It’s an annoying cliché, yes, but I can’t deny the fact that I am basically the living embodiment of one of those “hilarious” Don’t Talk to Me Until I’ve Had My Coffee! mugs. Especially since the pandemic began, my body seems to have determined the most convenient time to decide I don’t need to sleep is the same time I’m under increased stress due to world events and household insanity (the longest portion of any day is the time I spend with my kids between when they wake me up and when I’ve finally managed to make coffee).
I’m hardly a coffee snob or any kind of a trained expert, but inasmuch as I have any hobbies these days, mine is the search for the perfect cup of coffee. This is the equipment I’ve assembled in pursuit of that quest. Should you choose to follow me, it will serve you well — but you can also tell me what tools you prefer in the comments. Because if experience has taught me anything, it’s that the only good cup of coffee is the one you like.
Good coffee beans
This one should be pretty obvious, but judging by the number of people in the various offices in which I’ve worked who seem more than content to drink the uninspiring swill that is produced by various plastic pods and foil packets, maybe it doesn’t go without saying: Good coffee starts with good beans.
But finding good beans isn’t just about paying $20 for 350 grams of a local roast with a cute label, because you also have to like the coffee that said beans produce. Through a lot of trial and error, I’ve discovered the beans and roasts my palate prefers — specifically, darker, richer roasts with notes of chocolate, caramel, and honey; a smooth mouthfeel; a good deal of bitterness. I shy away from light roasts, and especially anything that describes itself with words like “bright” or, especially, “citrus.”
It’s worth it to buy a bunch of different beans and brew them a few different ways to figure out what kind you like the most.
A burr grinder
While it’s convenient to buy pre-ground beans or get them ground at the store, you’ll always get the freshest taste from beans you grind yourself — and coffee snobs swear by their burr grinders. In contrast to blade grinders, which pulverize the beans to bits much as a blender would, the burr grinder uses two, er, burrs (which can be flat or cone-shaped) to grind the pieces to your desired size, from big and gritty (suitable for use in a French press) to powder-fine (essential for espressos).
The problem with burr grinders is that they can be very expensive. I received mine (made by Mr. Coffee) as a gift from my wife about five years ago. The reviews are good, but some of the haughtier ones suggest it isn’t a “true” burr grinder. Oh well: It’s around $50, but you can spend a lot more if you want to. And even then, some swear you actually get better results using a hand grinder. But the last thing I want to do while a kid is yelling at me at 7:30 a.m. is hand-grind beans for 10 minutes.
A digital scale
My burr grinder has different settings on it that ostensibly allow to grind exactly enough beans for however much coffee you want to make, but it does this via a timer, which is, as you might imagine, less than accurate. Also, the timer feature seems to have stopped working — which is fine, because you’ll be more precise in figuring your ideal water-to-coffee ratios via the use of a digital scale. It doesn’t need to be fancy — you can find one that will do the job for around $30.
There are lots of resources online to help you figure out exactly how much water and coffee you need, by weight, in order to make the perfect cup via your preferred brewing method. (Here’s a good calculator if you use a French press.)
If you’re trying to dial in your morning brew using a method other than a Keurig pod or a few scoops of grounds in an automatic coffee maker, it can be a challenge to figure out the exact right ratio of ground beans to water. And that’s where a coffee...Read more
This pour-over thingy
There are many ways to make coffee, and there are good and bad things about all of them. (There are many more bad things about some of them; convenience aside, there is no good reason to drink anything that came out of a pod, and in my experience, good cups of percolated coffee are few and far between.)
After using a French press for a long time, I switched to the pour-over method a few years ago, primarily because I developed an affinity for Japanese iced coffee (which is a lot more convenient than making cold brew, and results in a drink that goes down more smoothly, if you ask me).
There are lots of pour-over thingys (I suppose they are more accurately called “coffee drippers”) to choose from. Some have built-in metal filters; some require paper filters. I like this mostly glass one from Hario, which is cheap and sturdy and can brew 1-4 cups at a go.
The right filters
If you are going to make pour-over coffee, you need the right filter, which isn’t as straightforward as you might think. You have to think about three factors: size, shape, and colour. Depending on what kind of pour-over thingy you have, you’ll need to buy the right size (indicated by a number) and the right shape (cone filters with a pointy bottom). You’ll also need to decide if you want them to be bleached white or “natural.” Like everything coffee-related, this is a thing people have Opinions about: bleached filters are arguably worse for the environment; natural filters might flavour your coffee with a slight papery taste.
Personally, I buy the cone-shaped natural No. 2 Hario filters that correspond with my Hario pour-over thingy. What you should not do is what I am currently doing: We ran out of cone-shaped filters and my wife (who doesn’t care how her coffee is made as long as it is caffeinated) bought cheap flat-bottomed ones that don’t really do the job right. I should probably just toss them and order the right ones, because they annoy me just a little bit every day. (Sigh.)
A goose-necked kettle
If you’re going to make pour-over, a goose-necked kettle is an absolute must — it’s the only vessel that will give you the level of precision and pouring control you need to properly bloom your coffee grounds. (One fun thing about getting into coffee is you get to learn a whole bunch of new and nerdy terminology.)
As with anything else, you can spend a lot or a little on one of these things, but there’s no reason to break the bank. All it has to do is make water hot and have a spout from which to pour it. I think mine was $40.
This wide-mouthed water bottle
As I noted in a previous slide, my summer drink of choice is Japanese iced coffee. Without belaboring the issue, this method basically boils down to making double-strength pour-over coffee and letting it drip directly into a container filled with ice. I used to brew mine into a glass pitcher, but then the kids broke it. Instead of replacing it, I decided to just buy a metal “water” bottle with a wide enough neck to allow me to fill it with ice, since all I ever did after making iced coffee was to pour it directly into my formerly much skinnier metal water bottle anyway.
Drinking iced coffee from a metal water bottle is totally a hack, but the way — the ice melts much more slowly than if you use a glass, and because you probably aren’t using a straw, you’ll drink it a lot more slowly too, allowing you to avoid Mid-Morning Over-Caffeinated Brain Syndrome. (Unless you like being able to physically feel the blood pumping through your temples, I guess.)
My water bottle comes from S’well, because I am basic.
Ice cube trays
Y’all know I love ice. And since my refrigerator doesn’t have an ice maker, I need ice cube trays to live. Because (during the summer at least) I need iced coffee to live.
But even if you have an ice maker, you still need ice cube trays, because that’s the only way you can make ice cubes out of coffee, which is the only way to chill your caffeinated beverage of choice without watering it down.
I also like to keep these babies around to make cubes with water. Did you know that you can use frozen water to make practically any drink much colder, and therefore much better? It’s true.
A French press
Pour-over may be my fave brewing method, but there’s no getting around the fact that it takes a long-arse time, especially if you want to make a lot of it. That’s why I still keep my trusty French press around — my big one can make up to 8 cups at once, but I couldn’t find it, so I took a picture of the cute lil’ guy I used to keep in my desk at work. Because yes, I am that guy — I will make French press coffee at my desk at work. But I am not that guy — so I will not make pour-over at my desk at work.
The French press is a perfectly cromulent brewing method, and a lot better than using a drip coffee maker (a device best left to diners, gas stations, and office kitchens that haven’t been updated since the 1980s).
A Moka pot
I don’t make a lot of espresso drinks, but when I do, I make them using my Moka pot. It’s a finicky little thing, truth be told — I still haven’t quite mastered how to use it without risking burning either my beans or my face with the boiling hot water that comes shooting out of the top.
But it’s a lot more affordable than buying an espresso maker. And also, I live in Brooklyn and have a tiny kitchen; ain’t nobody got the counter space for that.
A milk frother
If I do make an espresso drink, chances are good I’m going to want some frothy milk in it, and because I’m not going to buy an espresso maker with a steam wand (see previous slide), I’m happy to make do with an cheap manual model that kind of looks like a very narrow French press (or you can actually just use a French press).
Yes, it’s a little tricky to aerate the milk while still keeping it hot enough to not result in a lukewarm beverage, but with a little practice it will do the job. If I liked lattes more, I might investigate further. You do you.
My favourite mug
There’s nothing revolutionary about my favourite mug. I just really like it, and wanted to show it off. Everyone should have a favourite mug to drink their coffee out of, and this one is mine. It holds 400mL instead of the more common 340mL which is nice. And it’s vintage!
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