Upgrading your home coffee kit isn鈥檛 hard, but you need a few things if brewing manually: a grinder, water kettle, brewing method and related filters.

Grinders

If you are shelling out for quality beans, grind them to order for maximum freshness and flavor. Burr grinders are pricier than basic blade grinders, but they produce uniformly sized grinds for even extraction and better tasting coffee.

Water Kettles

Kettles with variable temperature controls lend convenience and precision. To brew the best pour-over coffee, you鈥檒l need a gooseneck kettle like Fellow鈥檚 Stagg.

Brewing Methods

Automatic coffee makers are popular because they can brew on timers and in large batches with the touch of a button. Wake up, and hot coffee is ready! The primary downside of most machines less than $100, however, is poor temperature control. Water needs to be hot enough for proper flavor extraction, around 195掳F to 205掳F.

Manual systems like pour-overs and French presses also have pros and cons. Factors like the number of coffee drinkers in your house may influence your choice.

Pour-over systems like Chemex, Kalita and V60 offer great control, though they require several minutes on standby in between hand-pouring water over grounds. Chemex carafes come in several different sizes, from three cups to 10 cups. It delivers a clean, bright brew, as Chemex鈥檚 special unbleached compostable filters remove most coffee oils. Kalita and V60 also use proprietary paper filters, though they only brew one cup at a time.

AeroPress brews concentrated coffee for up to three Americanos, or approximately one mug when brewed at regular strength. Portable and fast, AeroPress is also cheap and light on resources, as it just requires a 2.5-inch diameter paper filter.

French press is an easy and cheap manual plunge method, though it infuses coffee oils that create a heavier body. No paper filters are required.

Moka pot is a stovetop brew method invented in Italy that approximates espresso, but doesn鈥檛 achieve the bars of pressure needed for the real deal. It鈥檚 an affordable contraption that鈥檚 easy to use.

There is No Craft Tea Movement in America (Yet)

Great Espresso at Home

Technological advancements have brought espresso lovers closer than ever to pulling caf茅-quality shots at home. However, the best machines have long cost thousands of dollars, and few were developed with consumers in mind.

The Barista Pro ($899) from Breville, an Australian brand, swaps that $5-a-day habit for singles, doubles, macchiatos, flat whites and cappuccinos made easily with a compact, intuitive machine. Breville also makes a smaller and less expensive automated espresso maker/milk-frother combo, Bambino Plus ($500).

Budding latte artists can also purchase online instruction from Lance Hedrick, winner of multiple World Latte Championships, as well as Home Brewing and Fundamentals of Espresso classes, all offered through a partnership by Onyx Coffee Lab and Breville.

Published on August 11, 2020
Topics: Coffee