Best Home Coffee - How to Grind and Brew Your Way to Bliss
Savoring a good cup of coffee from home can be one of the simple joys of life.
For some, coffee is a a grab n’ go affair. For others, it is the Western equivalent of the Japanese tea ritual; a quest for perfection involving timing, patience, and a lot of work.
Then there are people like me, who greatly enjoy a good cup of home coffee, but don’t want to doubly mortgage the house or spend more than a few minutes to get it.
After many years of very casual coffee drinking, and some recent good and bad coffee experiences, I decided to do a little research to see if I could enhance my home coffee experience, without violating either of the strictures given above.
I am pretty happy with my results, and thought I’d pass them on, in case you find yourself on the same Best Home Coffee quest.
Best Coffee from Home
There are three things you need to make good coffee from home. Each of them can be achieved with a modest amount of effort and investment, although it is possible to go to extremes on any or all, as well!
- Fresh Grounds - Once roasted, coffee beans begin to lose their flavor and freshness immediately. The fresher your grounds, the more flavorful your home coffee.
- Clean Machine - A cafe owner once made the claim to a friend of mine that the single most important thing to a good cup of coffee was a clean machine. Of course, he was starting with fresh beans every day, but it’s undeniable that traces of old grounds or coffee oils in your machine will impart an unwelcome bitter/stale taste to your brew. Most home coffee makers can be cleaned fairly easily by periodically running white vinegar through a brew cycle.
- Even Brewing - The Nectar of the gods derives from the fusion of coffee beans and hot water. How long the two interact, over what surface area, and at what temperature, all contribute to the taste and potency of your coffee. A small but important corollary is that you cannot get good home coffee without good water - if your water smells or tastes funny, so will your coffee.
My Home Coffee Grinder
Best Home Coffee Beans & Grinding
Although there are many pricey, gourmet beans available to the deep-pocketed gourmand, there are also dozens of decent coffee beans at reasonable prices. You will likely find that the freshness of your beans makes a bigger difference in quality than a $30 per pound bean versus a $12 per pound bean.
The number one enemy of coffee freshness is contact with air, followed by exposure to light, and temperature extremes.
Limiting your coffee’s exposure to air prior to brewing implies that whole beans stay fresher longer than pre-ground beans, because whole beans have far less surface area exposed to the air. That means you ideally want to grind your coffee just as you’re preparing to brew it, a practice long followed by coffee aficionados.
Keeping the Grind Simple -
Mr. Coffee's Electric Coffee Grinder takes the guesswork out of grinding time, is quiet (for a grinder), inexpensive, and easy to clean.
However, it is a blade grinder, so it will
produce some coffee dust that will pass through most permanent filters. Unless your machine uses paper filters, you may end up with a small
amount of sludge at the bottom of your cup.
There are many other blade grinders out there, at a variety of price ranges. Another common problem with blade grinders (including, in my experience, the Mr. Coffee model) is that they produce a mix of ground sizes, leaving some larger chunks of bean.
Coffee gourmets claim that this leads to an inferior brew to that of more expensive “burr” grinders, like the Capresso Infinity. In addition to expense, the major problem with burr grinders is that they are quite difficult to clean, and a dirty grinder will impart stale bean and oil to your grind.
However, a more uniform grind-size does make for a better cup of coffee.
Keep Home Coffee Beans Fresh
At a minimum, you want to keep your home coffee beans in an airtight container to keep the air and sunlight away from your beans. It’s also useful to keep your beans out of the refrigerator since this can lead to moisture accumulation, which can lead to flavor loss and fermentation (or even mold growth).
However, when it comes to storage, I recommend going a teeny bit upscale and getting the Vacu Vin vacuum storage system.
This airtight, valved canister with hand pump allows you to pump out the air inside the canister, leaving your beans to themselves. This makes a huge difference to how long your home coffee beans maintain their freshness - some folks even claim they can keep ground beans fresh for a week in the vacuum.
The vacuum storage system is a bit more expensive than regular air-tight canisters, but it is still very reasonable priced and well worth the little bit of extra money.
Finding the Best Home Coffee Beans
Ultimately, good coffee is about what tastes good to you, and there are a vast number of different styles, roasts, and flavors of bean available.
If you enjoy Starbuck’s or Pete’s coffee at their cafes, then try their beans, which are available online and at the grocery store. If, like me, you can withstand the calumny of coffee purists and savor flavored coffee, then give the chemical-free beans at Flavorbean’s a try.
Home Coffee Roasters
Regardless of brand or style, though, here are a few tips for home coffee selection -
- Arabica or Robusta? These are the two kinds of coffee beans, distinguished by the physical conditions under which they are grown and harvested. Arabica beans are grown high in mountains, must be harvested immediately upon maturing, and are generally considered to be the more flavorful of the two bean types. Robusta beans are grown at lower elevations, are cheaper to harvest, and also have a higher caffeine content than arabica beans. Most cheap supermarket coffee is robusta. Although there are some “high end” robusta roasts, most gourmet coffee is arabica.
- How fresh are the beans? Ideally, you want your beans to have as little air exposure as possible from the time they are roasted to the time you’re ready to use them. You might think this implies vacuum sealing the beans as soon after roasting as possible. However, fresh-roasted coffee beans emit carbon dioxide for quite some time. The mark of the freshest beans will be a foil bag that has a little “one way valve” on it, which indicates that the beans were packed right after roasting, but allowing CO2 to escape through the valve without allowing any air back in. Beans in paper bags or the open-air dispensers found in grocery stores should be your last resort.
The quest for fresh roasted beans ends, of course, with roasting your own beans! If you have the money and time, roasting your own beans with a home roaster like the Bravi can be fun and make your kitchen smell wonderful for hours, in addition to getting you the freshest beans possible.
My Home Coffee Maker (Single Cup)
Best Home Coffee Maker
There is a truly dizzying variety and price range of home coffee makers, from the ultra-simple filter-holder-that-sits-on-your-cup to the full-service espresso machine that grinds your beans and steams your milk.
The majority of people who home-brew do so via automatic drip machines, which are both easy to use and easy to clean, and can also make a pretty decent cup of coffee. In my one-coffee-drinker household, I use a predecessor of the very low-end Black & Decker Personal Coffee Maker, which makes a pretty decent cup of coffee.
Home Coffee Maker with Hot Plate
There are many
features and philosophies when it comes to home coffee makers. Here are
a few things to keep in mind when looking for a coffee machine -
- Water contact with beans. Good drip coffee makers (including my $20 B&D, but not all higher priced ones!) spray hot water all over your grounds, rather than through a single drip-hole. This more effectively uses all your grounds, resulting in more flavor. I have found it difficult to determine from most product descriptions how well-designed a machine is in this regard.
- Hot Plate. If you brew and drink multiple cups at a time, but not all at once, you want a machine that will keep your coffee hot for you. Many home coffee makers feature hot-plates under the caraffe, but these hot plates will burn your coffee after much more than a half hour. If you take longer to finish your coffee, you might consider a machine whose caraffe is vacuum insulated, with a cap, such as the well-regarded Capresso 471.02 coffee maker, which can keep coffee hot and flavorful for hours.
- Plastic or not. Most drip coffee makers sport a plastic passageway for the water to travel as it is heated and sprayed. Discerning coffee enthusiasts claim plastic imparts a noticeable taste to water heated in it. Higher-end drip machines often feature stainless-steel or other non-plastic water passageways.
And there it is, how to grind and brew your way to home coffee bliss.
Feel free to share you home coffee tips and experiences with us below.
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