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).
In my last blog, I explained how to use an AeroPress to make hand-crafted, single-serve coffees. It’s my go-to coffee-making device these days. But how do you froth milk to make good milk-based coffee drinks?
My wife likes good coffee. She has always liked a lot of milk in her coffee. That’s what she likes; that’s what she gets.
There are 3 ways to froth milk:
- Hand frother – battery-powered
- Frothing machine – electric
- Steam wand on an espresso machine
Which is best? Hands-down, #3 – a steam wand, basically because it uses steam to heat the milk. But it also requires an expensive espresso machine and some practice.
How about #1 – hand frother? I started with a battery-powered hand frother and that’s what I still use on the boat. You heat the milk in a small pot or a pitcher until just before it boils. Then you froth it. If you want to purchase a hand frother, don’t go for the cheap Ikea version; spring for a good Kuissential, listed in my Starter Recommendations. About $18.
For ease of use, quick clean-up, and cost, at home I now use #2 – an electric frothing machine. My personal favorite is a 500ml electric frothing machine from Secura. If you require less milk, you might want to go with the 250ml version. I own both, the smaller one for when I only make a quasi-macchiato for me and the larger one for when I make BOTH a brevé for my wife AND quasi-macchiato for me.
- 250ml electric frother: $40
- 500 ml electric frother: $60
Electric milk frothers come with two attachments. Use the attachment that looks like a spring to froth milk. Use the other attachment, found in the lid, to warm milk to use in lattés. I prefer the frother attachment, because I use a small amount of froth to top off my coffee, sealing it from oxidizing, AND I get a lot of froth for my wife.
I use the term “milk” loosely. Decide what kind of milk you want to use. My wife swears by half-and-half, due to its fat quantity and taste. And it really froths nicely. I have used them all: almond milk, whole milk, skim milk, 1%, 2%, various creams, and whipping cream. I always come back to half-and-half. The essential thing to know is that when you heat milk, it caramelizes, making the milk sweeter. My wife used to use sugar and other sweeteners in her coffee. With frothed half-and-half, she no longer needs to, because the heated milk sweetens the coffee. You may find that to be the case, too.
First, I heat the water for the coffees. Then, before I brew, I start the electric frother to froth the half-and-half while I’m making the coffees. For my quasi-macchiato, I first make a quasi-espresso, described in my last post. Then I spoon in 2 spoonfuls of froth. For my wife’s brevé, I first make an Americano, also described in my last post. Then I stir in the froth and a small amount of heated half-and-half (which did not turn into froth). My wife prefers 1/3 coffee to 2/3 frothed half-and-half, though sometimes I give her ½ coffee and ½ froth. She loves both.
There are some additional tricks to using a hand frother and a steam wand found on espresso machines. I’ll cover them later.
So…how do you like your coffee? Leave your comments below.
We’ll talk about coffee beans and how freshness counts.
Using the AeroPress
In my last blog, I outlined the inexpensive equipment that you would need to make your first cup of “good” coffee. If you recall, I started this blog to help my friends avoid the mistakes I made both in purchasing and brewing when I began my coffee adventure. I want you to benefit from my experience and research.
So….it’s time now to become friends with your new AeroPress (AP). I found the AP when I was looking for ways to make good coffee (without electricity) on our sailboat. The AP quickly found its way into our home, where it’s been my device of choice every morning for almost 2 years. It’s cheap, well-proven, doesn’t require electricity, forgiving of mistakes, quick, and easy to clean.
Start with the original AP method and recipe. Here’s some pretty basic information:
- Original AP instructions (PDF): http://capncoffee.com/ftp/AeroPressInstructions.pdf
- Basic video (YouTube via Tested): https://youtu.be/6oIMgGuVt3k
- Basic instructions (via Sweet Marias): http://legacy.sweetmarias.com/aeropress/aeropress_instructions.php
Personally, I currently use two basic recipes. Use the one the fits your tastes. Or try both!
#1 QUASI-ESPRESSO: I like my coffee strong. The AP cannot make espresso, no matter what you are told. It can make strong, espresso-like coffee. Here’s how:
- Add 3 AP scoops (about 50g) ground coffee. If you’re grinding your own, medium grind.
- Fill the AP with 185°F (85°C) water (about 200 ml).
- Press for 20-30 seconds, until all the water is pressed through the coffee.
- FYI- the coffee:water ratio is about 1:4.
#2 AMERICANO: My wife likes lattes. In the next blog, we discuss milk-coffee drinks. For now, try it black, like an Americano:
- Add 1.5 AP scoops (about 25g) ground coffee. If you’re grinding your own, medium grind.
- Fill the AP a bit more than 1/2 full with 185°F (85°C) water (about 100 ml).
- Press for 20-30 seconds, until all the water is pressed through the coffee.
- After pressing, add the remaining water (about 100 ml). Total water is about 200ml (200g). You may add more (or less) water to your taste.
- FYI- the coffee:water ratio is about 1:8.
If you want less strong coffee, add water after you brew. Note that the two recipes use the same amount of water in the end. But for the Americano, the amount of water and coffee grounds are cut in half for brewing. It’s important to use the right amount of water when you press your coffee. When pressing, too little water will make your coffee taste bitter (under-extracted); too much, weak and sour (over-extracted). Fortunately, the AP is so forgiving that you might be able to get by not following this tip.
Start with the original method (not inverted). I use an inverted method, but I did not for the first year or so. I will discuss the pros and cons of each method in a future blog. For now, if you’re curious, here is a good video about the inverted method (using a metal filter): https://youtu.be/Ugj5OONvGZQ Perhaps in the future, I’ll make my own videos….
So…how was your first hand-crafted single-serve coffee? Leave your comments below.
We’ll dive into how to froth milk for your coffee drink! This is one way I keep my wife happy. 🙂
Here is exactly why I personally use and recommend the AeroPress at home (and on the boat).
“Invented by the maker of the Aerobie Frisbee, the AeroPress has been a cult gadget among coffee nerds for some time, and, if our jury’s tastes are any indication, should be a welcome addition to anyone’s coffee-making arsenal. It won by a landslide because of its ability to help roasted characteristics shine through without the bitterness, while accentuating the oily, flavorful aspects of the darker beans. It also cooled better than the others, retaining bold notes at lukewarm temperatures, balanced by an underlying sweetness that endeared it to even our cream and sugar fan.”
We’ll dive into how to use your AeroPress to make your first hand-crafted single-serve coffee! Coming soon! I promise!
For under $100, you can get started making delicious coffee. Here is what I suggest to get started—low cost, right away. Buy these:
- Coffee maker: AeroPress. Buy 1 or 2: $29 each.
- Ground coffee: Lavazza. Eventually move on to fresh beans, but start with ground: $17 for 4 bricks.
- Ground coffee storage: CoffeeVac. Keep sealed at room temperature away from sunlight: $12.
- Thermometer: Norpro. Know the temperature of your water or milk: $8.
- Hand frother: Kuissential. If you do milk drinks: $18.
That’s it. Under $100 to get started. Don’t think about espresso machines, coffee grinders, electric frothers, roasting machines, and other fancy equipment. You can dream, but start with the basics. Start slow. Build your knowledge and skill first. Your increased knowledge and skill (and pocketbook) will help you make future purchases.
That said, if you have the money to purchase what I currently use (or recommend), check out my Recommendations page. It will save you money in the long run.
We’ll dive into how to use your AeroPress to make your first hand-crafted single-serve coffee!
A prelude and a little TGIF fun: