How to Upgrade Your At-Home Coffee Situation
The comfort of a coffee routine feels more essential than ever during the strange, clock-bending times that COVID-19 has introduced. Whether you're used to preparing coffee at home or were more of a several-trips-a-day-to-the-cafe person, there are loads of ways to make your lockdown coffee regimen better than ever before—all while supporting small businesses that are suffering right now.
The Best Coffee Brewers
If your brewing game has changed from making one cup in the mornings or a couple on weekends to needing that caffeine to flow steadily all day long, you may be interested in a quality automatic drip machine. Look for a brewer that's certified by the Specialty Coffee Association, which tests submitted machines to a high set of standards, like whether they can maintain consistently high brew temperatures to extract the best from your coffee. Bonavita offers a line of good brewers with a variety of options, and OXO has made recent waves in the coffee world with its coffeemakers. (And if you're feeling like you deserve a treat, Dutch company Technivorm continues to make stylish and exceptional coffeemakers that lie on the higher end of the price spectrum.)
For those who prefer the romance of manual methods, the Kalita Wave dripper is easy to brew great coffee with, as is the hybrid pour over/steeper Clever Dripper. A French press is pandemic-perfect with its built-in screen that keeps one more thing—shopping for filters—off that ever-rolling grocery list. Espro makes the nicest presses out there, with stainless-steel carafes that won't shatter and a double filtration system that keeps the final cup as clean and smooth as paper-filtered brews.
Other at-home methods that are great and can be used with permanent filters are the classic Chemex and the AeroPress, both of which fit the American-made stainless steel filter options from the craftspeople at Able Brewing.
Does a Burr Grinder Make a Difference?
Your brewer may be the lead singer, but it's really your grinder that's writing all the songs. If you're looking to bring your home coffee bar that much closer to that of your beloved cafe, there's no more important piece of equipment to upgrade than the grinder. A good burr grinder, like the ones made by Baratza, will be the workhorse behind your finest cups. Ditch the spinny-blade thing you've had since college—it chops the coffee into uneven particles which all brew at slightly different rates—and move into prime time. And yes—before you ask—a quality hand grinder may shave $100 off this line item in your brew budget, and sure, you've got a little more time right now. But isn't life already hard enough?
Is a Digital Scale Important?
Yes and no. What you do need to do is use consistent measurements every time so that you can have reproducible results. If that sounds deliciously nerdy to you, then yes, sure: get that scale. Acaia makes brewing-specific scales with timers built-in, and with measurements down to the tenth of a gram, you can use them to precisely measure out all your stress baking, too.
But a scale isn't critical. Using the same measurements each time—what you scoop out your coffee with or how much water you use—will go a long way towards making sure you're getting things right once you've determined the ratios that taste best to you.
Do I need a special water kettle?
It depends on how you brew. If you're using a true pour over method—like Chemex, or Melitta, Kalita Wave, or Hario cones—the speed and control of the water you pour will affect your coffee's extraction. Bonavita makes an affordable electric kettle, and Hario makes a stovetop model of its Buono kettle—both of which have gooseneck spouts that allow precise pouring. But for immersion methods (like a French press, Clever dripper, or AeroPress) you can basically just dump the water in however you'd like.
While we've all been browbeaten about the importance of treating coffee as a fresh commodity—something to buy less of, more often—this may not be a practical approach during the days of limited erranding and even-more-limited grocery delivery slots. But there are plenty of companies still firing up their roasters daily and shipping fresh, exceptional coffee all over hither and yon. You can order it from grocers, pick it up to-go at shops open for carryout, or best of all, subscribe to regular coffee delivery through the good-old-fashioned US Mail.
You can support your favorite local roaster, or branch out into some esteemed but lesser-known regional roasters like Denver's Sweet Bloom, Arkansas' Onyx Coffee Lab, or Ruby Coffee Roasters from Wisconsin. There are also plenty of coffee companies giving back during this crisis, like Brooklyn-based Parlor Coffee, which lets you dispatch a 160-oz box of brewed coffee directly to frontline healthcare workers by simply adding it to your order. In Chicago, Intelligentsia is doing the same. And rest easy—most roasters these days package coffee in bags that keep it fresh for weeks, if not months. Do try to use beans quickly once the package has been opened, and don't store more than you need at a time in the hopper of your coffee grinder, which isn't airtight. If you feel better freezing beans—go right on ahead, but you'll do better to subscribe to regular shipments and save space for that deep supply of meatballs.
Sweet Bloom Coffee, 12-oz. bags starting at $16 plus shipping; Roaster's Choice Subscription starting at $20 including shipping, sweetbloomcoffee.com
Onyx Coffee Lab, 12-oz. bags starting at $16 plus shipping; subscriptions starting at $18 including shipping, onyxcoffeelab.com
Ruby Coffee Roasters, 12-oz. bags starting at $15 plus shipping; Roaster's Choice Subscriptions starting at $22 including shipping, rubycoffeeroasters.com
Parlor Coffee, 8-oz. bags starting at $14 plus shipping; subscriptions starting at $19 including shipping; Brew It Forward, one 160-oz. box of freshly brewed coffee delivered to frontline hospital workers in New York City, $60 at parlorcoffee.com
Intelligentsia Coffee, 12-oz. bags starting at $18 including shipping; Pay It Forward coffee, brewed coffee, and bean donations to essential workers in the Chicago area with 3x matching contributions from Intelligentsia and Oatly, starting at $4, intelligentsiacoffee.com