Coffee you brew at home never seems to taste quite as good as the coffee made by your favourite barista. Part of the reason for this could be the enhanced enjoyment effect we feel (the ‘eee’?) when someone else does the creating and we only have to do the consuming. A bit like having your head scratched – do the scratching yourself and you feel almost nothing, but have someone else do it and you are instantly in raptures.
That aside, there are two very good reasons the coffee made by your favourite coffee shop will normally be a level above what you make at home:
Coffee Making Equipment
That gorgeous big retro coffee making machine you see your barista using is one serious piece of equipment. A half decent commercial coffee machine will cost around $5,o00 and it’s not hard to spend triple or quadruple that.
The barista can control all aspects of the coffee making process using these machines – the grind size, the temperature of the water, steam and milk, the brew time, packing density and more. In addition, the quality of the components used in these machines (such as the filters) are very high.
So, short of spending bucket loads of cash, it’s going to be difficult to replicate barista quality coffees at home.
Difficult, but not impossible!
Part of the reason commercial coffee shops use commercial machines is that they make hundreds, maybe thousands of coffees each day. It’s therefore crucial that these machines maintain consistency across hours and hours of use. It’s no good if coffees made later in the day are sub-standard because the water temperature has fluctuated or the grind size has changed marginally during the day.
You don’t have to worry about consistency across high volumes, but there are a couple of things you will need to focus on to make barista quality coffee at home, and a few bits of equipment to make it possible.
Grinding your own coffee is probably the most important step in producing a good coffee. Firstly, grinding your coffee beans directly before brewing you coffee means the grind is fresh. Up to half the aromatic and flavour compounds in coffee are lost within 15 minutes of grinding, so using a fresh grind is a must. Secondly, the grind size you need will vary depending on the brewing equipment you have at home so you need a grinder that allows for fine through to coarse grinds. (Under or over extraction of flavours in the brewing process can be a big problem so matching grind size with the brewing equipment is crucial).
There are two types of coffee grinders – ones that use blades to chop up the coffee beans and ones that use ‘burrs’ (cog-like wheels that grind against one another). Whichever you use (burrs are best), make sure you have precise control over the grind size (fine to coarse) as over- or under-extraction.
Once your coffee is ground, you need to brew it. In days gone by home coffee brewing would mean using a ‘dripelator’ or the new word ‘pour-over’ (coffee grinds in a cone shaped filter through which water drips under gravity) or a ‘plunger’ (the still very popular French press glass jugs with a hand-pushed plunger that drives the filter down through the water).
Over the last decade or so a number of new coffee brewers have emerged such as the AeroPress and Chemex that provide high quality brews through relatively simple, and inexpensive, pieces of coffee making equipment.
When we want a coffee at home we tend to put the kettle on and then do something else while the water comes to the boil. No, no, no! Don’t let the water boil as adding boiling water to coffee will burn the it. The ideal water temperature is 90°C (around 200°F) +/- a few degrees experiment with temperature, but don’t boil!
Find a kettle with temperature settings or get a thermometer and with some practice you will learn when to turn your standard kettle off.