Essential Tips For Coffee Lovers, Part 1: Coffee Making Basics

Life is too short for bad coffee.

 

Are you a coffee connoisseur? I don’t know too much about the art of making this hot, buzz-inducing beverage (yet!), but I’m definitely great at drinking the stuff.

I’ve always wanted to understand more about coffee, since it plays a big part in my everyday life. With this in mind, I asked my friend Laura to help me understand more about this comforting, caffeinated drink. Laura is what I’d call a coffee aficionado: she runs a coffee website based around reviewing local cafés in our area, and is well-versed in the art of both drinking and making it. So, I figured she’d have at least a few revved-up words of wisdom to share with us on the subject!

It’s great to be able to brew a great tasting cup of Joe at home, but every now again it’s also nice to take ourselves out. Scouting the best shops to get caffeinated at can be a part-time hobby unto itself! Having a basic understanding of the brewing process helps when evaluating cafés. Photo by Kimberly Bryant.

K: When you go around to different coffee shops to taste-test, what are you generally looking for? Is there a specific set of criteria upon which you base your evaluation?

LG: When entering a café, you can straight away get a feel about its level of professionalism. From the smell of coffee to the machine being used, you can see (and smell) whether they are focusing on the quality of the coffee, the branding, or the atmosphere of the café. I run a coffee reviewing website and whilst I base my evaluations on my personal tastes, good quality coffee will always appeal to everyone.

I always order cappuccinos because they are made with a ratio of 1:1:1 of an espresso shot, steamed milk, and frothed milk. In a cappuccino, you can taste the flavors of the coffee as well as the texture and quality of the drink. Both cappuccinos and lattes are easy to make, but difficult to make well, so from the first sip you can tell how good the coffee and barista’s skills are!

This is the coffee shop that I frequent whenever I have some spare change in my pocket. I love the atmosphere, the friendly staff, and they make a fine hot latte — my drink of choice. Photo by Kimberly Bryant.

K: At home, what are some tips for making fantastic coffee?

LG: The most important aspect of home brewing is the beans – quality beans equals quality coffee. I would recommend buying your beans direct from coffee shops, especially if they can grind them in store for you, as freshly ground coffee tastes fantastic.

Secondly, how you brew your coffee is important. You don’t need to spend thousands of dollars on an Italian espresso machine, but buying the right equipment for your taste is key:

– If you like strong coffee and espressos, it might be worth investing in a percolator, which boils the water and the coffee together.

– A cafetière /French press is a good, cheap option to brew coffee and it allows you to change the strength of the coffee by adjusting the time it takes to brew.

–  Good beans with a simple filter machine can produce great drip coffee! Experiment on how much coffee is best for your brewing process. The average is 2 spoonfuls of coffee per cup, but a little more or less can alter the tastes and flavors.

The quality of the beans is important, as is understanding how the type of roast and grind affect the taste and strength of the drink. Laura will explain these details in Part 2! Photo by Kimberly Bryant.

Finally, think about the added extras that can improve your coffee experience.

  • If you like lattes, invest in a milk whisk and warm the milk before adding it to your cup.

  • Use full fat milk, or a dash of cream to give your coffee a smoother, rich taste. [Or, use a healthy milk alternative!]

  • Invest in a beautiful cup rather than a mug which will psychologically improve your coffee drinking experience at home, while some organic brown sugar, or a sprinkle of cinnamon can turn your morning cup into a treat.

A beautiful mug can make all the difference when sipping a hot latte, or cappuccino. Style can have a surprisingly large effect on our dining experience — something the folks at Soma understand from firsthand experience, with their beautifully designed glass carafe water filter. Photo by Kimberly Bryant.

K: When we buy ground coffee beans at the store, what should we be looking for?

LG: Depending on your taste, you should look for the country of origin, and roast — both should be on the label, and it’s worth trying a few different origins to see what you like best. It’s also crucial that you check the sell-by date. The fresher the better. Once opened, keep the coffee in an opaque, airtight container, and store in a dark, cool place.

Smaller coffee companies tend to have higher quality coffee as they are specialized, but their coffee might be on the shelves longer than the big brands. Many specialty coffee companies have online shops that you can order coffee direct to your door, so that’s another option for freshness.

 

Thanks to Laura for answering our questions, and stay tuned for Part 2! Understanding what goes into producing great coffee (including fresh, filtered water!) will help us to make mindful choices as consumers when it comes to our caffeinated drinks — and lead to deeper enjoyment of small luxury moments like a holding hot cup of Joe in our hands.

 

In coffee we trust.