When I first started drinking coffee, I had no idea what I was doing. Nobody told me what I should and shouldn't drink - or what I should or shouldn't buy for my kitchen. I just guessed - as I imagine most people do. This led to many years drinking sub-standard coffee and wasting money on accessories that didn't help make my coffee any better.
Here are five tips to improve your coffee drinking experience and get you started on the right foot.
Invest in a high-quality grinder - it's worth its weight in gold, and you can save money elsewhere.
Grinding your own coffee has many benefits - the beautiful smell that fills your home, a fresher brew, the perfect grind for your choice of brewing method - and those are just a few. The most significant barrier to grinding at home is actually owning a grinder. Here is where most people - myself included - make their first mistake. I bought a blade grinder for $30 and thought I would be good to go - again - because I didn't know any better.
Blade grinders chop the coffee instead of grinding it, which fails to release many of the aromas and oils in the same way. Equally important, there is really no way to ensure uniform grind size or target a specific grind size - with a blade grinder. You really just start it up and hope for the best. You're beginning to see the flaws.
Compare this to an electric burr grinder (of which there are two types, conical burr, and straight burr) - many of which can fine-tune the grind size - and produce repeatable grinding results time after time. Additionally, burr grinders actually grind the coffee instead of chopping it to create a much more ideal result.
While an excellent home grinder will run you $100 - $200, I promise that it is worth the investment, and it will pay itself back over the years that it should last.
There are two models in this price range that are typically recommended for brewed coffee - both are conical burr grinders. The Encore from Baratza comes recommended by many as Baratza focuses on grinders and is not a "do everything" company. The other is the Smart Grinder Pro from Breville, which I have in my home. I love this product due to the granular level of grind control, which lends an unbelievable repeatability level to its results.
There are also manual burr grinders that are less expensive, but excellent manual grinders are not significantly cheaper. Take a look at this article for some manual grinder recommendations.
Cheap coffee is roasted dark - to the point of burning - to hide low quality.
When you see that $8.99/lb French Roast, there is a reason it is both $8.99/lb and French Roast. Low-quality beans and then over-roasted to hide the low quality. However, many people who drink these types of coffee are so busy loading it up with milk and sugar that they are barely tasting the coffee, so it doesn't matter. If you are in it to enjoy the coffee - aim for a higher quality bean roasted correctly.
Look for something like a Single-Origin bean or an Estate coffee. These are traceable to the region or even the farm where they were grown and often carry additional quality signifiers - such as Organic or Rainforest Alliance labels. Typically, you will find these coffees start around $15 for a 12oz. bag, BUT if you were to compare a Dark roast from one of these coffees to a dark roasted bean out of that $8.99/lb grocery store special, it likely wouldn't be nearly as dark. There is no low-quality to hide. This also means no burnt taste, and no need to load up on the milk and sugar. Bonus: This means each cup contains fewer calories!
Always get whole beans - there's no hiding anything, and the taste and smell will always be fresher.
Cheap coffee isn't usually available in whole-bean form. This is because it would showcase the inconsistency in roasting, bean-size, and any variations in bean quality. One easy way to avoid this right off the bat is to only buy whole bean coffee. This won't automatically ensure high-quality coffee, but it's not a bad place to start.
Additionally, if you are starting with whole-bean coffee, you grant yourself the ability to grind it right before you brew for a fresher taste and smell. This, of course, is predicated on taking my advice and buying a grinder for home :)
Finally, the additional flexibility that comes with being able to grind whole beans is the ability to match your grind to your brewing method. French press calls for a courser grind than a pour-over. Cold-brew is typically even more course. You may brew one type of coffee in several different ways - especially if you're living in a house with multiple coffee drinkers.
Now, you have the power to accommodate!
Your cup makes a big difference in the experience - promoting the smell, the comfort, and potentially altering the flavor. Go ceramic!
In college, I drank coffee out of everything - yes, including that trusty red Solo cup. I have come to appreciate the difference that a proper serving cup makes.
A nice, wide mug will promote the aroma into your nose, help the coffee cool to a drinkable temperature, and provide you a complete flavor.
A thick or double-wall ceramic material will keep enough heat in that your hands will remain comfortable while the coffee stays warm throughout your consumption - even if you're curled in a ball on the couch.
Lastly - ceramic and glass won't taint the flavor of the coffee, while the metal from certain travel mugs can add an unpleasant twinge to your coffee that will ruin an otherwise perfect cup.
Don't skimp. One or two nice mugs are worth the investment. I love these from Fellow if you need coffee on the go, and they're genius in their sizing. They actually fit most pour-over kits directly on them so you can eliminate dishes.
Cold-brew will be smoother and stronger by default. Serve wisely.
When you make cold-brew, it's a labor of love - not because it takes a lot of effort, but because it requires patience. You need to let your coffee steep for hours - I typically let mine go the full 24 (sometimes even longer)!
Side note: You can check out our recipe.
When cold-brew is done, you have really made cold-brew concentrate. It is closer to rocket-fuel than typical coffee because of the length that you have steeped it for. Some people choose to dilute before serving. I do not. This is a personal choice. I like it full-flavored and feel that the ice I serve it on is dilution enough. Just know that despite its silky smooth flavor (due to the cold-brewing process), it is higher in caffeine.
I hope these tips help accelerate your enjoyment and introduction to the coffee world. Don't forget to check out our selection of Single-Origin and Specialty Coffees before you go!