Probably the most commonly asked question we encounter is “How can I make better coffee at home?” There are many ways to answer this question, and a lot of recommendations out there will include purchasing equipment that can cost a good amount. Our favorite way to approach this topic is by prioritizing the things that will make the biggest impact on overall flavor quality, all while keeping your budget in mind. Essentially, while you should be willing to invest some money into making tasty coffee, you shouldn’t have to break the bank.
The following items are presented in order of how much they will improve the flavor and experience of your coffee at home.
- Buy Freshly Roasted Coffee (Market Price) – When purchasing freshly roasted coffee, try to select high quality coffees via mail (like those found on this site), or from a quality minded cafe/roasting company close to you. While coffee can maintain some tastiness for a few weeks off roast, it is best to buy and brew beans within 7-10 days of roasting. Buy small amounts more often instead of stockpiling and having coffee go stale. Store your beans in an airtight container in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight (by the way – we typically don’t recommend storing coffee in the freezer or refrigerator – there are ways to freeze coffee, but we will discuss that in another post).
Buying pre-ground coffee is tricky, as the coffee will get stale more quickly in a ground state. For best flavor, buy small amounts and use it in the next 2-5 days, as ground coffee degrades quickly. Which leads to…
- Buy a burr coffee grinder and whole bean coffee $65-$229 – Even if you change nothing else in the way you make coffee, this will improve your coffee immensely.Obviously there are two things here. It is difficult to separate these two items because they truly go hand in hand.
It makes no sense to suggest a grinder without having whole beans, and whole beans won’t do you much good without a grinder.
The important things to remember are to get a “burr” grinder, as opposed to a “blade”. Burr grinders cut the beans into fairly even particles, leading to an overall better brew. Blade grinders (while cost effective) chop and pulverize the beans, resulting in very uneven grinds which typically create a more bitter “over-extracted” brew. There are some rather inexpensive burr grinders from companies like Capresso (@$35-$50) but they generally have small burrs that dull quickly and are not made as well, so your investment may not last as long as you like.
If there is one purchase to go big on it is a nice quality burr grinder. The brand we recommend at Roast Ratings is the Baratza Virtuoso ($229). It is durably built and reliable. This is about as expensive as you should need to buy unless you intend to invest in coffee and get a much more geeky with it.
- A brewing method $15-$250 – Once you have that fresh ground coffee, you will need a way to brew it. Brewing coffee can be as simple or complex as you want it to be. Chances are that you already have a way to brew coffee at home, whether you know it or not. Now that you have a nice grinder you can keep brewing on your current machine / method until you are ready to try something new. One of my favorite home brewing methods that is quite cost effective is the Clever dripper (A plastic brewer @$22) or theBonaVita immersion brewer (A ceramic brewer @$40). These give the consistency and ease of a french press with the clean flavor and appeal of filtered coffee, not to mention being far easier to clean than a french press. If you want to start getting geeky with your coffee then ceramic or glass manual drippers from Chemex, Hario, Kalita, Melitta, Bonmac, BeeHouse, and other manufacturers are readily available and fairly inexpensive. Just don’t forget to grab some filters for your method if they are needed. We always recommend white filters and never unbleached brown filters, as they impart a considerable paper flavor to your coffee.
If you want to get a better machine to do your dirty work for you, then it is best to invest a little extra to get a model that will make your coffee sing. Technivorm Moccamaster, BonaVita, Kitchen Aid, Behmor Brazen, and Bunn Phase Brew all have been approved by the Specialty Coffee Association of America to meet the brewing parameters of ideal coffee. At Roast Ratings we use the BonaVita BV1900 for all of our Brew Evaluations.
- A gram scale $15-$130 – In the coffee industry we use gram measurements because they are more accurate and the (simple) math is easier to calculate. If you have not used a gram measuring scale before you will find it rather simple to understand, and once you start using it you may very well prefer using grams for baking or other kitchen tasks. Scales are also incredibly useful around the kitchen.
A scale does not have to be expensive to be useful, though some of the better quality brands are $40-$60. The Hario scale is durable, has a built in timer, and uses AAA batteries (some brands use watch batteries). Sadly, the weighing area is pretty small on these scales so you may want something bigger. One of the newest scales is called Acaia, which costs around $130. This scale comes with bluetooth and an app to help guide you in making an exact pour-over coffee “recipe”. Buy this only if you intend to devote a lot of time and energy into making the perfect cup. Conversely, you can pick up a simple gram measuring scale at most retailers for around $15. All you get is weighing though, and the cheaper ones tend to be inconsistent.
The gram scale is used to weigh the coffee beans, weigh water, and measure while brewing if you are using a manual brew method. It is important to keep track of these variables, since they make up your brewing recipe, and help make the same cup again and again.
- Gooseneck water kettle $45-$150 – While the first 3 tips make a big difference in coffee flavor, many of the various other tools out there will only have small impact on your cup at home. The main exception, if you are making manual pour-over coffee, is the gooseneck water kettle. The accuracy and control of a pouring kettle will definitely add new levels of geekiness to your coffee routine. Newer water pouring kettles from Hario and BonaVita have heaters and temperature controls so you can go from heating to pouring immediately. If you have a saucepan and stove (or if you really prefer to microwave your water), buying a special hot water boiler is probably unnecessary to start.
Other accessories like glass decanters, dripper stands, hot water boilers, etc- these items make little to no impact on the quality of your brew at home. They’re more about aesthetics and service ware than flavor quality. A glass decanter can be nice if you are making a batch of coffee to share. Ultimately glass decanters and dripper stands will make your home brewing setup look prettier and finish the setup if you really want to get more toys to play with.
For more information about better coffee brewing make sure to check out our article about water quality as well.