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A few week’s ago I wrote an overview of some of the best entry level gear and resources that can help any Padiwan on their journey to becoming a Coffee Jedi. I also wanted to share some of my favorite brewing equipment I use on a daily basis – whether that be making a cappuccino for my wife on the weekend or tasting new coffee samples from some of our fantastic roaster partners. From grinders, to brewers to scales, here are a few of my favorite tools.
As I’ve said before, “[t]he grinder is the singular piece of coffee equipment that you can’t skimp on, no matter what.” The grinder that you use has a huge effect on the quality of your grind, consistency of your particle size and ease of use. However, some brew methods have different requirements when it comes to the grinder. For filter brewing, you need medium fine to medium coarse grind settings, with easy adjusting and consistent particle size. For espresso preparation, you need to be able to grind the coffee quite fine and have the ability to change the grind size ever-so-slightly to dial a coffee in just right. For each of these purposes, I use a different grinder at home.
For brewing pour-overs or other filter coffee methods, I use the Baratza Preciso. This grinder is one of the best home grinders I’ve have the pleasure of using. It’s extremely intuitive to adjust your grind setting and having the ability to micro-adjust between each larger setting means that there are 11 times more possible grind settings than Baratza’s Encore or Virtuoso models. This micro-adjustment is really helpful for making fine tuned changes to get your coffee brewing just right.
One downside to this grinder is that it’s not really made for grinding coffee for espresso. While you could get away with it in a pinch, I’ve found that it’s not really a great long-term solution and you are better off buying a dedicated grinder for espresso if you intend to go down that rabbit hole.
On that note, after trying to use my Preciso for a while to grind for espresso, I eventually had to upgrade. Mazzer is a well known and well respected company who produces some great grinders that you’ve likely seen at your favorite local shops, like the Mazzer Robur or Kony grinders. These are workhorse machines that are sturdily built and designed specifically for grinding finely for espresso. I have the Mazzer Mini, a great home espresso grinder with flat 54 mm burrs and ‘stepless adjustment’, which allows me to change the grind in super tiny increments to get my espresso perfectly dialed in.
I also use a snappy tool called a Blind Tumbler made by HG-1, which helps me weigh out my coffee dose as well as ensure that the ground coffee is being distributed evenly in the portafilter basket. Between my grinder, and my Blind Tumbler, espresso at home is right up there with what I can get at my favorite shops.
While the grinder is extremely important, it’s only one part of the equation. How you decide to brew the coffee will play a crucial role in the body and mouthfeel, flavor clarity and overall perception of that coffee. A coffee brewed as a French Press, for example, will have lots of body with little flavor clarity and less emphasis on acidity. On the other hand, a pour-over with a paper filter will produce a cup with much more flavor clarity and nuance, more emphasis on acidity and a lighter or cleaner mouthfeel.
For evaluating a new coffee sample from one of our roasters, it may be surprising to some that I don’t ‘cup’ coffees. While cupping is helpful for roasters to evaluate large quantities of different coffees or to compare different roast profiles of a single coffee, I actually prefer to brew and taste the coffees just as any of our subscribers might taste them at home. I have nearly a dozen different ways to make coffee at home, but when it comes down to it, we all have personal favorites. I generally like to brew on the V60-01, using 12.5 grams of medium fine ground coffee to 200 grams of water. Australian Barista Champ and founder of the Barista Hustle, Matt Perger, came up with an excellent recipe for brewing on the V60-01, which eventually won him the World Brewer’s Cup in 2012. I’ve been using his method for years and swear by it.
You’d be hard pressed to find a home in America that doesn’t have an automatic brewer on the counter, and my house is no different. Even though I’m a coffee professional, there are times as a dad when I need coffee but I have run out of hands to make it in order to change diapers, clean up messes, or make breakfast for some irritable toddlers. In these moments, I also don’t want to compromise on the quality of coffee that I am going to drink. Having a brewer that has all of the necessary components to brew coffee properly was a huge factor in this decision – it needed to be able to get water hot enough to extract, it needed to have a well designed shower screen to make sure all of the coffee was evenly saturated and it needed to be beautiful so that I was proud to display it in my house.
As a fan of products designed with optimal form and function in mind, there are few coffee brewing machines out there that can rival the aesthetic brilliance of the Ratio Brewer, created by fellow coffee professional and friend Mark Hellweg. After years of working tirelessly to bring this product from concept sketch to market, Mark was able to create a brewer that looks as good as it can make coffee. With a simple Bloom – Brew – Ready interface, all I have to do is prepare a Chemex filter in the custom made carafe, add my favorite ratio of medium-coarse ground coffee and gently press the Champagne Nickle button and the water instantly starts heating and is brewing within a matter of seconds. Its simple and elegant design is mirrored in its function and I can easily see it as the only automatic brewer I’ll ever own.
I know, I know… Last time I said not to get into espresso brewing at home. However, as an experienced barista and having a wife who drinks lattes and cappuccinos daily, it was really the most cost effective option for me. There are a wide range of espresso machines that are aimed at home enthusiasts, from the ultra cheap machines in the coffee aisle at Target up to the several thousand dollar machines, like the GS3 or Linea Mini made by La Marzocco. While I someday hope to own one of these beautiful ‘pro-sumer’ machines, I’ll have to make due in the meantime.
Breville has been upping their game in the Specialty Coffee product market for the last several years. Boasting a digital interface, programmable pre-infusion, temperature controls, and overall solid design, the Breville Dual Boiler has made my kitchen counter its home for the last 3 years. This machine has all of the features that professional baristas expect but without the gigantic price tag. It’s an excellent machine and, thanks to the coffee from my personal MistoBox One subscription, continues to make espresso in my home that rivals some of the best shops in town. Careful though, when you have one of these machines, your house instantly becomes a place where all of your friends want to gather and hang out over some coffee.
A good kettle is a must have tool for anyone who wants to brew a half-decent pour over. As long as your kettle has a thin, ‘goose-neck’ spout, all other features become bells and whistles. However, it’s these bells and whistles that takes a good kettle and makes it pro-level.
I’ve used a number of kettles over the years, and only one so far has stood out to be something that I use every single day. I recommended Bonavita’s Electric Kettle in my last post, since it’s one of the best value products on the market and super easy to use. The real winner in my book though is the Bonavita Variable Temperature Kettle. Yes, it’s a bit of a splurge for something that essentially heats up water, but believe me, give one a try and I’m sure you’ll want one. With a programmable interface, the Variable Temperature Kettle allows you to set your favorite temperature, at say 210ºF for brewing coffee or oolong tea at 203ºF or even that green tea at 175ºF, it can do it all. It also has a feature that will hold the prescribed temperature for up to an hour, which is super convenient for a dad like me who often finds myself being distracted or pulled away while I am about ready to brew my morning coffee.
I could probably make a half decent cup of coffee without a scale, but why leave it up to chance? Just ask any good pastry chef and they’ll tell you that every gram matters. Coffee is no different. While the price may or may not correlate with quality in other coffee tools, with scales, there is certainly a correlation. Simple, cheap scales will get you started and will be a big step up from eyeballing your tablespoons and ounces. However, as an exacting tool, scales need to be well built from quality components and properly calibrated in order to give the end user a reading that is accurate and precise.
When coffee equipment manufacturers started adding built in timers into scales specifically for coffee brewing, every barista’s hopes and dreams had just come true. We didn’t need to use a separate timer to keep track of our brews and it was glorious. Then, the folks at Acaia came along and brought in commercial grade digital scale quality and took coffee scales to another level. The big selling point that differentiates them from most of the other coffee scales is the companion app that connects via Bluetooth and has an integrated community of other users so you can see what other recipes people are using, as well as a brew tracker that creates a visual graph of each extraction. These are certainly neat features, and the remote app that allows me to control my scale from my phone makes me feel like I’m definitely living in the future. However, these techy features aren’t my favorite thing about my Acaia Pearl. I love the attention to detail they use in designing and producing a scale that feels more like an Apple product than a piece of coffee equipment. The Pearl is extremely accurate and arguably the most precise scale on the market today at its price point. For professional baristas and avid enthusiasts alike, the Acaia Pearl is without a doubt my personal recommendation. Their newest scale, the Acaia Lunar is made specifically for preparing espresso and am hoping to add one to my arsenal someday soon.
An often overlooked part of any coffee ensemble is the drinking vessel. This is largely influenced by personal taste, but I think it’s one of the most critical parts of the coffee experience. There is scientific evidence that suggests that the color of your mug can actually influence the way that your coffee tastes. For me, it’s more than just the color though. It’s the shape of the mug, the size, the thickness of the material, the weight in your hand. Here are a few of my favorites.
For drinking filter coffee, I have two favorite mugs that get quite a bit of use. The simplest word to describe notNeutral’s design aesthetic is ‘elegant’. Their LINO mugs are now an iconic staple in many Specialty Coffee shops due to their striking white color, angular handle (which happens to be my favorite handle ever designed on a mug), and effortlessly pleasant feel. These mugs are perfect when enjoying a lightly roasted coffee with vibrant acidity and fruity qualities, like a washed Ethiopian or Kenyan. The clarity and clean aesthetic mimics these coffee’s clean and crisp qualities and totally changes the experience.
For drinking richer and heartier coffees with decadent notes of chocolate, caramel and nuts, I prefer a more intimate and comforting mug. Coffees from South America almost always taste better when I enjoy them out of my Heath Ceramic Large Modern mug in Linen color. These hand formed clay mugs made in San Francisco are the epitome of intimate. They require the drinker to feel the warmth of the coffee directly and hold the mug quite close. This enhances the warm, comforting, and rich notes of Latin American coffees and especially perfect in the cooler months of winter.
Saturday and Sunday mornings are ritually reserved for cappuccinos and breakfast, made by yours truly. My wife, Erin, loves classic cappuccinos with 1cm of finely textured milk foam and a double espresso yielding about 32 g of liquid. For her, I usually use Acme & Co.’s Grey Cappuccino cup. This cup is one of my favorite cups for cappuccinos and is a little thicker, giving a great hefty weight to it and helping keep that cappuccino perfectly warm for every last sip.
Lately, I’ve been more keen on making a version of a One & One for myself. Making a double espresso, I’ll split the shots, using one as a straight espresso and the other for a single shot milk beverage. notNeutral’s MENO cappuccino’s are perfect for a single capp ratio at 5 oz of total volume. The handle-less feel gives a similar intimacy of the Health Ceramics mug, along with the elegant design in notNeutral’s other mugs, the MENO set is hard to beat.
The demitasse – literally meaning ‘small coffee cup’ – can equally affect the sensory experience while enjoying an espresso. I want a cup thick enough to insulate and retain the heat of the espresso so it doesn’t cool too rapidly. I also want it to feel natural and look elegant. My two favorite demi’s are the Acme & Co Demitasse and Heath Ceramics Small Modern Cup. Both of these are fantastic options for drinking and sharing espresso at home with a friend.
These are my favorite tools that I use in my home coffee ritual. Am I missing anything amazing? I’d love to have a conversation about your favorite brew gear. Leave comments below.