How to Make Barista-Quality Coffee at Home, Now and Always
Spending more time at home as we all do our part to slow down the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) is the perfect excuse to up your coffee game. With the right products and some fresh beans, great coffee is a few button presses away, and may even become your next hobby.
It’s All About the Beans
Fresh, whole coffee beans ground shortly before brewing are a requirement for good coffee. Beans should be used roughly 3-14 days after roasting, and if you see a bag of beans without a roasting date, don’t buy them. This barrier to entry can stop would-be home baristas in their tracks, but subscription coffee services have made this a non-issue.
These services have varying levels of customization, along with tools to help you narrow down your favorite notes, roasts, and origins, but ultimately they’re all a means to putting the acquisition of fresh beans on autopilot. I’m currently subscribed to Crema.co, and with work from home directives in places, my delivery frequency is maxed out. Crema is currently running a small discount in response to the pandemic.
A Fine Grind
The most affordable coffee grinder I recommend is the OXO Brew Conical Burr Coffee Grinder, which typically goes for around $100 but has seen a few discounts to $80. For those looking to step it up, I love my Breville Smart Grinder Pro.
Breville Smart Grinder Pro | $200
What you get as you step up to better grinders is more consistent particle size, which makes for better, more consistent extractions. By maintaining as many variables as possible, you can tweak one setting at a time to dial in your perfect cup of coffee or espresso shot, and to that end, volume of grounds is also an essential element to control. Unfortunately, neither of these grinders include a built-in scale, like some of the more expensive options on the market like the Baratza Sette, so pick up the OXO Good Grips Coffee Scale to accurately tally your grams.
Kitchen scales are one of a few product categories that have stubbornly resisted going rechargeable, so grab a few Eneloop rechargeable AAAs if you’re not already stocked.
The Best Brewer
The list of Specialty Coffee Association’s (SCA) approved drip machines is short. While the Breville Precision Brewer Thermal is expensive, currently sitting at $240 (with discounts sometimes bringing it to under $200), there’s nothing more affordable that I’d recommend instead to save money. The Breville has a huge range of customization that you can dive into at your leisure, but an amazing pot is as easy as selecting “Gold,” the SCA’s terminology for their brewing recommendations, and pressing start. The Thermal also has settings for pour-over and cold brew.
Breville also makes the best home espresso machines, but their lineup can be overwhelming at first blush. You’ll want to decide what level of investment you want to make in your caffeine consumption, as well as whether you want, or need, a built-in grinder. The best option for beginners is the diminutive Bambino Plus, which comes in at $400 on Amazon, is intuitive to use, and doesn’t take up much counter space.
Breville Bambino Plus | $400
The sky's the limit from there. The Barista Express, which typically goes for $600 (but has been discounted all the way down to around $440 in the past) adds a built-in grinder, while the $1000 level adds a fantastic touchscreen interface with the Barista Touch, which is sometimes available for around $800. At the top of the lineup, starting around a $2000 MSRP, Breville adds an incredible feature in their Oracle series: automatic tamping. That addition removes yet another variable and opportunity for manual error from the equation. I’ve been using the Breville Oracle Touch for years, and it stands among the best products I’ve ever tested and owned.
The Simplest Option is Surprisingly Effective
If subscriptions and scales are just too much for you, Nespresso machines are shockingly (relatively) great at making espresso. There are an overwhelming number of options, which basically all produce the same result. Pick the one that you like the look of, the one that’s on sale, or grab one with a steam wand if you want to steam milk. The exception is, you guessed it, Breville’s version, the Creatista Plus, which borrows the excellent interface elements from Breville’s other machines, includes an amazing steam wand, and will look great on your countertop.
Nespresso also has a very welcome recycling program in place for their pods.
We’ll be rolling out guides to cold brew, pour-over, coffee on the go, making coffee while traveling or camping, and a gift guide for your coffee aficionado friends.
Photo: Rizky Subagja/Unsplash
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