In my last blog, I explained how to how to froth milk to make good milk-based coffee drinks. Here I take on the most important thing in making a good coffee – beans!
Yeah, I know that in my Quickstart blog I recommended that you start with ground coffee. That’s where I started (but didn’t stay there long). Fresh beans offer such a big improvement over instant and commercial brands. If you want to make a big difference in your coffee, invest time in finding freshly roasted beans that you like. Yes, freshness counts! Freshly roasted beans. Freshly ground beans. Fresh! Fresh!
Quick history of American coffee. First wave: Folgers/Maxwell House. Second wave: Starbucks. We’re currently in the Third Wave: freshly roasted beans, usually in small quantities, roasted on the lighter side.
So…my advice about beans.
- Buy in small quantities. Buy in 12-ounce or 16-ounce bags. You will probably go through that in a week or two. Don’t buy coffee beans in bulk.
- Buy local. The best way to get fresh beans is to buy them close to where the beans are roasted.
Here are some options about where to buy fresh beans (in order of preference):
- Local roasters: If you can, find a local roaster you trust. Talk with him/her. Get the roaster’s recommendations.
- Local coffee shops: Visit different local coffee shops. Talk to the baristas while they make your coffee. Ask what coffee they use. Buy some coffee to try.
- National roasters: Buy beans online from small national roasters. There are more and more small roasters who ship fresh beans on a weekly basis. I use Intelligentsia, out of Chicago. We love their Black Cat Espresso Project. They usually roast and ship the same day – every Monday. They roast on the lighter side, so their beans don’t taste burnt.
Also, don’t buy a roaster machine! At least, not now! After a year into my coffee journey, I bought a home roaster machine. Guess what? It’s still sitting in the box it came in. I just don’t have time to roast or learn how. Someday, I probably will, but for now, I buy my beans from a trusted roaster.
Buy different beans from different roasters. Ask a lot of questions. Find out what you like. Stick with that for a while, but don’t forget to branch out occasionally.
Okay, I’m back here. To grinders. You can’t talk about fresh beans without talking about grinders. If you can’t afford a grinder now, have your local coffee shop grind your beans. No, it won’t be freshly ground, but trust me, it will still beat Folgers and Starbucks hands down!
But, if you can afford a grinder, make a grinder your first big purchase. You have 2 basic choices: hand or electric. I’m currently experimenting with hand grinding, mostly on the boat. Downside – it takes time and it’s tiring! Upside – you get freshly ground beans! I just bought a drill adapter for my 12v power drill. I will be able to spin the hand grinder with my drill. I’ll let you know how that works out. You can spend almost as much for a great hand grinder as you do for a good electric. But don’t. If you want to experiment with hand grinding, buy a Hario Skerton ($25) with an upgrade kit ($14). That’s what I currently am using on the boat.
Or go ahead! Splurge! Buy an electric grinder. For home use, check out my recommendations. Honestly, expect to invest as much in your grinder as you might in a coffee machine (unless you use an AeroPress). Grinders are great investments and a purchase you definitely won’t regret.
So, to sum up – Find a good, trusted roaster (local, if you can). Buy a grinder (hand or electric). And then we will say, “Welcome to the “Third Wave!”
So…how do you like your coffee now that you are using freshly ground, freshly roasted beans?
Now we’ve talked about what TO buy, we’ll talk about what to avoid (at least for now).