Coffee Home Equiptment

Basics for Excellent Coffee at Home

“I am going through withdrawal. My coffee at home is awful. I need supplies. I can’t work with my automatic machine. What to buy oh master? Need grinder and french press. Not sure I need the scale at this point…..”
Noam's Sister-In-Law, Frantic email message 9/5/2013
Since when had I become the coffee “master”?

Outside Bluebottle coffee

Outside Bluebottle NYC (with 3 kids in backseat!)

Only a few weeks ago,  I was mocked for bringing my beans, scale, and snobbish coffee attitude to our family vacation.

Do you really have to weigh the coffee? Does it matter if you let the press sit for longer than four minutes?

When we ran out of the beans I had brought with me, I texted my sister-in-law and asked her to pick up a specific type of bean (a natural processed Yirgacheffe I thought she might be able to get near her office.) “No time,” she rationally responded to my request that she shlep to an additional shop to buy the Yirgacheffe beans when there is a perfectly fine Rwanda in her office building cafe.

But, by the third or fourth day of drinking my coffee, the jeers shifted to “can you

Millstead&Co, Seattle

Millstead&Co, Seattle

make another pot?”  and “Where do you get these beans?” Pretty soon, I was spending a good part of my vacation mornings brewing coffee for every member of my family.

I had seen the pattern before. My wife has an entire series of photos of me taking our family way out of our way to visit a specific coffee shop. And now, she gets nervous when our bean supply gets too low and there is a risk of not having enough for coffee later in the week.

I am by no means a “master!” I stand on the shoulders of giants–third wave roasters whose beans and brewing guides have inspired my own  addiction to really good coffee (especially Blue Bottle Coffee). But, I have applied my doctoral level research skills to assembling a home brewing system and I would be happy to share my tools and techniques.

Coffee Brewing Guide

What Do You Need?

ScaleYes–you do need a scale. In fact, this is the most underrated tool for of making consistently good coffee. It seems silly–why not just measure the beans and add water to the same line every time. It just doesn’t work.  The specific ratio of coffee to water has a tremendous impact and must be carefully monitored. Fortunately, a simple cooking scale will do and there are excellent ones for under $15.00.

In addition to a scale, you will need a french press (there are other simple and good brewing methods. But, let’s focus on french press for now.) I personally like the Frieling stainless steel press. It is very well built and keeps the coffee warm (for the pros, this is not an advantage since you really need to drink your coffee within 5 minutes and 4o seconds from the time extraction is complete. However, in our house, I make coffee when I wake up at 5:30am with our 10 month old and my wife prefers warm coffee an hour later rather than joining me at 5:30!)

Third, you will need a burr grinder. Years ago before moving to Seattle, I remember  going to Zabar’s to buy my coffee and leaving with a bag of ground beans. Now, I get so upset watching folks buy perfectly good beans and then grinding them at the store. Beans must be ground within a few minutes of using them. Otherwise, all of this work is for naught.

Hario Hand Grinder

Hario Hand Grinder

A burr grinder is the only way to go–do not skimp here by buying a blade grinder. The grind size is impossible to control and the results will be at best inconsistent and likely quite poor. For a few years, I used a Capresso 565 Infinity. It probably is the least expensive decent grinder you can buy. But, the grinder really did not stand up to wear and tear very well. I now use a Baratza Virtuoso Burr Grinder. It is fabulous. Since this is the most expensive of the essential tools, there is a much less expensive approved method: there are a number of excellent hand grinders (I have one made by Hario) that do a great job. Plus, they give you a significant arm and aerobic work out everytime you make your coffee.

The fourth, and last, piece of equipment is optional. I recommend a “kumkum” (the Hebrew word for an electric kettle.) A traditional kettle is much slower and more difficult to handle. The electric kettle speeds up the process considerably.

What Do You Do?

I am going to keep this very simple. You can find much more esoteric descriptions on line. But, here is my simple formula:

  • Measure 54 grams of WHOLE Beans
  • Set grinder to course setting (my grinder goes from 0 to 40, I set it at 30)
  • Add ground beans to french press and place press on scale (don’t forget to Tare to 0)
  • Pour 300 grams of just-off boiling water into the press
  • DO NOT STIR-let the water sit for 30 seconds (coffee nerds call this “blooming”)
  • Gently, very gently, stir the coffee
  • Add 550 additional grams of water to the press (for a total of 850)
  • Put the top on the press
  • Push down after 4 minutes and serve as soon as possible
That’s it. Easy peasy as my six year old (who refused to drink coffee despite the role it occupies in our family life) would say. For those of you who think this is an outrageous amount of work to do every morning (and usually every late morning and early afternoon as well), I would just say: it takes about 8 minutes (9.5 with the hand grinder). Much faster than the time it takes to go to your local Starbucks to wait for really mediocre coffee.

Of course, I didn’t talk about the crucial ingredient: BEANS. I will leave that for another post (hint–see the Coava bag for the amazing beans I have been enjoying this week).

Questions? Have I missed anything? Please add your tools, techniques, and tricks below