Let’s face it. Coffee is and always has been more than just a drink. It is an experience that has created its own culture.
The good news for you? You don’t have to be a coffee connoisseur to make your coffee as delicious as you have always dreamt it to be. Expert baristas and cafe newbies alike can use these tips and techniques to make any cup of coffee look, smell, and taste unmistakably amazing, right at home!
- 1 What do I need to get started?
- 2 What method should I use to brew my coffee?
- 3 How do I choose the right ingredients for me?
- 4 So, what are your tips for making cafe-quality coffee at home?
- 5 Have fun beginning your coffee journey!
What do I need to get started?
I’ll be honest, here. You may need to spend at least a small amount of money to get started with this endeavor. However, the amount you spend now will end up being pennies to you in the long run. When compared with the cost of purchasing subpar cafe coffee every morning (or spending $6 on one sugary drink), the reusable materials you purchase now will not only help to save you money, but they will also help sustain the environment.
One of the first and most important things you will need to get started is some decent hand-grinding equipment. You will want to purchase a coffee grinder, which will be a fairly inexpensive investment. A conical burr grinder with a ceramic burr is ideal, but steel burrs will work fine as well. Freshly ground coffee beans are key to brewing great, fresh-tasting coffee, and a delicate manual coffee grinder will make your coffee that much more fragrant.
If you do not currently use a coffee grinder and are rolling your eyes — please, think twice! You will never get as good of a flavor out of pre-ground coffee. That’s just the plain old truth.
Beyond a coffee grinder, the expense of your coffee-making experience depends on the amount of money and time you are willing to spend to get your ideal brew. In the rest of this article, I will help you to explore the different brewing methods and ingredients you can use to get started creating a new lifestyle as a coffee indulgent — all while staying within whatever budget you have to work with.
What method should I use to brew my coffee?
There are a variety of methods you can use to brew your coffee. Three of the most popular methods are an automatic drip, pour-over, or french press.
The automatic drip is just your basic coffee pot. You most likely have one of these at home already. However, using an automatic drip drastically limits what you can do with your coffee, and it will typically be less flavorful this way. It is, however, the least fussy coffee-making method, and you probably already have an automatic drip at your disposal. A benefit of an automatic drip coffee maker is that it will save you time. The way you can get the most out of the automatic drip method is to use freshly ground coffee beans.
However, if you are looking to make truly delicious coffee for yourself, you will want to utilize one of the various other coffee-making methods at your disposal. There is a reason there is more than one, and there is a reason people spend the extra time to use a french press or pour-over: the taste.
Pour-over coffee goes by many names, including filtered coffee, manual drip coffee, and drip brewed coffee. Using the pour-over method will raise your coffee game by miles. The difference between automatic drip coffee and pour-over coffee is really all in the taste. Luckily, pour-over kettles are relatively inexpensive, and will not set you back by too much. And, pour-over coffee is said to have some of the best taste that you can achieve in your coffee-making career. It allows for more control over the pouring, as well as the temperature of the water you use, resulting in better extraction from your coffee grounds.
Even given the pour-over method, some would argue that the French press is the superior way to brew your coffee because it provides the most gorgeous flavor. Automatic machines use extremely hot water, which cools down just as fast, not allowing for an even brew. Manual coffee-making lets you brew with a nice, consistently hot temperature. A french press is ideal for keeping that temperature consistent. You can even purchase a french press depending on how long you like your coffee to stay piping hot (stainless steel to keep it hot longer or glass for those of you who don’t want to wait as long to drink). Best of all? It’s one of the cheapest ways to make really delicious-tasting coffee.
How do I choose the right ingredients for me?
To make exceptional coffee, you will want to be sure to purchase superior raw ingredients. This is arguably more important than the equipment you will use to brew your coffee. If you don’t have fresh beans or your preferred additions to taste, you simply won’t be as happy with your result.
If you are a beginner, you will want to figure out which kind of bean you prefer. The only way you can truly do this is to experiment, but here are the basics:
- Dark roasts will have a more rich and bodied flavor with a pronounced bitterness
- Medium dark roasts will be strong, with a bittersweet aftertaste
- Medium roasts have a stronger flavor than light, but are even-tempered in comparison with darker roasts
- Light roasts will be more smooth and mild-tasting
For the freshest beans, you will want to purchase only what you will need for the upcoming week or so. Believe it or not, your coffee is perishable, so making sure you buy only what you need rather than stocking up for months at a time is your safest bet.
As far as storage goes, the bag your coffee comes in is one of the best places to store it. This is because the one-way valve on the bag releases CO2, while also blocking oxygen from entering (and oxidation is exactly what causes coffee beans to become stale). To keep your coffee fresh, simply keep it in its bag, dry, and out of the sunlight.
You may have heard that storing your beans in the refrigerator or freezer will keep them fresh for longer, but please refrain from this if possible. The beans will soak up moisture and smells from surrounding items, as they are very absorbent. Yes, the freezer can keep beans fresh for longer and enhance flavor, but so can grinding it fresh and extracting the flavors using hot enough water (195-205 degrees).
- Avoid grinding your coffee beans until just before you brew your coffee, as the grounds will begin to present stale character within a few hours
- If you aren’t sure what kind of coffee you like yet, you may want to consider a subscription service such as Bean Box. They will ship taster roasts right to your door
While some of us enjoy our coffee pure and true (a.k.a. black), there is something to be said for mixing up your own delicious concoction. Two of the most popular additives for coffee are, of course, milk and sugar. Half and half and creamer are runners up for the top.
Other people prefer to be more adventurous, adding ingredients such as cinnamon, vanilla extract, chocolate, and more. Syrups have become increasingly popular outside of the cafe. Why not stock up on some for your home, because guess what? You can make your coffee whatever you want it to be. It’s yours! Go crazy!
So, what are your tips for making cafe-quality coffee at home?
You will start by grinding your coffee beans according to your preferred brewing method. A finer grind will work for an automatic drip machine or pour-over. This is because the water will be passing over the grounds fairly quickly. However, with a cold brew or french press, you will want to grind your beans coarsely, as they will be sitting in the water over a longer period of time and you don’t want them to be over-extracted.
Having a consistent grind, no matter your method is important. This is why a conical burr grinder is ideal, and a universal grinder, such as the Baratza Encore, is even more ideal yet. If you are able to easily change up the size of your grind, you will be set to use any method you choose.
There is a nifty guide to grinding your coffee that can be found here.
The right temperature for brewing your coffee will depend on the grind size. The correct combination of your coffee maker, water temperature, and grind size is really what will make or break the brew of your coffee. It may take a little bit of experimentation at first, but you will find what works best for you. And, let’s be honest: anything is going to taste better than your old, pre-ground coffee in an automatic drip.
To bring out the complex flavors in your roast, you will want to work on finding your perfect formula. To start, you will want to note that coarsely ground coffee does best in very hot water, while finely ground coffee with the same temperature of the water will have most of its mot bitter components extracted. To start, you can experiment by trying a medium grind with your water heated to around 202 degrees Fahrenheit. From there, you can adjust accordingly, depending on how you enjoy the taste.
Your typical coffee ratio will be about 17g of water per 1g of coffee. Having a kitchen scale for this is definitely helpful, but you can always roughly measure it out with what you have handy based on that ratio.
The key to a good pour-over is making sure you pour the water over your grinds steadily and slowly, so as to not move the grounds around too much. Start by pouring enough water to wet all of the beans. In about 20 seconds, once they have absorbed the water and expanded, begin pouring again from the outside and work your way toward the center in circles, getting smaller as you go. Remember: slow and steady wins the race here.
The French press is a time sensitive process. You will begin by pouring your coffee grounds into the press. Then, you will pour half of your hot water in steadily and evenly over the grounds over 30 seconds. Your coffee will crust, so you’ll want to stir it gently to break it up and mix evenly with the rest of the grounds. Then, pour the remainder of the hot water in and pop on the lid (plunger up) and wait for 3.5 minutes. Slowly press the plunger down after 3.5 minutes are up to filter the beans from your coffee, and you are ready to drink!
- The longer you leave your coffee in the french press, the more bitter it will get, so you don’t want to let it sit too long before pouring it all out
- Make sure your press is cleaned every time you use it. Leftover grounds can affect the taste of your brew and ultimately mold if left in the crevices, and no one wants that!
Beyond “Just” Coffee
After investing time and energy into learning the ways of coffee, you may find yourself wanting to experiment with some of your coffee shop favorites. Here are some options and what (exactly) they are:
- Latte – made with espresso, steamed milk, and milk foam
- Cappuccino – similar to a latte, but with a higher ratio of milk foam to steamed milk
- Cafe au lait – made with warm steamed milk, sometimes with espresso
- Macchiato – made with espresso, capped with a small bit of milk foam
You can play with the ratio of espresso to steamed milk to milk foam in order to figure out what you most enjoy. But what if you don’t have an espresso machine? Or an espresso machine is out of your budget? A lower-cost option for this is to purchase an Aeropress. An Aeropress will not technically produce “espresso”, but with very strong coffee, you can get so close you almost can’t tell the difference. Plus, you don’t have to be an expert to use one.
And the milk foam, you ask? If you want to buy a frother, go right ahead. However, here is a great DIY option: Shake your (nonfat or 2%) milk in a lidded glass jar until it gets foamy. Remove the lid. Stick it in the microwave for a few short seconds… and voila! Warm milk and a few spoonfuls of froth to add to any coffee concoction you desire.
Feeling adventurous? Add some of that delicious new caramel syrup you purchased and you are well on your way to cafe quality!
Have fun beginning your coffee journey!
If you have been curious about how you can make quality-tasting coffee at home, there is no better time to get started. Now that you have a better understanding of what goes into making your favorite coffee taste so delicious, you can take the process into your own hands! Begin by making informed decisions about where your coffee comes from, and feel empowered making amazing coffee right in your own kitchen. Go ahead, indulge yourself!