I often have folks come in to buy coffee from us with a singular question, “Why can’t I make coffee at home as good as I get here?” Well I have some good news for you, you can. It is probably going to take a little more than what you are currently giving it, both in time and money, but If you are willing to commit to a bit more (don’t worry, its not too bad), then you at home can also make cups of coffee as good as you get at any shop.
Now before we go any farther I need to make something clear. Although brewing great espresso drinks is possible at home, you won’t get out of paying any less than about $1500 for an espresso machine and grinder, and that is for some pretty low-end stuff that won’t really produce anything close to what you get at a shop. Today we are talking about brewing great coffee at home and the investment you need to make is substantially less.
There are three items that I think are most vital to proper coffee brewing at home, and though I have a plethora of gizmos and gadgets that sit on my own kitchen counter, these are the three things that I couldn’t be consistent without, because lets face it, who cares if you can make a good cup of coffee once if you can’t make it again?
1. Burr Grinder
The first and most important Item for any home brewer is a good grinder. The biggest enemy of coffee is oxygen, because it takes away all those great aromatics that make that morning cup taste and smell so good. Pre-grinding coffee exposes more surface area of the coffee to all the oxygen around meaning the decay rate is much higher and the length of freshness is much shorter. Even if you seal it tight after every use it is just no good, you have basically lost everything good that coffee has to offer within about 20 minutes of it being ground. So what grinder should you buy?
There are many grinders on the market, and for a lot of folks cheaper is usually better, but trust me on this, it’s not this time. Usually the cheapest grinders out there are Blade Grinders. These are not good. “But why?,” you may ask, “At least I am grinding fresh, right?” Well hats off to you for grinding fresh, yes, but what you aren’t doing with that blade grinder is grinding uniformed. A blade grinder doesn’t know what size you want the beans ground to, and because there is no way for it to only grind to a singular size and coffee is just being thrown around and chopped to bits, the end result of your grinding will be lots of assorted sizes varying from big chunks down to powder. If this is what you plan to brew then you are fresh out of luck on achieving a delightfully extracted cup of joe. When water and coffee come into contact, the water pulls out the flavor trapped inside those beans, and the smaller the grind, the easier it is to extract those flavors, and not all the flavors in coffee are worth extracting. In the end, with a variety of grind sizes you end up with a variety of extraction rates leaving your resulting cup of coffee very unrefined. The powdery grinds are over-extracted while the big chunks are under-extracted and your tastebuds can’t figure out why from one sip to the next you are tasting bitter, then sour and making your mouth pucker and why it doesn’t taste anything like it smells. But there is a solution, Burrs.
Burr grinders, whether conical in shape (these are typically best at finer settings) or flat, are used to regulate the particle size of the coffee that comes out ground. When you can control the size of the coffee being ground you are able to better control the consistency of the cup you are brewing, and when you can start achieving balance in every brew, you start finding yourself being able to enjoy the coffee just how it was meant to be. Because what is the point of going through the trouble of buying better coffee if it still ends up tasting like you bought it from the supermarket?
There are a handful of great burr grinders on the market ranging widely in price. I recommend spending in the $100 range unless you really want to geek out, then the sky is the limit to how much your grinder may cost (Bodum and Capresso both make great grinders for under $100). Most grinders around this range or higher are built sturdier and grind slower, helping to keep the coffee from heating up which can also hurt your brewing. Either way, whether you want to spend upwards of $100 or not, you wont get out of paying around $50, unless you decide to go the hand grinding route(Hario makes a couple of great options to choose from), which can be very enjoyable, but it will take a bit more dedication and time.
2. Digital Gram Scale
Now this is definitely the geekiest item you will pick up, and people will probably tease you when you pull it out to make some coffee for them, but trust me, nobody will be laughing once they taste what you have to offer.
Having a scale on hand, next to owning a proper grinder is the best way to ensure better results from cup to cup. With a grinder you get consistent particle size, and with a scale you make sure you know exactly how much coffee you used when that cup tasted so good and it makes it all repeatable. Most coffee professionals out there recommend a brewing ratio of about 17:1. That being 17 parts water to 1 part coffee. Well how is that going to do you any good if you aren’t aware of what that even means?
An ounce of water comes in right around 29, so the best starting point on brewing ratio will be about 1.8g of coffee to every ounce of water. If you are looking to brew one cup (10oz if you are drinking out of a typical coffee mug) of coffee to drink for yourself in the morning, try out about 18g of coffee and take it from there. If its to week, add a bit more coffee, and vice-versa if it’s to strong. You will figure out for yourself what tastes best, because in the end, you are the one drinking it and you know what you like.
3. Water Purifier
Finally, and you may think it odd that I am not telling you to go out and get a brand new brewer, get a water purifier. For me, this was as simple as going to Wal-Mart and buying the cheapest Britta set up they had.
Why is water quality so important to brewing coffee? Because coffee is about 98% water, so you can imagine how much the integrity of the water you’re using will effect the final cup. In some places, tap water is completely ok to use because it is refined enough to promote good extraction, here in Tulsa though, it is terrible and will negatively effect what you are tasting. I was having problems with brewing a while back and every cup I brewed was coming out overly veggie in flavor with lots of sour and dill aromas. I decided to change my water filter and literally every problem I was having with the exact same coffee was immediately resolved. So do yourself a favor, use good water.
There are plenty of other things you can get to improve the quality of coffee at your house, from thermometers and kettles to entirely new brewing devices, but just the three things I have gone over today will immediately improve the quality of what you are brewing. And in the end, if you are only going to buy one thing, save up to invest in that grinder, you won’t regret the results you get from it.