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Choose your own coffee adventure

Five Senses CoffeeCharles Stewart 5 August 2013

 

As the head trainer at the Australian Barista Academy in WA, I’m often asked about making coffee at home and the best equipment to use for home brewing. There is no definitive answer to this as it really depends on your preferences and, of course, budget.

I would love to wake up each morning, step into my kitchen and make dark, gooey espresso rain. To watch it cascade from the spouts like the tears of the extraction gods and feel time stand still as I instagram the #nofilter #espressoporn. Whilst waiting for the ‘likes’ to roll in, I might steam up some milk and make a cappuccino for my mum. Why wouldn’t I? I love my mum. It’s a great dream — so what is stopping me?

There are two things really: convenience and budget. The time it takes to dial in, pull a shot and clean an espresso setup makes it difficult to justify, though not impossible. The main issue for me is budget. A home espresso setup requires a financial commitment I am just not ready for. So what is the solution? Below are a number of statements. Read them all and pick the group that best suits you.

Path One

  • You like black coffee, but sometimes want milk in it.
  • The tactile aspect of coffee is important to you.
  • You travel or camp a lot.
  • You like to experiment.
  • You have no friends or usually make coffee for one.
  • Your budget is tight.

Path Two

  • Black coffee is all you need.
  • You enjoy a wide spectrum of flavours in coffee.
  • You generally enjoy coffee with other people.
  • You appreciate simple things.
  • Your budget is about the same as 50 take away coffees.

Path Three

  • You enjoy black coffee and white coffee.
  • Babycinos are required at your home café.
  • You absolutely must have an espresso machine.
  • You like to take your time when making coffee.
  • Your budget is somewhere between the cost of an economy class and business class flight to Italy.

So welcome to the beginning of the journey that is making your own coffee. For a relatively low cost you will be able to equip yourself with the tools required. The two devices I would recommend at this point are cheap, easy to use and portable.

No matter what sort of coffee you make, fresh ground coffee is essential. It is for this reason that the first piece in this two-piece kit is a hand grinder. I would recommend it because it requires no power, so it can be used anywhere. It is also super compact. A hand grinder such as the Porlex fits inside piece number two, which is an aeropress. They make pretty tidy travel companions.

Ooops the cat is out of the bag! Item number two is an Aeropress. This clever little device creates a brew which displays the flavour qualities of filter coffee whilst being able to replicate the strength of espresso for people who are taken by milk. Besides this, it is relatively easy to use and clean. If you fancy yourself as a bit of a scientist, the aeropress begs you to explore the different ways you can brew coffee. If you need inspiration, check out: http://worldaeropresschampionship.com/. I generally don’t travel without one. If this filter style coffee doesn’t appeal to you, an ibrik or stovetop allows you to make a more espresso-style brew, both at home and round the campfire.

In addition to these tools, there are a few other odds and ends you might want:

1) This one doesn’t actually fall into the category of ‘odds and ends’, but it’s really essential. Fresh, quality coffee is the single most important ingredient in your quest for home coffee happiness. The fresher coffee is when you buy it, the more opportunity you will have to enjoy it at its best. Both filter and espresso roasted coffee is available through the coffee section on our website. Your beans will be roasted and posted the day after your order is placed.

2) When brewing coffee, the controlling parameters such as the weight of the dose and yield, the temperature of your water and the time it takes to brew are of the utmost importance. The more you brew, the more you will want to control these variables and to keep a record of how things have worked out. A scale, kettle, thermometer and timer cover just about every base when it comes to controlling your parameters and, until very recently, there were myriad options out there. But the good folk at Bonavita have simplified things for us. Their scale with an integrated timer and drip tray ticks all the boxes for anyone after a brew scale, and it includes a DC power adapter. They also make a kettle with variable temperature control and a gooseneck pouring spout. As well as being able to set your desired temperature accurately, the kettle is able to heat your water to that temperature and hold it there, something very few other kettles can manage.

3) Anyone who has observed a totally out-of-shape, lycra-clad executive pushing his Tour de France-ready carbon bike up a hill will know that all the best equipment in the world is worth nothing unless you have done sufficient training and know how to use it. If you are interested in making aeropress coffee at home, get in touch with us at The Australian Barista Academy. We retail all the equipment I have mentioned and run manual brewing classes at our academies in both Perth and Melbourne.

You are well placed to enjoy coffee at home that is as good as any produced in a café. Filter coffee that is. The equipment used by most cafés for filter coffee is readily available and easily affordable.

The amount of skill and technique required varies from device to device, so below is a list, starting with the brew methods I’d recommend for making great coffee at home.

Plunger: one of the easiest to use (and also most commonly owned) pieces of filter equipment there is. It’s so old, it is almost in vogue again. The great thing about the plunger, besides the simplicity, is that it uses a metal mesh filter, so there is no ‘running out’ of those pesky filter papers.

Clever Coffee Dripper: the CCD, as it is commonly known, is a favorite at the academy for its ease of use and repeatability. If you want to rid your brew of the chewy sediment a French press gives you, but don’t want to stray from the simplicity, the CCD is for you. It is so easy that my mum could use it (and she does actually — although I do have to give her grind setting advice via Skype).

Kalita Wave: this manual brew method require a little more technique than the first two I mentioned, but is rewarding if correctly executed. This method almost certainly require a kettle with a controlled pouring spout. Read about my favorite kettle further down the page.

Whatever brew method you choose, at this price point you will be richly rewarded by buying an electric burr grinder. Baratza offer a range of grinders suitable for filter brewing. On the lower end of the scale, you can pick up something to grind filter only, but if you’re willing to spend a little more and potentially going to end up buying an espresso machine anyway, they do offer a couple of models that grind for espresso and filter and offer more precise grind adjustments.

In addition to these tools, there are a few other odds and ends you might want:

1) This one doesn’t actually fall into the category of ‘odds and ends’, but it’s really essential. Fresh, quality coffee is the single most important ingredient in your quest for home coffee happiness. The fresher coffee is when you buy it, the more opportunity you will have to enjoy it at its best. Both filter and espresso roasted coffee is available through the coffee section on our website. Your beans will be roasted and posted the day after your order is placed.

2) When brewing coffee, the controlling parameters such as the weight of the dose and yield, the temperature of your water and the time it takes to brew are of the utmost importance. The more you brew, the more you will want to control these variables and to keep a record of how things have worked out. A scale, kettle, thermometer and timer cover just about every base when it comes to controlling your parameters and, until very recently, there were myriad options out there. But the good folk at Bonavita have simplified things for us. Their scale with an integrated timer and drip tray ticks all the boxes for anyone after a brew scale, and it includes a DC power adapter. They also make a kettle with variable temperature control and a gooseneck pouring spout. As well as being able to set your desired temperature accurately, the kettle is able to heat your water to that temperature and hold it there, something very few other kettles can manage.

3) Anyone who has observed a totally out-of-shape, lycra-clad executive pushing his Tour de France-ready carbon bike up a hill will know that all the best equipment in the world is worth nothing unless you have done sufficient training and know how to use it. If you are interested in making filter coffee at home, get in touch with us at The Australian Barista Academy. We retail all the equipment I have mentioned and run manual brewing classes at our academies in both Perth and Melbourne.

Unfortunately you have no option but to buy an espresso machine. As I mentioned before, this is a big monetary commitment. Most commonly available domestic machines are just not up to the task and as a result, end in disappointment. The old adage “buy cheap, buy twice” is most certainly applicable here.

It isn’t my intention to write a whole bunch about the best espresso machine out there because the internet is already full of people with strong opinions about the best options available. However, if you’re set on getting one, I have two pieces of advice:

Firstly, spend a lot of money. Any espresso machine which costs less than two iPads is destined to be a disappointment. I personally like the Isomac for both its form and its function. Look for something with a commercial spec group and good service support.

And spend at least a quarter of your budget on your grinder. The grinder is the tool which gives you the most control over your espresso extraction. Your machine will only perform as well as your grinder allows. Mazzer have some scaled-down versions of the grinders we see in most cafés, which bring the same infinite grind adjustment that commercial environments demand directly to your home in a compact package. If you are not in a rush to buy your grinder, maybe hold out a few months till Baratza release their new grinder, the Forte.

In addition to these tools, there are a few other odds and ends you might want:

1) This one doesn’t actually fall into the category of ‘odds and ends’, but it’s really essential. Fresh, quality coffee is the single most important ingredient in your quest for home coffee happiness. The fresher coffee is when you buy it, the more opportunity you will have to enjoy it at its best. Both filter and espresso roasted coffee is available through the coffee section on our website. Your beans will be roasted and posted the day after your order is placed.

2) Anyone who has observed a totally out-of-shape, lycra-clad executive pushing his Tour de France-ready carbon bike up a hill will know that all the best equipment in the world is worth nothing unless you have done sufficient training and know how to use it. If you are interested in making espresso coffee at home, get in touch with us at The Australian Barista Academy. We retail all the equipment I have mentioned and ‘Fundamentals of Espresso Brewing’ classes at our academies in both Perth and Melbourne.

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