Brewing coffee at home

So you decided to brew coffee at home. Congratulations and welcome to the journey! It’s a richly rewarding adventure with so many possibilities. Whether you’re new to brewing coffee at home or you’re a coffee connoisseur and you’ve started getting bored with your current setup, this article will help guide you to the options that are right for you.

Coffee grounds contain flavors, oils, and volatile elements, and the job of the brewing process is to extract the best-tasting flavors while minimizing sourness, bitterness, and other unpleasant flavors.

Say goodbye to bland, generic, stale brewing methods (we’re looking at you, Keurig, and American drip coffee makers) and say hello to the deliciousness that will light up your taste buds and delight your mind with anticipation every time you make your coffee.

Part 1 - Before You Begin

Before you brew your cup of coffee, get set up for success with the following steps.

Two Key Brewing Decisions

When it comes to brewing your coffee, there’s no “right” or “wrong” way to do it. The goal is for you to enjoy the most delicious possible experience. So it’s about your personal preference, whether that’s a rich, intense shot of espresso or a mild, smooth filter coffee.

There are two main decisions that will help you to narrow down your choices when it comes to brewing at home.

1. Decide whether you prefer filter or espresso-based coffee drinks.

These two categories each have their own devices and grinders that are optimized for the kind of coffee you want to brew. We’ll cover equipment for both categories below.

(Can’t decide? You might be able to find a good local coffee shop that offers coffee brewed using both methods so that you can taste them and figure out what you like. If you still can’t decide, you can always try both at home!)

Keep in mind that regardless of the device or machine you use to brew your coffee, there are several variables you can adjust to optimize the taste of your coffee even further. These variables include roast darkness, grind size, dose (amount of coffee grounds per cup), ratio (proportion of water to grounds), water temperature, and time that the grounds are exposed to the water.

2. Establish a budget.

Brewing coffee at home has many different price points, from inexpensive to full-blown barista equipment at home. This article will give you recommendations for different budgets.

In addition, no matter what brewing method or budget you choose, you’ll also want to prepare yourself with the best quality water and a good scale.

Better Water Makes Better Coffee

Many people fail to consider the role that water plays in brewing great-tasting coffee. However, it makes sense considering that water makes up around 95%+ of your coffee.

Factors that can affect the quality and taste of your tap water include the minerals in the water, the hardness or softness of the water, any additives (such as chlorine or fluoride) that your city adds to the water supply, and any elements that the water picks up from the inside of pipes on the way to your faucet.

Sometimes you can tell that your tap water tastes funny. Sometimes you can see that it leaves a residue (for instance, when you can see a gradual mineral buildup under a dripping faucet). But sometimes, you don’t know what’s lurking in your water without testing it.

Water quality is important. If your tap water is not the best, consider filter or bottled water. It’ll make a difference in your coffee.

Use a Scale for Consistent Coffee

Most people go their whole lives measuring coffee with a spoon or scoop. If you’re satisfied with that approach, no worries. However, this method is far from being accurate. Once you start craving the “perfect” cup of coffee, you’ll want to be able to recreate that taste again and again and again. In order to brew coffee with consistency, you will need a scale. And once you have a scale, you’ll never want to go back to any other method.

A good digital scale will allow you to measure the exact amount of grams of coffee grounds and water that you are adding to your brewing method. It will also allow you to experiment, make notes, and taste test variations to find that perfect coffee in the first place.

When choosing a good scale, the most important features to look for are accuracy and feedback speed. You’ll also thank yourself later if you get one that is splash-resistant because accidents happen and your scale will probably get wet more than once.

Accuracy refers to how sensitive the scale is to small variations. If your scale simply displays “10 grams,” you have no idea if that’s actually 10.1 grams or 10.5 grams, and you won’t be able to do finer tweaks like increasing your dose by half a gram. For this reason, it’s not advisable to choose a common kitchen scale for weighing ingredients, as these are designed for measuring larger quantities and don’t always offer the accuracy you need for brewing an amazing cup of coffee. The best-quality coffee scales will measure down to 0.01 grams, giving you the finest amount of control.

Feedback speed refers to how fast the scale registers the weight of what you’ve poured (the faster, the better). You don’t want a lag between when you add weight to the scale and when it “realizes” that fact. If you’re pouring coffee, you can always scoop some grounds back out if you’ve poured too much, but if you’re pouring water, it’s not always possible to back-track. So you want to know the instant you should stop to get the exact target weight.

To get a good scale, you can consider one of two main options:

  • Cheap mass-produced scales for jewelry makers (Under $15)
  • Specialized coffee scales with timer (Higher-end ones can be hundreds of dollars)

Other Equipment

In addition to the digital scale, an instant-read thermometer is a great way to measure the temperature of your water. A hot water kettle with a thin pouring neck (such as the model by Hario) is also a great investment, as it gives you much better pouring control.

Now that you’re set up with your accessories, it’s time to start brewing with the method you’ve chosen.

Part 2 - Filter Coffee

Filter coffee gives you coffee with a nuanced, clean taste. Different brewing devices use different methods to extract the flavor from your coffee. This can allow you to prioritize different aspects of the taste that you want to bring out.

Here are a few of the devices that will allow you to brew an amazing cup of coffee.

Devices

V60 ($23)

The V60 is an inexpensive pour-over method that allows you to feel every nuance of your coffee. Some skill is required to avoid “channeling” (the effect that happens when pouring too much water too fast creates a gap between the coffee grounds that water simply flows through instead of coming into contact with the grounds and extracting them).

Kalita ($39)

The Kalita is another inexpensive way to get a great-tasting cup of coffee that allows you to feel every nuance of your coffee. If you’re inexperienced or in a hurry, it may be easier to get a more consistent cup of coffee every time with the Kalita than with the V60.

Chemex ($47)

The Chemex is yet another pour-over coffee maker that allows you to make nuanced and delicate coffee. You can also make more coffee than in the V60 or Kalita.

AeroPress ($30)

The AeroPress is a practical device that’s easy to use and easy to clean. It creates a clean cup of coffee that tastes good. There’s quite a bit of variation to the brewing methods you can use with an AeroPress, as well, so you can keep it consistent or change it up.

Cezve ($20)

A Cezve is a perfect device for you if you want strong Turkish coffee. Note that brewing Turkish coffee requires a high-quality grinder that can get your coffee to an extremely fine consistency (similar to confectioner’s sugar).

Syphon ($75)

The Syphon is a beautiful coffee brewer that has been around for over 200 years. You can impress your friends by an amazing presentation that’s fun to watch while brewing a sediment-free, clean, and complex cup of coffee.

Moka Pot ($17+)

The Moka Pot was extremely popular some time ago, and chances are you already have one. This device brews by forcing steam up through the coffee grounds, and it creates a rich, full-bodied coffee that’s closer to espresso.

French Press ($20)

The French Press (or cafetiere) is another inexpensive coffee maker that you may already have. This device works best with a darker roast, a coarser grind size, and a longer brew time.

Cold brew ($20+)

Cold brew coffee is the perfect drink for hot weather, and there are a lot of different cold brewing methods available at various price points.

Larger Batch Brewing

If you have a large family or regularly serve many coffee drinkers, you may want to consider a device such as the Moccamaster ($300) or the Sage Precision Brewer ($300).

Grinders

Your grinder for filter coffee should be a burr grinder of the highest quality you can afford. Filter coffee requires a coarser grind than espresso, so hand grinders are an option. The beauty of hand grinders is that you can take them with you and they don’t require any power, allowing you to take your favorite cup of coffee with you even when you travel.

Two high-quality hand grinders we recommend are the Lido ($200) and the Comandante ($250).

If you’d rather go with an electric grinder, the Baratza Encore is a best-selling entry-level grinder. At $140, it offers great quality for the price.

Another option is the Niche Zero (£499) if you want a quiet, universal grinder that works for espresso, too. This innovative grinder makes it easy to change the grind profile thanks to the fact that it leaves virtually no residue behind after grinding.

Part 3 - Espresso drinks

Espresso is what most people think of as the quintessential coffee. It’s an extraction method that took years of development to get the maximum flavor from your coffee beans.

The quality of your equipment (grinder and machine) will largely determine the quality of the shot you are able to pull.

Keep in mind that if you like milk in your espresso drinks, you will need to steam it. So a lever machine is not an option unless you want to buy a separate device to heat and foam your milk.

Machines

Lever / Manual espresso machines

Lever machines are a great way of getting your foot into the espresso world, as they don’t cost a lot of money, but they make an extraordinary cup of coffee.

These elegant-looking espresso machines use the human power of pulling a lever to create the pressure to extract your shot. Many people love the way that lever machines give you complete control of the extraction while it’s occurring.

In addition, they don’t require any power, allowing you to brew your espresso completely off-grid if you want. They are typically made from a few simple parts and are relatively easy to clean.

Keep in mind that a burr grinder is essential for use with lever machines. Also, be aware that pulling a great shot comes with a bit more of a learning curve than with other types of espresso machines.

Here are a few lever machine options you can consider:

  • Flair ($159) - This affordable machine has a stylish design and offers lots of upgrades.
  • Rok ($189) - This classical machine uses a real portafilter.
  • Robot Coffeemaker by Cafelat ($310) - Don’t be fooled by the name - there’s nothing robotic about this coffee maker, as it’s completely human-powered.
  • La Pavoni ($870+) - If you admire simple but expensive tools, this brand offers you luxury lever machines.

Semi-automatic espresso machines

Moving on to the semi-automatic espresso machines, you are advancing to more expensive options, but you will feel even more like a home barista. If coffee is a hobby that you’re passionate about, you may just decide to splurge and go this route. These are the machines that you would expect to see in most cafes and coffee shops.

A full discussion of these machines deserves its own separate article, but you’ll want to be aware that you can choose between one boiler or two boilers. You’ll also want to understand heat management and how it varies from brand to brand in these machines.

Here are some semi-automatic espresso machines that you can consider:

  • Gaggia ($500) - Good quality machines that are not too expensive.
  • Victoria Arduino ($5,000 - 20,000) - The classic Italian brand.
  • La Marzocco ($5,000) - If you want coffee shop quality coffee at home, this is the industry standard.
  • Decent Espresso ($3,000 - 4,000) - Considered the “Space Shuttle” of espresso machines for data driven tech people.

Automatic espresso machines

If you want a machine to do all the work of making espresso for you, you might be a great fit for an automatic espresso machine. Since these machines don’t give you much control, they are not as interesting for coffee enthusiasts.

However, automatic espresso machines are advancing all the time with programmable options, and they’re great for situations where you just want a cup of coffee and don’t want to do any of the manual work to prepare it, or you have several people who want espresso (for instance, in an office kitchen). These machines will grind the beans, tamp them, choose the exact dose of water, and control the temperature, pressure, and timing of the shot. They’ll also dump the used grounds into one easy-to-empty compartment.

A few good brands of automatic espresso machines to consider include the following. Note that most of these brands have multiple different models with different features and price points.

  • Sage (£380+)
  • Philips ($500+)
  • Saeco ($1200+)
  • Miele ($1500+)

Grinders

It is important to have a high-quality grinder for your espresso. Grind consistency affects espresso quality the most. You would be better off to buy a high-quality grinder than a more expensive coffee machine.

  • Niche Zero (£499) - We mentioned this above in the Filter Coffee section, but this new kid on the block has already received lots of respect from coffee professionals. At around $500, it’s the price-value champion.
  • Mahlkonig ek43s ($2,500) - This grinder is more expensive, but it’ll get you coffee-shop quality at home.
  • Weber workshops EG-1 ($3,500) - If you are a passionate home barista and coffee enthusiast, this is a dream grinder.

Summary

Brewing coffee at home is an incredible adventure that can provide you a lifetime of enjoyment as you explore new techniques, brewing methods, and tastes. We’ve come a long way from the days when people merely consumed coffee for the dose of caffeine it provides. With some good equipment and a little experimentation, you can start to pull shots with a satisfyingly good crema (the foam on top of your espresso). You’ll start to notice the difference between different grind sizes and how to adjust that if your coffee is over-or under-extracted. And you’ll begin to taste more of the nuances that come from different roasts, different regions of the world, and different cupping qualities.

Now that you have an overview of how to start brewing coffee at home, it’s time to find the coffee subscription that will work for you. Happy brewing!