Notes on Equipment - Making Coffee at Home
The coffee world can be a confusing one. There is no limit to the brew methods, variety of kit available or the price tag in pursuit of the ‘perfect’ cup of coffee at home. Of course this search and exploration is all part of the fun for some - but to simplify and give you a quick overview of what, in our opinion, are the best ways to achieve good coffee at home – we have listed some of our favourite kit below. Once you’ve chosen your kit you will also find some simple brew guides here.
The first step is identifying what you like and what you want to spend getting it. There are two main coffee types; filter and espresso. FILTER tends to be a clean, fragrant drink accentuating all the intricate flavours of coffee and usually drunk without milk – whereas ESPRESSO is a rich, intense shot of coffee extracted under high pressure and is the base for milk-based coffee drinks such as flat white, lattes and cappuccinos.
As a general rule – a close to perfect cup of filter coffee is easily achievable at home with very basic equipment – you just need quality beans and to follow a few simple rules when brewing. However, to brew espresso and achieve something close to your favourite coffeeshop flat white at home involves an investment in time, knowledge and cash. The concept becomes more scientific and it’s all about controlling the variables (pressure, grind, heat etc) therefore the more kit, the more control - the sky is the limit.
We don’t stock all of the items we’ve recommended (we have included links in the description for those that we do) - our objective here is to provide a genuine, honest summary, so you may have to google stockists for some of them. Obviously categorising into 3 groups for simplicity has some flaws, so if you want to consider items from different groups or are investing for the future, I recommend prioritising the grinder. This is because you simply can’t make consistent quality coffee without a uniform grind.
There is no shortage of effective, good value, ways to make filter coffee. They differ in terms of cleaning up, time to brew, and ease of use…
- Hario V60 is as simple and controlled as it can be, and is my preferred way to get the flavours out of the coffee that the roastery intended
- Aeropress is beautifully simple and very interesting for trialling different methods and can be very quick and even replicate a shot to add milk and get something not far from a latte. A quick rinse of 3 pieces and the cleaning is done!
- Moccamaster Brilliant for bigger batches, the brew temperature is well maintained and consistency is achieved through the automated ‘drip’ – you can set it going and leave it.
- Hario Syphon Personally I love the spectacle and beautiful science of a vacuum pot (aka siphon aka syphon), but all that glass takes a bit of cleaning so its more fun for dinner parties than a daily on the way out drink.
Grinders for Filter Coffee
- Hario Mini Mill A simple, well constructed manual ceramic burr grinder. This gives a surprisingly consistent grind at the price and is so small it is perfect to take camping!
- Wilfa Uniform This is about as cheap as you will find a quality electric burr grinder. This can cover all bases if, now or in the future, you want fine grind for espresso
- Comandante C40 Beautifully constructed, this is a solid and precise as a hand grinder gets. Quality...at a price!
- Mahlkönig/Baratza Vario A personal favourite, we use these in the shop and I’ve had one at home for many years. A small footprint and a wonderfully reliable grind. Leave the ceramic burrs in if you plan to grind both espresso and filter, but for filter only can be further upgraded with steel burrs
Although you can pull off a decent attempt at a latte with an Aeropress and hot milk - for that full bodied, robust shot, nothing beats the time honoured method of the traditional espresso machine.
You can’t really do it for under £500 unless you go for a bean to cup machine, which leaves you with little control to refine your drink to your taste. We’ve put together our favourites in 3 different groups;
ENTRY The entry level is more than capable of producing high quality results, however it may suffer for consistency or involve a tweak or two to get the most out of it. The better the grinder the more options you have in the future.
INTERMEDIATE The Sage is a level up on the Gaggia without being ridiculously expensive. We’ve included a hand grind option for those wanting precision at a price, but that may not appeal if you’re working from home making 10 flat whites a day!
PROFFESSIONAL This setup will replicate anything in a speciality coffee shop. There’s plenty of scope to learn and play, but with a dual boiler, perfecting your milk steaming and latte art will be a doddle. We’ve included 3 grinders of varying prices. The Mythos One has a pretty hefty footprint so will only suit a big kitchen. The EK43 is a work of art to look at, and grinds an 18 gm shot in about 3 seconds!
La Marzocco Linea Mini
Victoria Arduino Mythos One
Some extra notes about grinders…
Regardless of the type of drink you like, consistency begins with the grinder. The objective is to open up the beans and extract the flavours through contact with water. However we achieve this, if the grinder can’t make consistent sized grounds, we can’t repeat the process with any consistency.
The reason this is a cheaper problem to solve for filter is that filter extraction is done with a much coarser grind, so hand held grinders are capable of achieving something close to what we are after. A grind for espresso needs to be much finer (as it is extracted under pressure), getting something so small so precise takes specialised kit. Grinders are either electric or hand operated. Electric grinders will be either blades or burrs - don’t even consider buying blade grinders for making coffee. The blades spin around and smash it into random pieces. A burr grinder chips the bean into a uniform size to fit between the burrs before heading down a chute and out of the grinder.
And a bit about water…
For all brews, you will achieve better results with the right water. For many, the benefits of perfect water does not outweigh the cost and effort, and you can produce quality coffee with minimal filtration or, in some cases, none at all. At the extreme end, as in our shop, you can take very hard water, like the horrendous London supply, and run through a plumbed-in reverse osmosis filter, taking out many of the excess minerals (and other unwanted elements) and adding the desired amount of calcium and magnesium, which the coffee will bind to under extraction.
Aside from flavour, the other obvious effect of untreated hard water is on the machinery. With that in mind, in most parts of the UK, it is worth filtering water in some form but as water is a separate and complicated topic on its own, for those who are interested, there is an array of information available online.