There’s a belief that everyone, at some point in their lives, should work in retail because the experience can shape them into nicer, more patient humans. I agree, and also believe that working at a coffee shop can get you that same level of experience while also teaching you how to make lattes and cappuccinos.
As a former barista, I can say that those skills have come in handy a lot lately, now that we’re all spending more time in our homes and less time buying coffee on the go. I’m not one to use expensive espresso machines or high-tech coffee brewers, though. In fact, the coffee essentials in my everyday routine individually come in under $50. They're so easy to use that even my friends who believe that boxed macaroni is a homemade meal can grasp the process.
These are items that you’ll utilize again and again, whether you’re making flavored latte creations or standard black coffee. The simple appliances will help take your run-of-the-mill coffee to new and delicious heights. Trust me, I use them every day.
Below, see the five under-$50 items (and how to use them) that can enhance your home brew without taking up a ton of your time or energy.
The thing about most milk frothers is that they only work by heating up the drink, so if you want a cold and refreshing iced latte, you’re going to have to add half an hour to your process to cool the milk (again) post-froth. This machine can switch from cold to hot milk with the press of one button. Plus, it gets the job done in two minutes or less. That’s the type of punctuality I appreciate when I awake needing espresso more than I need air. I’m sure you get the feeling.
At $40, I know it’s a bit pricey—especially since some coffee machines sell for less. But trust me when I say that foamy milk can really take your home brew to the next level. It’ll allow you to make creative drinks like macchiatos or cortados on days you’re feeling tired of the typical latte, and it’ll keep you from burning the milk. (Which, take it from someone who’s smelled burnt milk more than she’d like to remember, is something you’ll be extremely grateful for.)
Also, for those non-dairy milk drinkers out there, the device works well on alternatives like oat or soy milk.
You don’t just have to take the praise from me, though. More than 7,000 people have given the Miroco frother an average 4.7-star rating. Which, in Amazon terms, is practically unheard of.
“It's easy to use, easy to clean, it's quiet, and it makes a very thick froth (we use 2 percent),” wrote one five-star reviewer. “It's also half the price of the other one we were considering.”
To buy: $40; amazon.com
Say it with me: “Fresh-ground coffee will always taste better than pre-ground coffee.”
Now that we’re on the same page, let’s talk about the thing that’ll get you fresh grounds daily. The Shardor grinder, an Amazon best-seller, can grind coffee beans in 15 seconds. And it’s a compact model that can somehow always manage to squeeze into my tight New York City pantry space. It’s a no-nonsense device that works by simply pressing down on the top, so it’s great for quick use.
I typically start off grinding a half cup of beans every morning and that’ll yield enough for my coffee-obsessed roommate and me to get through lunch. The grinder is easy to clean, too. When I first got it, this was a very welcome surprise because I was so accustomed to scraping grinders over and over again to get them clean. With this, the stainless steel cup is easy to rinse. I’ll fill it with water and dish soap and blend for a minute every so often for a more thorough cleansing.
If you look through the reviews, you’ll see that, again and again, shoppers compare the fresh taste of Shardor grounds to that of a coffee shop.
“My coffee has never tasted better,” wrote one impressed customer. “The price was outstanding. I could have paid triple for this and would not have bought one that could do a better job.”
To buy: $31 (originally $35); amazon.com
Is the AeroPress a beautiful appliance I leave out for all my visitors to see and gape at? Not exactly. I keep the device in my cabinet but regardless of how it looks, I love this little guy. And it makes a damn good cup of coffee that, in my opinion, is much better than what a machine can concoct.
You can compare it to a French press or other pour-over devices, but you don’t have to nail the water flow or wait a lifetime for the flavor to seep with the AeroPress. You simply pour your grounds inside the tube, add hot water, flip it over your favorite mug, and press. The whole process takes under two minutes and has some seriously tasty results.
The rich flavor it creates is something I never thought would be possible at home without professional coffee machines. But the simple device proves me wrong with each use. I’ve had mine for over a year and have yet to notice any dramatic wear and tear.
For those who hate hotel coffee or can’t stand the brews that family members make when you visit their homes, this is perfect for bringing with you on any excursion. It can fit into carry-ons or suitcases easily and takes up little space.
Of the nearly 10,000 people on Amazon who have given the AeroPress rave reviews, some of the most common comments are about how incredibly tasty the finished product always turns out to be.
“This thing is amazing,” wrote one five-star reviewer. “I like espresso-based drinks and thought I was going to have to buy one of those expensive machines and have it take up cupboard or counter space. So I held off for years. Along comes the AeroPress! The drinks are just as good if not better than those from a bistro!”
To buy: $30 (originally $35); amazon.com
I truly cannot stress how big of a game-changer this simple device is, especially for those who are now working from home. It keeps your cup of coffee at the perfect temperature for hours. There have been days when I keep the coffee brewing from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and this thing stays plugged in and on throughout the entire time.
Microwaving coffee always creates a weird chemical-esque taste and is not a safe option when you’re using dairy milk or creamer. With this warmer, your cup stays warm and your coffee remains as tasty from start to finish. It comes in handy for other things, too. I’ve put cups of soup on it at dinnertime, and cups of warm lemon water on it at night, and the consistent heat makes for fabulous (and basically effortless) experiences each time.
One shopper put it best: “I can't live without it. I'm looking at it right now and it makes me so happy. It keeps my coffee at the perfect temperature so that I can sip on it throughout the morning without ever having to deal with lukewarm coffee. It doesn't get piping hot, but it never gets cold.”
To buy: $11 (originally $16); amazon.com
We all love a good flavorful Starbucks drink, but boy, do those add up. And, during the pandemic, venturing out for a cup of coffee often isn’t really in the cards. So when I saw that a four-pack of Starbucks syrups that consisted of all my favorite flavors—vanilla, hazelnut, and caramel—cost just $20, I sprinted to checkout.
I wasn’t disappointed. These pack a flavorful punch (I use a spoonful per drink) and make it easy to recreate my favorite lattes while at home. I’ve enjoyed experimenting with different flavor combinations, too. Try out hazelnut and caramel combined. You won’t regret it.
Using the syrup helps when I’m feeling bored with my typical creations and fulfills any mid-morning sweet-tooth cravings that arise. Plus, since I use so little every time, I know that the syrups are going to last a while and that my wallet will thank me for this cost-friendly alternative. Other shoppers seem to agree.
“My wife and I both love Starbucks but with the recent pandemic we decided to try making our favorite drinks at home,” wrote one five-star reviewer. “After purchasing a French press to do homemade espresso we started experimenting with making lattes and other drinks using these for flavor. Everything turned out great and the drinks tasted just like they came from Starbucks.”
To buy: $20; amazon.com