How to Make Better Coffee at Your Office According to Chefs

Office and airport coffee is notoriously terrible, but there are some easy little tricks to chef it up.

How to Hack Your Office or Airport Lounge Coffee Machine

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The last surviving man from Earth wanted nothing more than a decent cup of tea. Arthur Dent, the protagonist of Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series, grumpily wandered the cosmos with nothing of his demolished native planet but the sleepwear he'd been rescued in, thirsting for any connection to the comforts of home (specifically the fictional English hamlet of Cottington). Arthur effectively bricks the entire operating system of the most sophisticated spaceship in the universe by trying to make it understand why any sentient lifeform would willingly consume a beverage made by boiling leaves in water.

Been there, man. Not as much with the tea part; I'm in that for the ritual as much as the result and don't even attempt it. But when I'm away from the comforts of home, either on the road or in my office (where I'm attempting to reacclimate after many months of working in propinquity to my Bodum press and Cuisinart drip machine), a decent cup of coffee is pretty much my gravity and my sanity. It doesn't have to be schmancy — this is a maintenance beverage rather than the precise pleasures of a handcrafted cup — but it should be at least a tick better than the tepid, brown aggro-water that was for so long the output of hot beverage machines in corporate communal spaces. While I could jab at a screen in the office pantry and receive a sugared, flavored, and froth-topped drink that likely rivals that of your average chain, I'm all in on black, and I'm pleased to say that there's been some advancement in the field that makes drinking it more enjoyable. 

How to Hack Your Office or Airport Lounge Coffee Machine

Matt Taylor-Gross

The "fully automatic coffee machine," in industry parlance, may use capsules or pods, but the practically sentient caffeine bot in my workplace, as well as the Eversys rigs I spy more and more frequently in airport lounges are billed as espresso machines that freshly grind and brew their beans at the user's whim.  There are a few ways to maximize their pleasure. Yes, pleasure — what a novel notion when it comes to industrial coffee, especially when paired with the illusion of temporary control over our robot overlords. Basically, if there's a strength setting for espresso shots, I crank that up to the highest setting and blast it with a little hot water for an approximate Americano, and if I'm feeling especially frolicsome, I'll skip the water entirely and pour that over a cupload of ice for a mid-temperature iced-ish coffee that I'll slurp for the next hour or two.  

Chef Cheetie Kumar of Garland in Raleigh, North Carolina, like me, tends to get to the airport early and makes a beeline for the Delta Sky Club, where she makes her own macchiato via the Starbucks machine. "I do the steamed milk and, like, half the milk on the espresso," she told me at the recent Southern Smoke Festival in Houston. "That's me cheffing it up." 

How to Hack Your Office or Airport Lounge Coffee Machine

Matt Taylor-Gross

She might find herself elbow to elbow with chef Mike Lata of Charleston, South Carolina's FIG and The Ordinary. "My coffee habits are strange," he told me shortly after I spoke with Kumar. "In the morning I like black coffee. And I drink a lot of coffee. Two cups black. But then in order to kinda keep my stomach OK, if I want a third cup I'll start putting a touch of cream and a little sweetener, usually Splenda." But all bets are off in the Sky Club. 

"I will no doubt do a double espresso or two and then do the latte or cappuccino on top of that. I don't love a ton of milk, But I do want some," Lata said. "So if you hit the button for latte or cappuccino, it's all milk and very little coffee. So I'll brew espressos in the bottom of the cup first and then put it on top."

Extreme? Perhaps to some, but I get it. When you're away from the comforts of home, it helps to feel like you have some measure of control, something warm and familiar and truly yours. That humble cup of coffee can feel life, the universe, and everything.

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