The ability to make quality coffee at home is always useful, but it’s become especially pertinent in the age of quarantine and social distancing. Fortunately, with these pointers, it’s not only easy to brew great coffee at home, but it can also become a pleasurable, calming ritual—almost 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’s 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.
Understanding Roast Styles
A specialty coffee roaster’s job is to coax out and complement a bean’s 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.
Upgrading your home coffee kit isn’t hard, but you need a few things if brewing manually: a grinder, water kettle, brewing method and related filters.
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.
Kettles with variable temperature controls lend convenience and precision. To brew the best pour-over coffee, you’ll need a gooseneck kettle like Fellow’s Stagg.
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°F to 205°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’s 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’t achieve the bars of pressure needed for the real deal. It’s an affordable contraption that’s easy to use.
Great Espresso at Home
Technological advancements have brought espresso lovers closer than ever to pulling café-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.