Coffee culture is changing. Gone are the days when you can get away with a mug of burnt Folgers sitting in your Mr. Coffee for three hours. Employees are demanding better coffee in their offices, and snobs are trying to find cheaper ways to pull espresso like the pros at home.
If you want to change the error of your Maxwell House ways, it starts with just learning the techniques. A lot of the coffee process simply remains a mystery to the uninitiated, and it’s the little steps along the way that set apart the masters from the novices.
Below, we’ve outlined a handful of simple steps to take you from coffee noob to champion home-barista. If you can do these well, everyone who comes through the queue at your coffee house will probably start leaving tips.
Buy The Right Bean
Don’t worry about this Arabica vs. Robusta debate. It’s not about the type per-se, but more about buying from a company that uses the right farms, and really knows how to roast the bean. Darker roasts, contrary to what some people believe, actually has less caffeine in it—and that “burnt” flavor on in some major coffee chains’ coffees ins’t about robust flavor, that’s just the taste of mass production and quality control.
Additionally, note the origin of the bean. Just like any other plant, it’s going to have different seasons in different countries at different times of year. Coffee from Brazil won’t be in perfect season at the same time as coffee from Mexico, because they’re in different hemispheres—but that won’t stop the big guys from trying to sell those beans all year round. Ask your local barista about what’s in season, and try to go with that.
Buy The Right Tools
Not all coffee makers are made equal—and price isn’t the determining factor. Sure, you could shell out a few dollars for the convenience of a pod coffee maker, or you could spend a couple hundred on a “professional” drip. But the truth is: you don’t need high tech machines to make coffee.
The best coffee makers you can use to brew a cup like the pros are French Press and Chemex—which produces a style called pour over.
These systems are simple, focus on the beans, and make sure to never burn the grounds—because it’s extremely manual. It may take a little longer, and may be a little more involved for the brewer, but it’s always worth it in the end.
Weigh It Out
Stop using a scooper. You think that you can just eyeball how much coffee and water you need for your “special recipe” of coffee that you think you’re making just right. But the truth of the matter is, you’re missing the mark on both consistency and maximizing flavors.
The wonderful thing about coffee is that different beans call for different so-called recipes—combinations of water and grounds. Some varietals call for less beans, some call for more. Depending on how much you use for a given bean, the flavors will be completely different.
Start with this base: for a 10 oz. cup of coffee, use 16-20 grams of beans, and 280 grams of water. You can weigh either of those out by putting a bowl on a scale, pressing “tare,” and then pouring until you reach your desired weight. Experiment with different recipes and see the difference a gram can really make.
There Ain’t Nothin Wrong… With a Little (Coffee) Grinds
Another aspect of recipes is the grind size. This, however, has nothing to do with the bean and everything to do with the type of coffee maker you use. There are traditional auto-drips, French presses, percolators, pour-overs, aero presses and more. Every single machine has a different grind setting. If you’re using a manual grinder, that’s going to be a lot of work for you.
If you have an automatic grinder, however, you can have a whole lot more control over how the beans come out, giving you a seriously consistent cup.
Use a Filter
This is pretty standard, but just be sure to by the right type of filter for your machine. The standard at any high quality coffee shop is that you should never see grounds in your brewed cup. Aspire to do the same at home.
Heat, Don’t Boil
When you’re brewing, especially in a French press or Chemex, you’re going to have to heat the water yourself. If you let the water get to a boiling temperature, you’re starting from a disadvantage, and your cup of coffee will ultimately suffer. You want the water hot (precisely 205°F) but not boiling (212°F).
Take Your Time
Enjoy the process. Making coffee shouldn’t be an automatic thing if you want it to really taste as best as it can. Coffee is an art, and something that anyone can do with a few simple tools. Invest in a good scale and a good grinder, and take the extra time in the morning to heat the water just right and measure out all of your ingredients.
In the end, you’re getting a cup of the nectar of the gods. You just can’t put a pricetag on that.