There’s something special about lingering in a coffee shop with a masterfully made cup of your favorite blend. But with the right tools, you can get past the “OK” coffee that most home equipment makes and create the same kind of coffee magic at home. Here’s what you need for that perfect cup…
The right grinder. Most people trying to brew exceptional coffee at home know that they should buy whole-bean coffee and grind the beans shortly before brewing. But they often use a low-quality grinder with a blade that heats up the grinds—sabotaging flavor—and turns coffee into dust.
Much better: A burr grinder. Burr grinders produce a much more consistent grind than you’ll ever get with a blade grinder, which means a better cup of coffee. This is because burr grinders give you more control so the beans will be ground to a uniform size, which means more consistency and better flavor. Baratza makes many excellent grinders—they cost a bit more than standard blade grinders but will last much longer and perform much better. Baratza’s Virtuoso grinder is a good midlevel choice for a burr grinder and can be found online for about $250. But if you really want to up your coffee game, go for the Cadillac of coffee grinders—the Baratza Vario-W. This grinder has 230 distinct grind settings so that you can precisely control how fine or coarse your coffee is ground—a key factor in creating the most flavorful cup you can from a given coffee and brewer. More than 200 settings may seem like overkill, but the grinder features 10 major settings for various coffee-making methods, and you can adjust from there if you want to fiddle until you have the perfect setting. It has ceramic burrs for grinding that are surprisingly quiet. It also includes a built-in scale that weighs your freshly ground coffee—many professional and home baristas find that measuring by weight rather than by scoops brings more consistency and control. (The rule of thumb is one gram of ground coffee for about every half ounce of water.) Also, a five-inch-by-seven-inch base gives this grinder a small footprint. $559. Baratza.com
Coffee-shopping tip: When buying whole coffee beans, look for a locally roasted product—something that’s traveled less than 100 miles to reach you. Typically, coffee is best when consumed no later than seven to 10 days after its roast date, and coffee that was roasted (let alone ground) in some other part of the country or world spent that important first week or longer on a truck or airplane. Coffee roasting has become a popular artisanal business all around the country.
The perfect water temperature. Most midrange coffeemakers fall short when it comes to heating water to the ideal 195°F-to-205°F range, which ensures that you get the maximum flavor from your coffee. The Bonavita 8-Cup Metropolitan One-Touch Coffee Brewer has a more robust heater element capable of quickly reaching and maintaining that ideal temperature range. It also has a feature that allows you to replicate a “pour over.” Pour over is a coffee-making technique in which you manually pour hot water over ground coffee. You may have seen the popular pour-over devices that fit on top of a coffee mug. It’s notoriously difficult for home baristas to perfect, but if you can do it, it makes a great cup of coffee. The pour-over feature of the Bonavita pauses the water flow just after it starts, which gives the grounds time to “bloom”—that’s when the grounds start to soak up the hot water and foam and rise up a bit like a flower opening. You want your coffee to bloom because it helps the coffee release excess carbon dioxide, and that allows the water to extract more flavor. $99.99. BonavitaWorld.com
A great vessel for your delicious brew. Life is too short to drink out of a charmless or stained mug. Treat yourself to some sleek, double-walled ceramic Fellow Products Joey mugs. They stay cool to the touch and keep your coffee hot longer than typical mugs…the matte ceramic provides a really enjoyable hand and mouthfeel…and they have a pleasant heft to them. It’s an overall delicious sensory experience. Hand-wash only. $25 for an eight-ounce mug and $30 for a 12-ounce mug. FellowProducts.com
An easy way to keep everything clean. That brown ring lining your coffeepot and mugs? It’s a combination of old coffee and soap. Dishwashing soap and detergent have a hard time cutting through the oils in coffee, so instead it binds to them, creating that lingering, stubborn residue. Besides being aesthetically unappealing, that residue eventually can clog washable coffee machine parts. Baristas and restaurants use a nontoxic product line by Urnex Coffee and Espresso Cleaning Products to keep their dishware ring-free. Urnex makes cleaners specifically formulated for grinders, French presses, K-Cup brewers, coffee and espresso machines, and more. Urnex.com
A quick coffee fix if you don’t have time to brew or are away from home. Instant coffee gets a bad rap, but some instant coffees are much better than others. Any instant coffee you’ve had in recent years was most likely brewed in bulk and then freeze-dried or crystallized. In this process, coffee concentrate is sprayed as a mist in a hot-air-filled chamber that quickly evaporates the water, causing the coffee solids to fall to the floor in heated, dried clumps. Unfortunately, this process typically depletes the quality so much that many instant coffee companies add coffee aroma to the clumps—that’s what you smell when you open up that jar of instant coffee, but you never taste good coffee from it.
Much better:San Francisco–based Sudden Coffee brews in small batches and uses a more time-consuming crystallization process that preserves quality. The resulting dried coffee is packed in individual-serving tubes that you can use on the road, in a hotel, camping or anytime the nearest good coffee shop is too far. An eight-pack of tubes costs $20 at SuddenCoffee.com (Sudden Coffee has temporarily halted coffee production because of the pandemic but hopes to start up again soon)…or try a version created in partnership with my company, OZO Coffee, at OZOCoffee.com ($10 for four tubes, click “Shop,” “Merchandise,” then “Travel Mugs & Cups”).
Something to read while you relax and sip your well-made cup of coffee. If you want more info on the world of coffee or just want a great coffee table book, read anything by veteran roaster and coffee consultant Scott Rao—The Professional Barista’s Handbook: An Expert’s Guide to Preparing Espresso, Coffee, and Tea…Everything But Espresso…and The Coffee Roaster’s Companion. All of them are gold—even devoted coffee aficionados will learn something new. The photos are gorgeous, too. $35 to $45. ScottRao.com
Making Masterful Tea
If you’re more a fan of tea than coffee…or if you’d like to mix things up and expand your caffeine options…check out Rishi Tea + Botanicals Iron Goddess of Mercy oolong tea. You’ll experience notes of dried apricot and roasted chestnut, all without the artificial flavorings that often are added to commercial teas. Rishi’s version of Iron Goddess is made twice a year in Taiwan by a fourth-generation artisan tea maker. It’s named for the goddess who, according to Chinese legend, gifted a poor but pious man with a tea tree that he could share and enjoy with friends. Fifty grams of Rishi’s Iron Goddess of Mercy tea (enough for eight cups—but remember, whole-leaf tea typically can be steeped at least twice, so you’re really getting at least 16 cups) costs $9, or $50 for one pound. Rishi-Tea.com
For a traditional brewing method, try using a gaiwan—a lidded, handle-free bowl. Rishi’s ceramic Gaiwan costs $10 and holds about five ounces. It’s a small cup by American standards but a great way to slow down and really enjoy the flavor of this or any other amazing tea.
Or for a Western-style brewer, try their Simple Brew Loose Leaf Teapot, which works like a French press. $20 for a 13.5-ounce version or $30 for the 33-ounce model.